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Gathering, The: Souvenirs

It's hard to imagine that this latest CD from The Gathering is the same band that recorded such monster albums as Mandylion and Nightime Birds. On this new platter Souvenirs, the band has forgone the doomy, crushing power chords of those albums, even choosen to move away from the upbeat alternative sounds of If Then Else. What you get here are mostly mellow, atmospheric numbers with lots of trippy ambience, highlighted by the gorgeous vocals of Anneke van Giersbergen. If you can accept all this, than Souvenirs turns out to be a pleasant if somewhat uneventful listen.

Many of the songs here fall into a similar lulling pattern as far as tempo and mood go, but there are a few that break a bit from the norm. "Even the Spirits are Afraid" has some wild sound effects, nasty wah-wah guitar licks, killer drum beats, and the intoxicating vocals of Anneke. Guitarist Hans Rutten lays down some thick power chords throughout much of this song, and it turns out to be one of the rarer moments on the CD where you hear any resemblance to the band's older music. On "You Learn About It" they go for a Jewel-ish pop ballad, and while it's hard to accept that the band is choosing to do material like this, Anneke's vocals are just beautiful here, and one can imagine a song like this denting the singles charts here in the U.S.. The title track is a somewhat spooky number, featuring haunting echoed guitar lines and the emotional vocal persuasions from van Giersbergen. The band attempts to kick in into overdrive a bit on "Monsters", a trippy-industrial rocker that owes as much to Nine Inch Nails as it does modern David Bowie. I was equally puzzled, haunted, and pleased at the disturbing gothic imagery of "Golden Grounds", a moody piece with ominous keyboard arrangements and yearning vocals. It's as if the band, or Anneke herself, are trying to get some dark, hidden nightmare out through this song, and it works.

I found this to be a very different and surprising recording from The Gathering. Many fans I am sure will be turned off by Souvenirs, especially the long time listeners of their metal period. However, I think a whole new breed of music lovers are out there for this type of music, especially fans of psychedelic rock, ambient, and goth. Lead singer Anneke van Giersbergen once again pulls in a marvelous performance, and the world needs to hear this great talent on a larger scale. Souvenirs just might allow her that opportunity.

Added: August 14th 2011
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: The Gathering Official Website
Hits: 4026
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Gathering, The: Souvenirs
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2011-08-14 05:25:31
My Score:

There is no denying that The Gathering became a completely different band with the arrival of Anneke van Giersbergen. They established themselves as one of the forerunners of female-fronted metal. Mandylion and Nighttime Birds, especially, are still considered their finest works by metalheads.

With the release of the complex How to Measure a Planet?, they signalled their intentions to chart into more experimental territory while still retaining their heavier side. The result was a stunning tour-de-force, but it was also as far as they could go in that field, so they shifted focus once again, releasing If_Then_Else, easily their most experimental work with tons of electronic sounds and subdued guitar work. Though the album initially received mixed reviews, those who gave it a fair chance got to discover how rewarding and musically riveting it is.

Souvenirs, on the other hand, showcases that Anneke van Giersbergen has assumed full control over the songwriting, pushing the band's boundaries to the extreme. Without question, this is the band's most complex album from a production standpoint. The band's years of work invested in it clearly shows. No other Gathering album exudes so much sonic clarity and diversity. Those willing to write it off as merely a 'pop album' are doing it a great disservice. Very few albums are produced this brilliantly with a wealth of nuance hidden under the songs which may seem simplistic and uneventful on first listen. Actually the songs on this disc are a tower of sound. "These Good People" and "Broken Glass" are imbued with slowly unfolding guitar crescendos used patiently to underscore Anneke's angelic vocals. The use of piano and percussion combined with deep Radiohead-like production brings to mind Bjork's masterpiece Homogenic in that the semi-electronic soundscapes creep secretly into the mix before opening a portal for Floydian atmosphere.

Anneke van Giersbergen proves she is the greatest singer in the genre. She has always been great, but Souvenirs is her pinnacle. I can't help but compare whatever she does with her work on these songs. Her restrained semi-spoken vocalization on "Golden Grounds" and "Jelena" (the secret hit of the album), her lambent voice on the impossibly beautiful "You Learn about It" (the repeated ending verse is hypnotic), and her melting duet with Ulver's Garm on "A Life All Mine" (Anneke's best duet ever) are and always will remain unmatched. Her voice is so delicate and so sweet, and yet at the same time she can churn out the catchiest vocal hook you can expect on a track like "Monsters" when she shakes your foundations with her "If you come closer, I'll show you..." line.

The instrumentation may seem flat and boring to the inattentive listener. However, the band has never produced anything of this caliber. They place great emphasis on achieving atmospheres, unafraid to delve into avant-rock category on the depressing "We Just Stopped Breathing" with tons of trombone and electronic beats in the background. The use of acoustic guitars set against sparse piano notes and simplistic percussion on the title track is possibly their most daring writing, and sees them exploring the parameters of post-rock with layered harmony vocals on top.

As already stated, the mix and production are audiophile. Zlaya Hadzich, who also did their prior album, outdoes himself, and is arguably the best producer to come out of the Netherlands. This is the kind of album you need to test when buying a new sound system. As the music presented, the artwork is abstract and enigmatic. There are no lyrics in the booklet, just cryptic pictures.

This album is a true accomplishment in musical art, and arguably The Gathering's most complex, most underrated, and most rewarding album.

» Reader Comments:

Gathering, The: Souvenirs
Posted by Anonymous on 2003-02-16 10:24:22
My Score:

This album is a classic!

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