Mandylion

The Gathering

Century Media, 1995

REVIEW BY: Benny Balneg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/07/2007

Despite the efforts to release worthy material under the doom-death genre, something is not right with the Gathering. Always… and Almost a Dance showed glimpses of great things to come, with ripe musical ideas and interesting passages harboring the music. However, the grunting death vocals of Bart Smits and hardcore-esque snarls of Niels Duffhues held the band from breaking to the upper echelons of metal music.

Enter Anneke Van Giersbergen. Her addition to a band (which includes René Rutten and Jelmer Wiersma on guitars, Frank Boejien on synthesizer, Hugo Prinsen Geerligs on bass and Hans Rutten on drums) unlocked a redemptive fervor in the band’s music, as this album catapulted them into great heights.

What the previous vocalists were not able to do was to take command of the music, which is hardly their fault anyway, since harsh vocals tend to function as instruments instead of being messenger to what the band has to say. Still, those vocals did not seem to complement the band’s music properly.

With Anneke, her emotive and soulful voice seems a perfect fit to the band’s music. Opener “Strange Machine” shows how capable she is; the lurching guitar riff provides an indelible backdrop where she can weave her magic. Her soulful yet dreamy vocals make the music so vivid and yearning with hope and passion, making lines such as "I wandered in centuries in a lifetime" seem so haunting and memorable.nbtc__dv_250

But what really seperates Anneke from the rest of the pack is her delivery, as well as the quality of her voice, which possesses a certain charm and personality that remains unmatched by other female metal vocalist. Because of this, the band’s music is elevated on so many levels.

This is not more evident on both “In Motion” and “In Motion #2”, possibly the centerpiece of the album. Both the songs build up tenderly, with Anneke waltzing along the music. However, by the time their choruses kick in (“Make me cry in vain”) the vocals shift into high gear, blasting the listener into a sonic deluge as one gets drowned with the emotion poured forth by her voice.  Powerful and exalting all at once, these tracks are some of the band’s best moments.

The band is no slouch either. Although the dichotomy of female vocals amidst the crushing yet sedate music isn’t anything new nowadays, the Gathering was one of the first bands to pioneer the sound and make it work. While other bands take the backseat and let the vocals do all the work, the Gathering creates a tapestry of sound that challenges the listener as well.

The double-bass portion of "Eleanor" and the riff-heavy "Fear The Sea" creates beautiful harmony with Anneke’s ethereal voice. The keyboards stabilize the hard edges of the music without being overbearing by remaining prevalent throughout the songs, thus providing a welcome atmosphere that helps the music in its approach.

They do not drown each other in creating the feel of the music, and most especially, the metal elements of the music do not hinder the vivid impressions that they were trying to paint, thanks in part to the solid production job on the album. Aside from these tracks, "Sand And Mercury" and the title track go out a limb and utilize various instrumentations and progressive influences to further delve into their artistic fervor, as they continue to push the envelop of music.

Haunting, riveting, and euphoric all at once, Mandylion needs to be heard. Despite the insurgence of female-fronted acts, this album is still one of the best. The sonic euphoria in listening to tracks “Strange Machines,” “In Motion,” and “In Motion #2” is meant not only to be heard, but experienced. Regardless of whatever musical genre the Gathering crosses with this album, Mandylion is simply stunning.

Rating: A-

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© 2007 Benny Balneg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Century Media, and is used for informational purposes only.