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Music Review: The Gathering – The West Pole

Feared by most as the portent of doom for The Gathering, the news that long term singer Anneke van Giersbergen was leaving in 2007 has, instead, acted as something of a new impetus for the Dutch metal band. As a result, this year sees them celebrating twenty years since their formation. It coincides with the release of their first new album since Home, Anneke’s last after thirteen years.

Never a band to stand still or, heaven forbid, become predictable, The Gathering’s previous eight albums have seen them constantly evolving their style. This air of reinvention now permeates throughout The West Pole an album awash with freshness.

New vocalist Silje Wergeland, who joined from Norwegian band Octavia Sperati, arrives with the unenviable job of replacing Giersbergen who had forged a huge reputation with her on-stage presence and distinctive vocals. For The West Pole Silje is joined by two more female singers Anne van den Hoogan, also from the Netherlands, and Mexican Marcela Bovio from Stream Of Passion.

It’s always hard when a band replaces their vocalist. Suddenly the whole character of the sound and their on-stage personality is altered forever. Having said that, this enforced change has redirected and refocussed the band yet again. The good news is they have landed on their feet and produced a fine album that sees them make best use of this new starting point.

Produced by guitarist Rene Rutten, it was mixed by Zlaya Hadzich who previously worked with the band on their Souvenirs album back in 2003. As if in recognition of the fact that the release of The West Pole represents something of a re-birth, they have added some additional touches amid the distinctive atmospheric elements. It all helps to make this one of their most imaginative and satisfying albums yet.

Anyone fearing the worst with the news that Anneke was leaving will no doubt need some time to adjust to the new sound. However, I am sure that they will end up seeing it for what it is, one of The Gathering most complete and carefully constructed albums.

Whilst carrying the trademark atmospherics perfectly, and filling the gap as near seamlessly as possible, Silje still has enough individuality to announce her arrival. Knuckling down in the face of possible adversity they have poured every cent of their experience into the making of this album. If anything the jolt of Anneke’s leaving has kick-started their earlier creativity.

 The West Pole is certainly a step away from the style of Home and is perhaps a look back to the melodic goth that was more evident in earlier albums.  However, this isn’t just a walk through safe territory, this represents the start of a whole new, and if anything crisper, sounding era.

The trademark power arrives amid the characteristic textures of light and colour in an album brimming with atmosphere and purpose. This whole kick start opens out with the instrumental “When Trust Becomes Sound”. If anything, it adds to the tension surrounding the arrival of the new vocalist as the band cleverly keep us waiting.

Any fears are brushed aside when “Treasure” finally kicks in. It acts as a positive statement and sets the scene nicely for the rest of the album. “All We Are” leads easily towards the lusciously melodic six and half minute atmospheric triumph that is the title track. It is at this point that you realise that, like most of their albums, this one is sure to further divide opinion.

Silje’s often delicately soft vocals are perfectly suited for tracks such as “No Bird Calls”, and the smooth as silk, yet slow burning, “Capital Of Nowhere”. “You Promised Me A Symphony” and “Pale Traces” take us even deeper into the hauntingly melancholic. The album ends with the drive of “No One Spoke”, and the impressive “Constant Run”.

You never know which version of the band is going to appear on their albums. Suffice it to say that, once again, this latest manifestation will delight some whilst leaving others scratching their heads and checking the cover to make sure they have actually bought an album by The Gathering.

Let’s face it, any attempts by Silje to sound like Anneke would have met with a few raised eyebrows. Instead she asserts her own impressive presence and character alongside that of the revitalized band.

About Jeff Perkins