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.