When The Gathering's longtime singer, Anneke van Giersbergen, decided to go solo two years ago, I honestly had no idea what would become of one of my favorite bands of all time. Once in what seems another lifeThe Gathering was a death metal band. Through two albums they struggled to find their voice until, in 1995, the-then 22-year-old sprightly redheaded mezzo-soprano gave them that needed voice.
The band evolved from a high quality metal-tinged rock outfit to a somewhat experimental space rock act and ultimately into what they referred to as “trip rock.” Whatever they were, each song, whether a slowly evolving piece or a straight up rocker, had the ability to keep the listener wanting to explore its many layers. And all of it was tied into Anneke van Giersbergen's voice. And she was gone. How does one recover?
By moving on, which is exactly what The Gathering did when they hired former Octavia Sperati singer Silje Wergeland to fill those enormous shoes. Along the way, the band also tapped a pair of other female singers, Anne van den Hoogen and Marcela Bovio, to guest on a pair of tracks on the recently released The West Pole.
The result? Not bad, not bad at all. Except now, where it seemed before Anneke van Giersbergen was the glue holding the songs together, it's the songs themselves that have stepped up to fill that role. Which is certainly not a bad thing.
As promised by the band in early details pre-release, a number of songs are rockier than the band's most recent outputs. The West Pole is bookended by several quality rock out in your car with the windows down tracks, including standouts “All You Are” and closer “A Constant Run,” which features a beautifully unfolding two-minute-plus instrumental closer. I'm listening to the song now, and my heart is quickening.
The rock songs sandwich a number of subtler tracks, including the phenominal “No Bird Call,” highlighted by Frank Boeijen's airy, haunting keystrokes.
And the three singers featured – Wergeland, van den Hoogen, and Bovio – are solid compliments to the music, with van den Hoogen sounding the farthest from the band's former singer, Bovio the closest, but no one ever sounds like they're trying to recapture the past. Call it The Gathering 3.0, but don't call it a comeback, because they never left.