The Gathering – Home
20/04/2006 § Leave a comment
There have been numerous occasions where The Gathering have disappointed me. Mandylion was, and probably will always remain, one of the most significant albums in femme-metal though their direction after How To Measure A Planet hinted strongly at a band that were searching for a different sound but who were unable to find it. It has now been three years since their last release, Souvenirs, and I was wondering what the Gathering had left to offer us. When any band changes its sound drastically they can only hold the baton of invention for so long before dropping it altogether and slipping into obscurity. However, what Rene and Anneke realised was that Souvenirs was an overgilded piece of work and flogging an art form to death really does nothing to ensure its quality.
Home is very much a step back from the sound on Souvenirs: it is far more spontaneous, far more modest and far more successful in setting out what it is trying to achieve. It is an example of the success of The Gathering’s inventiveness and proof that when they get the mix right, they can create music which is far better than what the majority of bands in the genre can ever hope to produce. The key to Home is sensitivity, and in a way this may have been a point learned from Sleepy Buildings. There is still a triprock essence, but for the first time it works since it is a natural hybrid of the innovative extremities of Souvenirs and How To Measure A Planet.
What The Gathering do so well this time round is make every song on the album not only distinct from all the others but they also manage to divide many of the songs into different sections. A lot of the numbers have numerous ideas melded into the same part but because each element is carried out with great simplicity the entire edifice works beautifully well. In addition to this, certain musical themes lay a bedrock for each song which strengthens the musical foundations and ultimately provides greater authority: Shortest Day with its guitar fade-in/out effect which dominates the verse, In Between with its jumpy chords and Alone with its buzzing repetitive bassline.
The Gathering have also not forgotten the extreme talents of their frontwoman and there are many moments on Home where one is reminded of just how good she can be. Anneke plays with words and verbal rhythms as much as she does with the notes and vocal melodies, some of which are nothing short of stunning: songs like Forgotten, which only contain Anneke and a piano, will make you stop everything you are doing in order to concentrate on the refinement of the music before you. Her intonation is as endearing as possible and just the way she can whisper a word like ‘box’ is crisp and sharp, and though there are moments in Waking Hour, one of the best songs on the album, where she actually misses some of the higher notes, one gets the impression that the range is intentionally too high for her so that she’s forced to gasp the final strains of the song, choking on the high end of the stave but doing so with a certain humility.
There are very few negative moments on Home but unfortunately some are present. There is the pointless instrumental that is Fatigue, the sampled Spanish mutterings on Solace and the reprise of Forgotten at the end of the album which we could really have done without. Nevertheless, these don’t get in the way of the enjoyment on any level, it’s clear from start to finish that Home is a work of very high quality and we are reminded of this constantly throughout it. In fact, it is clearly the most rounded work that The Gathering have produced for many, many years. Gone is the pretentious trial of Black Light District and the loopy drum beats of HTMAP and Souvenirs, and while there may be the odd drum loop hint on Home, it’s nothing but a hangover since the band have realised that these work far better as a background building block rather than some gargolic foreground din. The sound on Home is far more conventional in its use of drums, guitar and bass, and dropping the majority of the other effects is quite a relief.
More than anything though, Home feels just like its namesake – the place where The Gathering have been meaning to get to musically for a long time but, through various personal and artistic difficulties, haven’t quite managed to find themselves there. Sleepy Buildings was a sign of further excellence to come and now The Gathering have proved, once again, that they are the indisputable masters of the genre who deserve the utmost reverence for the quality of their music. Home is an album which will require the greatest amount of time and respect to be understood, but with such good material on offer, it’s unlikely you’ll want to give it anything else.