November 22, 2009

The Gathering - West Pole

The Gathering is an interesting band. I was first introduced to them in the late 1990's. They were signed to Century Media records, a label that was fast becoming one of my favorites with its impressive roster of metal bands. Then there was The Gathering, a band that is decidedly not metal. Still, there they were, appearing on the labels low cost samplers called Identity, an annual series collecting singles from a number of their bands marketed as a cheap way to get a hold of some new music. There nestled The Gathering among the likes of Iced Earth, Moonspell, Arch Enemy, Rotting Christ, Emperor, Katatonia, and Nevermore. To say they stood out like a sore thumb with their lush melodic arrangements and soaring female vocals would be an understatement.

I was initially attracted to their sound. I picked up their fifth album, How to measure a planet?. I liked it, but it did not turn out to be an album I would listen too all that much and I never did pick up any more of their albums, until know. I was given the opportunity to give the band's latest, West Pole, a spin and I decided to revisit them. After all, it has been a long time and my tastes have grown and changed a lot since my initial exposure.

Upon first listen, I have to say this is a really good album. There is something about the composition and song structure that is absolutely beautiful. The songs are simple and sparse, yet complex and lush. It is something that you need to hear. Now, for as good as it is it should be said that this is no masterpiece, no musical landmark that will change the way you listen to anything going forward. The crux of the matter is that what it does, it does well. The music may be a little to the laid back side, but there seems to be a drive to deliver a memorable experience. In this respect, The Gathering succeeds.


While I am not terribly familiar with the band, it is pretty clear they had a huge hurdle to get over in the creation of The West Pole. Two years ago, vocalist and face of the band, Anneke Van Giersbergen, left to explore other musical destinations. This left the band with a large hole to fill. Eventually the vocalist position was filled by Silje Wergeland. She has a voice that fits the band like a glove while also being distinctly different from her predecessor.

The band made an interesting decision when they lined up the song order. Considering the change of such an important element of their music, you would think they would want to get the anticipation out of the way and begin with a vocal track, perhaps something like "Treasure." Well, this did not happen. Instead, The West Pole opens with "When Trust Becomes Sound," a near four minute instrumental with a strong groove and an open, indie-rock feel.

Was it the best choice? I could not say. I will say that I like it. I would not recommend this route to everyone, but it works very well here. The open sound and the groove lure you in, gently nodding your head. Then the album proper begins with "Treasure" and you get to hear what the new voice of the band sounds like. It is good.

I have no idea what my future with The Gathering will be, but I suspect that I will revisit this album from time to time. It is distinctly not metal, but it has a great laid back aura that provides a full soundscape to sit back and be enveloped by.

Regardless of your experience, or lack thereof, with The Gathering, do yourself a favor and give this a spin. You may be surprised by what you find.



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