After going through no less than 4 vocalists after 2 studio albums, the Gathering needed a miracle, badly. Much like Dream Theater in the years after sacking Charlie Dominici, the members of the Gathering auditioned dozens of potential singers, none of them able to match the unique style and vision the band possessed.

Until Anneke van Giersbergen came along and swept them off their feet.

Well, maybe not literally, but at the very least, figuratively. Her voice flowing from her lips like a stream of the softest silk, she brought the perfect complement to the band's black-metal-come-progressive-metal-come-ambient style. With her at the helm, they landed a recording contract through Century Records, and set to work creating Mandylion.

Although it was hardly the Gathering's first studio release, it was their first going in a totally different musical direction than where they'd initially been, and it was like starting over in a sense. The band spent just over 2 weeks in the studio, and put together an 8 track album that grazed the 54-minute mark. And it was good. Despite having a very small fan base prior to the release, the group's single of "Strange Machines" ended up on the Dutch charts along with the album.

The distribution of goodness on this album is fairly even. It opens up with "Strange Machines," which is a fantastic song on its own, filling the left audio channel with a distorted and repetitive guitar riff for a few moments before having the rest of the band strike it up. If this were a normal metal band, it wouldn't be anything worth mentioning, but the Gathering thought to include a keyboardist, which lends a highly symphonic nature to the band's sound. Once Anneke breaks out into her lyrics, the focus is on her. The combination of the styles can really only be described as atmospheric metal, and even that doesn't accurately describe the sound.

Aside from "Strange Machines", other noteworthy tracks include "Leaves," "Sand and Mercury," and the title track. "Leaves" is a varied tempo song that moves from peaceful guitar plucks to a sharp, reverberating guitar topping with Anneke pouring her soul on top of it, only to move to a bridge that's ballad-like in nature, before shifting back into guitars and Anneke.

The second most unique track on the album, "Sand and Mercury," begins with a clean guitar riff and gentle drumming. It then spends the next 4 minutes adding incremental layers of heaviness on top of all that, building up to a climactic assault of percussion, distortion, and synthesization. Just when you think the band's going to explode, it melts - The guitars bleed into a trickle of liquid spilling downward and setting off sweet-sounding chimes and otherworldly noises. On top of this ethereal backdrop Anneke sings sweet nothings about a dying lover. The first part gritty, the latter liquid and haunting - Hence, sand and mercury.

As for "Mandylion," the title track, I won't even attempt to describe the way it sounds. I'll just say that this instrumental was dedicated to a friend the band lost, Harold Gloudemans.

If you like music that won't be heard on 99.9% of radio stations, this album is a must buy. For metal fans who have become disillusioned by the sorry state of American metal, this may very well renew your faith that incredible music still exists. And for those that couldn't stomach the repeating riffs and male voices of traditional metal, this may provide a gateway into a whole other style of music that's beginning to grow in popularity worldwide.

#...........Time........Track Title

01...(6:04)..Strange Machines
03...(6:56)..In Motion #1
05...(5:50)..Fear the Sea
07...(9:57)..Sand and Mercury
08...(6:08)..In Motion #2


Other info:

Released August 22nd, 1995 by Century Media Records
Recorded and mixed at Woodhouse Studios, Hagen, Germany, between June 1st and June 16th, 1995
Total running time of 52 minutes, 32 seconds

A shadowy image in a strangely shaped frame, like flames turned upside-down. Looking closely, one can distinguish a face, elongated in the Medieval style, darkened by centuries of old varnish and incense smoke. This is the Holy Mandylion, the True Image of the Holy Face, a nearly forgotten remnant of the Iconoclast debate c.600-800 CE.

On one hand, it was well-nigh imperative, in a world before widespread literacy, to have a visual component to Christianity, especially if it was to unify common people and the Roman Empire.  On the other hand, the commandment not to worship graven images was clear, and the Jewish tradition did very well without them.

The Mandylion, or holy towel, "an image not made by hands" was a cloth given to the court painter Ananias of Abgar V of Edessa (now in Turkey, then part of Syria) from the hand of Jesus Himself, which miraculously had become imprinted with a perfect image of His Holy Face. The story went that the King had been suffering with an unspecified ailment (gout or leprosy, depending on the source), and had heard of a preacher/healer in nearby Judea who could help. He thereupon wrote Jesus a letter, and sent it by way of the same Ananias, who was charged with returning either with Jesus or an image of Him. Upon seeing The Son of God, he was so struck by his radiance that he was unable to paint him, and could hardly hand him the letter. JC, being both literate and courteous, read the letter, drafted a reply (some say dictated) remarking that he was very busy at the time, but would be happy to send an apostle (St. Jude Thaddeus) to look into the matter. Then, wetting his face, he toweled off, and presented the towel "as consolation for his illness". Working from the image left on the towel either by miracle or by dust, Ananais was able to reconstruct a suitable image for his King, who was deeply touched, and put the towel away in a safe place.

The towel in question then had a rocky history. It was hidden behind a tile to ward off a Persian invasion, and mysteriously caused the tile to bear the same image. It was shown to duplicate itself. Little is certain except that it reappeared in the 600's at the height of the pro/anti icon debate, and appeared to settle the matter clearly on the side of images. The image itself became the property of the Emperor of Constantinople, and remained so until the Sack of Constantinople in 1204. From there, it passed to the French Royalty, who enshrined it at Sainte-Chappelle, in Paris. Or did they? Two other contenders for the Mandylion turned up in Genoa and in Rome, and copies were popular in Russia, where theologically, they were placed in the same category as the Eucharist as the literal Body of Christ. The Parisian Mandylion disappeared during the French Revolution and is probably permanently lost.

Are the other two real? Probably not. Of the remaining two, only the Roman Mandylion (now in the Pope's private chapel) incorporates actual linen cloth into the image. This face, if it was ever really imprinted onto the cloth, has been painted over several times, according to the Vatican's own restoration department, and is, as I've alluded before, not in a style consistent with 1st century Syria. Neither is the face recognizably of a Judean peasant of that era, being more like a Byzantine Imperial court portrait. Some people have attempted to identify the Mandylion as the Shroud of Turin, but evidence is scanty.

More importantly, perhaps, is the significance the Mandylion has had to Western art. Prior to its veneration, Christian iconography and secular portraiture seemed on the same track as that of contemporaneous Islam. Few permanent paintings (that is, not intended as banners, or other ephemerata) were ever done on cloth. By proving that Christian faith and figurative art could coexist, a pious fraud ensured we now have the vibrant range of images we have today. It seems like a small price to pay.

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