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