Nighttime Birds is the Gathering's 4th studio release, and their second with Anneke van Giersbergen at the helm. It's also the name of the title track.

Released in 1997, like many popular European bands, this Dutch group didn't receive much, if any, exposure to US audiences. It took a fiery redhead manning the microphone to turn their ear on to this promising band. Anneke van Giersbergen, joining the band with 1995's Mandylion, did just that, after which, the Gathering were beginning to reach household name status, at least in Europe. Following a successful tour through Europe, there was much anticipation brewing for their next release.

Labeling Nighttime Birds is difficult, as difficult as attempting to peg what genre the Gathering themselves fall into. It has heavy, crunching guitars in some parts, with the occasional guitar-led instrumental break. But it's not heavy metal. At the same times, there's a strong sense of ambience encompassing every track, with the keyboards heightening the depth immensely. The band forays into unfamiliar territory in most of the songs. But it's not progressive. There's slow, melodic passages accompanied with sorrow-tinged vocals. But it's not indie.

This CD is such a cohesive blend of styles that it the Gathering can't be pigeonholed into any one in particular. The best way to try and put a label to what the Gathering are doing here is "Atmospheric Metal." It is simply a beautiful, enthralling listening experience. What shines about this album, more than anything, is the vocals. Anneke soars above the instruments and lays down a vocal track ripe with emotion and depth. It's not just the manner in which she sings them though; the lyrics themselves are quite well written, and even if the subject matter itself seems thin, hearing the words sung by her sends chills down your spine.

All in all, this is a mandatory requirement for your collection if you enjoy well-written, well-performed, moving music. Highlights include the driving, panicky "Third Chance," compassioned "The Earth is My Witness," and the absolutely haunting "On Most Surfaces." The latter song was so stirring it brought a macho sword-collector acquaintance of mine to a single tear. Due partly to the fact that the Gathering move between soundscapes so effectively, this release appeals to most metal-lovers, as well as those not typically apt to buy a metal album. Do your ears a favor and buy this. And spread the word.

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

01...(6:54)..On Most Surfaces
03...(3:44)..The May Song
04...(5:31)..The Earth Is My Witness
05...(6:06)..New Moon Different Day
06...(5:25)..Third Chance
07...(3:22)..Kevin's Telescope
08...(7:00)..Nighttime Birds


Other info:

Released August 1st, 1997 by Century Media Records
Recorded at Woodhouse Studios, Hagen, Germany, between February 17th and March 15th, 1997
Total running time of 48 minutes, 40 seconds

The title track off of this album is a 7 minute piece which is, in some ways, an instrumental. Though it has lyrics, but they are aren't anything significant or deep. Instead, they serve as the notes which Anneke's instrument contributes to the texture of the song. It is an amazing track though, because despite the repetition of lyrics and music themes, it doesn't get stale, even after 7 minutes, because there's always one element of the texture that's different from one moment to the next. And in spite of the occasional crashing guitar part, this song remains soothing throughout, so much so it's often in whatever mix of music I fall asleep to.

Nighttime Birds

Their ways are open They spread as their wings They want to be certain Of a warm surrounding (chorus) When they fly Through the night as beautiful Nighttime birds (repeat 1x) The warm winds pick them up When they fly (chorus) (repeat 1x) bridge (chorus) (repeat 1x) Nighttime birds (repeat 1x)