Dutch rockers The Gathering have come a long way since their birth as yet another European metal band. These days, The Gathering are musically distant from any kind of metal. Rather, they call their musical style trip rock, a label that fits well. The Gatherings development has never involved startling jumps as much as a steady progression into new musical territories. Starting with the wonderful 1995 release Mandylion and the lucky recruitment of the incomparable vocalist Anneke Van Giersbergen, the band brought its music to a new level of beauty and atmosphere. With each release, they refined their sound and tested boundaries with the kind of daring brilliance usually reserved for bands that influence an entire genre.
That said, Souvenirs is the Gatherings most boundary-testing, daring, and brilliant album. To call it a singular piece of music might be an understatement. The entire album exudes an eerie, dreamlike power that through all its hypnotic qualities achieves a startling beauty. Anneke Van Giersbergen delivers a powerful and nuanced performance, and in her best moments, her voice is positively angelic. Even more so than in previous albums, she radiates emotion that feels convincing and unforced. The effect is startling: her vocals express everything from a vulnerable caress to a menacing cry in Monsters. Her vocals in the first seconds of You Learn about It are a siren song that could disarm anyone.
The instrumentation on Souvenirs is perfectly understated, which fits the albums sense of drama. The Gathering also explores some interesting harmonic structures. Just listen to the oddly captivating rhythm that builds for the first minute of the opening track These Good People, that is then broken by a dark piano chord. The distorted volume swells on the intro to Broken Glass sound great melodically while simultaneously being just a tad bit disconcerting rhythmically.
Souvenirs displays an impressive musical vocabulary, especially for the amount of focus it retains. The use of keyboards such as the crystalline piano chords that punctuate A Life All Mine is tasteful and effective. Compared to most rock music, the guitars are used in a unique way, and they do not often take the spotlight. In Even the Spirits are Afraid, the guitar gallops along as a part of the percussion. The guitars are usually so drenched in effects that they dont even sound like guitars. Consider, for instance, the chiming chords in the intro to Jelena or the beautiful guitar melodies that dance throughout the title track. The magnificent guitar solo (if you could even call it that) on Broken Glass is more akin to a group of musical dolphins than it is to any rock guitarist Ive ever heard. The percussion on Souvenirs, though outstanding and never too ambitious, is not relegated to mere standard rock drumming. We get everything from the barely audible booming distant thunder of Jelena to the vaporous sounding cymbal fill (or maybe its a very percussive sounding synth?) recurrent throughout the title track.
In the end, Souvenirs is another major success for an innovative band that has repeatedly proved its brilliance. Whether you are a fan of Therion, Radiohead, or Bjork, Souvenirs is an album for you and for all forward-thinking music fans. It is also an album for those who simply like to put on a pair of headphones and lose their world to an hour of beautiful music. Souvenirs is so pretty, so absorbing, and so musically interesting, that I cannot help but give it my highest recommendation.
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