Tag Archives: Anneke van Giersbergen

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 17

Welcome to day 14 in my alternative advent, in the form of my ‘Album of the Year 2016’ top 30 countdown. As I embark on this series every year I think to myself ‘you must be mad, Spally’. And yet, after a few days, I get right back into the groove and thoroughly enjoy the challenge of putting this all together.

Unlike previous years, it has been made a little easier given that I have already reviewed everything that’s featured in this list. Therefore, for the benefit of any welcome new readers, what you’ll find in these posts is a quote from the full review, a link to the full article and then a quick commentary on the album and my thoughts about it some time after its release.

In addition, these posts also feature new photos wherever possible as well as a different sample track to the review to give you something different to try if you’re interested in what I’ve had to say.

If you have missed an previous posts in this series, links to these can be found at the bottom of each and every post, along with links to my countdowns from 2012-2015 inclusive.

But enough of all that, allow me to get on with the main event…

Number 17

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Devin Townsend Project
Transcendence
InsideOut Music

 

“It is certainly heavier than much of Devin’s more recent work, that’s for sure, but heaviness is only part of the story. You see, Devin has been gradually morphing his music in a certain direction and I believe that ‘Transcendence’ is the strongest and most engaging culmination of his personal vision to date.

With this record, Devin has managed to blend the metal elements with his more relaxed style of output almost seamlessly. What it means is that ‘Transcendence’ is one of the smoothest, uplifting and oft-times euphoric-sounding heavy metal albums I’ve ever heard. Very few other artists are able to create music that immediately sounds so epic, all-encompassing and downright serene. It’s crazy.

I’m a fan of Devin Townsend and have been for some considerable time. However, I’m having a hard time remembering when an album by the great man has had quite such an effect on me. The depth, the sophistication and the power that ‘Transcendence’ displays means that this is right up there with the very best that Devin has ever put his name to.”

Read the full review here

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There’s not a lot more to add to the quotes from my review above really. Devin Townsend is a musical genius, with the ability to try anything and everything. Invariably, it works too, as the word ‘mediocre’ and the phrase ‘that’ll do’ do not feature in the Canadian’s vocabulary.

And even by his standards, ‘Transcendence’ is good. It’s very, very good, one of the best releases that he has put his name to under any of the various monikers that he has chosen over the years. The depth of the music and the power of the compositions on this record have to be heard to be believed. The guitar sounds are instantly recognisable as Devin’s, the voice is unique be it in clear or aggressive mode and those now-familiar walls of euphoric sound are embedded into the fabric of the music, making the ground shake under the sheer magnitude of it all.

‘Transcendence’ is a more than worthy entry into my top 20 albums this year. Indeed, had the year not been totally insane in terms of the sheer number of gargantuan albums released, Devin may have found himself an awful lot higher in this list. However, after much deliberation, I’m content with this placement in my list. Good work Devin, as always.

In case you’ve missed any of the other posts in the 2016 series, here they are for you to explore and enjoy:

Album of the Year 2016 – number 18
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2016 – number 20
Album of the Year 2016 – number 21
Album of the Year 2016 – number 22
Album of the Year 2016 – number 23
Album of the Year 2016 – number 24
Album of the Year 2016 – number 25
Album of the Year 2016 – number 26
Album of the Year 2016 – number 27
Album of the Year 2016 – number 28
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2015
Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence – Album Review

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Artist: Devin Townsend Project

Album Title: Transcendence

Label: InsideOut Music

Date of Release: 9 September 2016

Like many I’m sure, Mr Devin Townsend came into my life around 1997. It was a subtle introduction via the laid back and soothing sounds created under the moniker of Strapping Young Lad and their opus ‘City’. I found myself blown away both metaphorically and literally by an album that demonstrated the brutality and aggression of a hungry bear that had just been poked with a stick. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that, at the time, this was the heaviest thing I’d ever heard. It’s still up there now, nearly 20 years later.

In the intervening period, Devin has worked as hard as anyone in the music industry, if not harder. The discography is huge with albums appearing left, right and centre over the years. Prolific therefore he may be, but crucially, the quality has always remained of the highest standard. Never settling for second best, Devin would appear to be his own worst critic and some might utter the word ‘genius’ too. I could never profess to like everything Devin has released equally, but that’s just down to personal taste rather than calling into question the quality. Bad music and Devin Townsend are two entities that never meet.

One of the most interesting factors around Devin Townsend above all else, is his willingness to experiment and go in directions where his inspiration takes him. Beginning as an out-and-out metal head with Strapping Young Lad, he has gone on record to say that his tastes have changed over time, even suggesting that the metal genre had an effect of him personally that he wasn’t happy with. The upshot was a sequence of releases that were far removed from the early heavy days, instead exploring more ambient and chilled sounds. In my opinion, ‘Ghost’ is one of the best recordings of his career.

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So what of ‘Transcendence’ then? It is certainly heavier than much of Devin’s more recent work, that’s for sure, but heaviness is only part of the story. You see, Devin has been gradually morphing his music in a certain direction and I believe that ‘Transcendence’ is the strongest and most engaging culmination of his personal vision to date.

With this record, Devin has managed to blend the metal elements with his more relaxed style of output almost seamlessly. What it means is that ‘Transcendence’ is one of the smoothest, uplifting and oft-times euphoric-sounding heavy metal albums I’ve ever heard. Very few other artists are able to create music that immediately sounds so epic, all-encompassing and downright serene. It’s crazy.

As before, the Devin Townsend Project is ostensibly a solo project but is ably assisted by a cast of talented musicians. The ‘project’ is comprised of drummer Ryan Van Poederooyen, guitarist Dave Young, bassist Brian ‘Beav’ Waddell and keyboardist/programmer Mike St-Jean. And then there are the guest musicians, namely vocalists Anneke van Giersbergen, Che Aimee Dorval (Casualties Of Cool), Katrina Natale as well as Mattias Eklund (ambience) and Niels Bye Neilsen (orchestration). If that wasn’t enough, there’s also a five-piece choir by the name of Tigers In A Tank. However, at no time to these guests dominate proceedings; instead, they simply enhance the material and add extra colour to the already vibrant pallet by doing what they each do best.

Those already familiar with Devin’s work will instantly recognise the unmistakeable reverb-heavy guitar tones that are used to open up the album via ‘Truth’. That highly melodious and welcoming sound segues into a monster riff backed up by a thunderous rhythm section before choral vocals and huge synth effects add that epic and grandiose sheen to the composition. It is also suitably quirky and catchy whilst offering echoes to the SYL days via the uncompromising guitars and wonderfully powerful vocals that verge on those famous screams from Devin. The ending then has a kind of gospel church feeling as the foot is taken off the pedal.

‘Stormbending’ follows and is one of my favourite tracks on the album. It is a bona-fide anthem, full of power before exploding into a chorus that is truly beautiful. Led by choral vocals, a slow-paced drum blastbeat and an understated melody, it frequently stops me in my tracks. There are moments within of quieter contemplation before that chorus returns to carry the listener off to a place of almost spiritual utopia. I can only suggest that the song offers something close to an aural religious experience.

There’s a djent-like edge to the overall slower-paced ‘Failure’ within the stop-start verse riffs and the surprising inclusion of an almost operatic voice at points. To my mind, this is one of the most progressive sounding tracks on ‘Transcendence’ by virtue of the shifting ideas and the expert use of light and shade. In addition, some of the lead guitar work is gorgeously emotive and soulful, to compliment the melodic intent of the entire song.

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Moving deeper into the album and for the first time (but not the last), the soothing and calm strains of an acoustic guitar can be heard within the opening segment of ‘Secret Sciences’, complementing Devin’s distinctive softer vocal delivery that I personally love. ‘Higher’ again begins in more ambient acoustic territory before blasting into something altogether heavier. Frenetic, blast-beat fuelled extremes are juxtaposed with more restrained and chilled passages to great effect, and I just adore the groove-tastic breakdowns that begin at just over the half-way mark, not to mention the anthemic closing passage that raises goosebumps on my skin.

‘Stars’ is a delightful track that is shorter and a little more straightforward in terms of construction. It is equally as captivating however with more superb melodies. Indeed, much the same can be said of ‘Offer Your Light’, the shortest and the most modern-sounding track on the album thanks to a bold keyboard sound reminiscent of Amaranthe, a no-nonsense attitude and hooky chorus. The title track on the other hand, takes that whole soundtrack approach to a completely new level with the choir working overtime to devastating effect, interspersed by quieter, more contemplative passages. The guitars are an utter joy on this particular track, although the same could be said elsewhere.

The album then ends with an impressive duo of songs, both of which clock in at over eight minutes apiece. Up first is ‘From The Heart’, a sumptuous track that has the feel of a ballad thanks to the lyrical content, the slower, more measured pace and the tangible warmth that it exudes. It’s a bittersweet composition that conveys a sense of wistfulness and contentment, enhanced by the injection of a protracted ambient section from the midway point to the close of the song that beguiles and soothes in equal measure.

The clue is most definitely in the title for ‘Transdermal Celebration’ because it’s a gloriously upbeat piece of music that comes across as a celebration of what Devin is all about in 2016, eventually unravelling into more chilled territory before it gives way to an ending that explores subtle ambient soundscapes, allowing the listener time and space to ponder life and process everything that has gone before.

I’m a fan of Devin Townsend and have been for some considerable time. However, I’m having a hard time remembering when an album by the great man has had quite such an effect on me. The depth, the sophistication and the power that ‘Transcendence’ displays means that this is right up there with the very best that Devin has ever put his name to. And to think that there was a time when this album may never have been created. I shudder at the very thought and thank the Gods that I have ‘Transcendence’ in my life.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others via my reviews pages or by clicking the links right here:

The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
Evergrey – The Storm Within
Dream The Electric Sleep – Beneath The Dark Wide Sky
Periphery – ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’
Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

Half-Way Through 2015 – The Best So Far – Part 1

So far, 2015 has been absolutely huge in terms of the sheer amount of great music that has been released. In fact, the first six months have been ridiculously strong. As such, it is very difficult to bring you my half-way round-up in the normal way – there’s just too much to fit in. And also, I have reviewed a fair number of the albums as well, so I didn’t want to repeat myself too much.

Therefore, I thought I’d celebrate by creating a more punchy couple of posts that offer a whistle-stop overview of my favourite music released between January and June 2015. In no particular order, here goes:

Audioplastik – ‘In The Head Of A Maniac’
Bad Elephant Music

00 audioplastik coverFrom the minds of members of Frost*, Threshold and Darkwater, this was never going to be anything other than brilliant and so it has proved. ‘In The Head Of A Maniac’ is best described, albeit loosely and simplistically as a combination of melodic progressive rock, metal and pop with rich cinematic overtones. If your tastes dictate that you enjoy music that is rich and varied, deep and thoughtful, beautiful and genuinely unique, look no further than ‘In The Mind Of A Maniac’ by AudioPlastik.

Read my full review here.

Keep Of Kalessin – ‘Epistemology’
Indie Recordings

Keep-of-Kalessin-EpistemologyThis is one of the albums that came out of nowhere and knocked me sideways. I had never been enamoured with Keep Of Kalessin and only gave ‘Epistemology’ a listen out of politeness and curiosity. Within a few hours, I was hooked by the really clever blend of extreme black metal, power metal and progressive undertones. The final product is an epic album of huge and majestic proportions; the combination of extremity, technicality and overblown grandiose melody and atmosphere is truly a thing of beauty and something special to behold.

Read my full review here.

The Gentle Storm ‘The Diary’
InsideOut Music

gs coverThe Gentle Storm is the moniker given to the collaboration between Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon) and Anneke van Giersbergen (ex-The Gathering). A double album, the compositions on ‘The Diary’ are repeated twice, with the first disc featuring the ‘calm’, folkier versions and disc two featuring more metallic interpretations of the songs. Both versions of the songs have their charms but the melodies scream out in both guises beautifully as do the thoroughly angelic vocals of Anneke. Another hugely ambitious undertaking involving Mr Lucassen has succeeded and with real style too.

Read my full review here.

Klone ‘Here Comes The Sun’
Pelagic Records

klone cover bigDark, gloomy and melancholy are just a few of the adjectives reserved for the ironivally-titled ‘Here Comes The Sun’ from French modern progressive rock/metal band Klone. There are similarities with bands like Katatonia within the Klone sound but nevertheless, they have their on distinct style and they’ve impressed me with their songwriting, unfaltering execution and a willingness to experiment both musically and lyrically. The result is a collection of diverse, challenging and evocative soundscapes for the modern world. And in ‘Nebulous’, they have a contender for song of the year.

Read my full review here.

Big Big Train ‘Wassail’
English Electric Recordings

bbt wassail cover‘Wassail’ may only be a four-track EP but when the quality of the music is this high, who’s going to argue? With this EP, Big Big Train prove once again that they are one of the very best progressive rock bands out there. Nobody recreates that quintessentially English pastoral prog rock sound quite like Big Big Train whilst being willing and able to experiment with folk and slightly harder-edged rock influences at the same time.

Read my full review here.

Leprous ‘The Congregation’
InsideOut Music

leprous con coverIn a six months that has been ridiculously strong for progressive music of all styles, Leprous are one of the stand-out bands, thanks to album number four, ‘The Congregation’. The sickeningly talented Norwegians have never released a substandard album but this is, without doubt, their finest work to date. It is arguably more immediate and accessible, but it remains wonderfully dark, quirky and complex. At the end of the day, no-one else sounds like Leprous and that’s what makes them such an important and intriguing band.

Moonspell ‘Extinct’
Napalm Records

moonspell coverCutting to the chase quickly, this is the best Moonspell album in my opinion since they released ‘Irreligious’ back in 1996. ‘Extinct’ contains everything that you’d want from a band like Moonspell. It is heavy, melodic and full of Gothic-influenced dark and foreboding atmosphere. Many of the compositions are monstrous anthems but there’s an immediacy and sense of playfulness about the material too. It all adds up to being a rather splendid and addictive album.

And that’s it for Part 1 – watch out for more instalments in the coming days…

Heavy Metal Is Not Just ‘Shouty’ Music – Part 2 – The Female Voices

I received some great feedback to my original post entitled ‘Heavy metal is not just ‘shouty’ music’ but a few people criticised it for one important reason: my post only featured male vocalists. This was in no way deliberate and, to underline this point, I have decided to write a second post that puts some of the best female vocalists in rock and metal under the spotlight.

Putting this blog post together was more difficult than I thought it would be for a number of reasons. Firstly, when I sat down to write this article, I realised that that there are a lot more female vocalists in heavy metal than I thought. Secondly, I realised that I don’t listen to nearly enough music with female vocalists as I should. Shame on me.

The result is a very personal list that mentions those artists who have impressed me over time and more recently; the singers that genuinely stand out to me and offer something different.

Naturally, there will be those of you reading this that are greater aficionados of female-fronted heavy music (if you can even pigeon-hole it all into such a tidy niche) that will vehemently disagree with my choices. But hey, that’s good – tell me who I’ve missed and why…maybe I could then write a supplementary blog once I’ve fully explored your suggestions.

Anyway, enough of my ramblings, here’s my list of current favourite female vocalists in heavy music…

Lee Douglas

Caroline Traitler Photography

Caroline Traitler Photography

Anathema are in no way a female-fronted band; however they are a band that has within their ranks of late, a female vocalist in the form of Lee Douglas who is very special indeed. Mind you, that’s a bit of an understatement borne out of the fact that I find it hard to put into words how deeply Lee’s vocals affect me. I’m not sure that there’s another voice out there in any genre who can convey such emotion and touch me so deeply. Lee’s voice is elegant, graceful, beautiful, fragile, angelic and timeless.

Cristina Scabbia

Lacuna Coil - Christina Scabbia & Andrea Ferro

Ms Scabbia had to feature in this list because I’ve been a fan of hers and of Lacuna Coil from just about the very beginning. To be entirely accurate, Lacuna Coil feature dual vocalists and the interplay between them is what makes the band so interesting. That said, Cristina’s voice never ceases to impress me. It is full of power and attitude when required but it possesses a silky-smooth quality with an unmistakable Mediterranean flavour that frequently sends chills down my spine.

Tarja Turunen

Tarja Turunen 2013 1

One of the original and best, Tarja Turunen is a rare talent. Bursting into the conscious of metal fans the world over with Nightwish, Tarja’s classically-trained operatic delivery forced just about everyone to stop and listen. Note perfect, emotionally charged and possessing a deceptive strength, Tarja’s voice remains instantly recognisable. Not content to tread water, Tarja, as a solo artist primarily, continues to push her vocal talents to new, ever impressive heights.

Anneke van Giersbergen

Picture by: Bullet-Ray

Picture by: Bullet-Ray

I remember discovering Anneke van Giersbergen via the seminal The Gathering album, ‘Mandylion’ and, since then, I have been thoroughly smitten whether as a solo artist or more recently in conjunction with Devin Townsend or Arjen Lucassen. Anneke’s range is impressive and is capable of enhancing just about any kind of composition, from genres as diverse as Gothic metal, prog rock or even folk. Anneke’s delivery sounds so effortless and has a beautifully delicate, haunting quality to it that I adore.

Floor Jansen

Photo: Tim Tronckoe photography

Photo: Tim Tronckoe photography

The sheer power of Floor Jansen’s voice is frightening. However, more frightening is her versatility as she is able to deliver a classical soprano one minute and then revert to an out-and-out rock voice the next. Whatever the style, Floor is note perfect, confident and completely convincing, to the point that whilst I was never a huge fan of After Forever or ReVamp, I listened because of Floor. She may also be the much-needed saviour of Nightwish, although time will tell on that score.

Agnete M. Kirkevaag

agnete madder

The delivery of Madder Mortem vocalist Agnete M. Kirkevaag won’t be to everyone’s taste and neither will their music either. Nevertheless, if there’s one female vocalist that has the ability to surprise, delight and confound in equal measure, in my opinion it has to be Agnete. Blessed with an impressive range and the guts to try anything, the result occasionally borders on the discordant and uncomfortable. However, this is juxtaposed almost schizophrenically with some really subtly beautiful quiet melodic passages when required.

Julie Kiss

Photo: Gothicman

Photo: Gothicman

It takes a special vocalist to enhance and bring a certain amount of immediacy to a complex and technical form of jazz-influenced progressive metal. However, that’s exactly what Julie Kiss succeeds in doing. Her soothing and serene tone for the most part is coupled with a knack of creating unusual yet thoroughly engaging melodies to the point that the listener becomes enthralled and mesmerised by the end result.

Elize Ryd

Photo Andreas Amberg

Photo Andreas Amberg

Not content with two male vocalists, Amaranthe also boast within their armoury one of my favourite female vocalists, Elize Ryd. Frankly, most pop singers could learn a thing or two from Ms Ryd given that she clearly understands how to consistently deliver addictive hooks and melodies via a potent voice. What’s more impressive is that her seductive tone has the range to be believable both atop catchy pop-like choruses or as a direct counterpoint to a full-on metal assault.

Krissie Kirby

krissie

Full of power and attitude, Triaxis’ vocalist Krissie Kirby is a force to be reckoned with and, as such, is without doubt one of my favourite female vocalists in heavy metal. It’s rare for a thrash metal band to be spearheaded by a female voice, but Krissie sounds perfect in the role, matching the scything riffs and heavy rhythm section blow for blow. And on several occasions, thanks to a great blend of melody and brute force, the impressive-lunged Krissie helps to take an already excellent Triaxis to a whole new level.

Simone Simons

Epica - Simone Simons & Mark Jansen

What I like most about Epica’s Simone Simons is the variety and versatility in her vocal delivery. On the one hand, Simone is happy to project her rich, classical, operatic voice but then with little or no apparent effort, can switch to a more straight-up rock approach. And when the tempo slows, the softness and delicacy of Simone’s voice comes to the fore, in stark contrast to the growled male vocals with which she frequently duets. The fact that she is still so young means she can only get even better; what a wonderful thought.

The Gentle Storm – The Diary – Album Review

gs cover

Artist: The Gentle Storm

Album Title: The Diary

Label: Inside Out Music

Year of Release: 2015

‘The Gentle Storm’…if you stop and think about it and let the words mull over in your mind for a time, it suddenly hits you what a really nice, clever and simple name it is. A contradiction in terms it may be but it’s one that beautifully sums up what this album is all about. But more about that in a moment; first, some context.

The Gentle Storm is the latest release from the intense workaholic that’s Arjen Lucassen, the Dutch multi-instrumentalist that is occasionally – and rightfully in my opinion – referred to as a musical genius. Arjen has been a part of the rock/metal music scene for over 30 years and in that time, has recorded some of the most highly regarded music within the progressive genre. With The Gentle Storm, normal service has been resumed and this project stands shoulder to shoulder with Lucassen’s previous work under his several various guises, be it Ayreon, Guilt Machine or Star One to name a few.

To be entirely accurate though, The Perfect Storm is more of a joint collaboration between Arjen and his compatriot, Anneke van Giersbergen, better known for supplying her angelic vocals to The Gathering and more latterly, in collaboration with Devin Townsend but also as a revered solo artist in her own right.

Courtesy of: Tim Tronckoe photography

Courtesy of: Tim Tronckoe photography

The fiendishly talented Lucassen handles the majority of the standard instruments on the album. However, a plethora of guests join him and Anneke on the record including a choir and over 40 authentic, exotic instruments making it an ambitious project to say the least. But Arjen is no stranger to handling such huge logistical efforts as he proves once again.

There’s even a live band for when The Gentle Storm goes onto the stage. Yes, you heard that right, the reclusive Arjen is going to perform live. For this momentous occasion, Anneke and Arjen are to be joined by an all-Dutch crew comprised of guitarists Merel Bechtold (Purest of Pain, MaYaN) and Ferry Duijsens (Anneke van Giersbergen, ex-Dreadlock Pussy), drummer Ed Warby (Hail Of Bullets, Ayreon, ex-Gorefest), bassist Johan van Stratum (Stream of Passion) and keyboardist Joost van den Broek (ex-After Forever).

But what’s the music like that fans will be treated to?

The Gentle Storm is, to put it mildly, an intelligent and multi-faceted beast. It’s a double album that features eleven tracks recorded twice in two different guises. Disc one features ‘calm’ versions of the eleven compositions whilst disc two revisits the songs and in the process dials up the metal. No suprise then that disc two is referred to as the ‘storm’ disc. I find the whole idea thoroughly fascinating.

But that’s not all. ‘The Diary’ is a concept album lyrically as well. In celebration of their Dutch heritage, the concept centres around the Dutch Golden Age from the 17th Century, a time that encompasses the likes of Rembrandt and Vermeer for example as well as new discoveries and advancements in many of the important areas we now take for granted. The story is then brought to life and given a real human element via the creation of two central characters. A sailor and his wife are kept apart for two years and their only means of communication is via letters, the content of which are explored throughout the album. It’s both am enlightening and touching story that only serves to add to the drama and richness of the album.

Disc one, the ‘gentle’ disc is stunning in its beauty. To say it is simple would be grossly unfair but so expertly crafted is it that the music gives off the illusion of simplicity; the melodies are hook-laden and breezy, the compositions feel light and airy and the almost ethereal vocals of Anneke sound effortless. The entire disc has a demonstrable folk feel to it; acoustic guitars, woodwind, strings, French horn, pianos and the myriad of aforementioned authentic instruments all play a part in creating an end product which is really rather special. Lucassen’s compositional skills are well-known and widely lauded but here, he has pulled out all the stops. In interviews, he readily admits that he wrote the music to allow Anneke’s voice to shine and he has achieved his aim with aplomb. The music is instantly recognisable as Arjen’s work but he has allowed his melodic sensibilities to come to the fore and has created some of his strongest material to date, allowing Anneke to shine like a diamond throughout. Frankly, so beautiful is Anneke’s voice that I could genuinely listen to her singing the contents of a tax return all day long.

I must admit that I wasn’t immediately put under a spell by the ‘gentle’ disc but I cannot deny that the more I listen, the more I want to return for more. The chorus within ‘New Horizons’ for example is gorgeous and captivating, the subtleties within ‘Endless Sea’ or ‘Heart of Amsterdam’ are remarkable and the almost cheeky instrumental interplay within tracks like ‘Eyes of Michiel’ is a real joy to behold.

However, I am the Man of Much Metal and for all the copious strengths of the ‘gentle’ disc, it is on the ‘storm’ disc where I unsurprisingly derive the most enjoyment. Others will no doubt disagree, but to my mind, the whole thing comes fully alive on the second disc.

Picture by: Bullet-Ray

Picture by: Bullet-Ray

We’re not talking extreme metal here and, in all honesty, the metal excesses and fripperies could have been further embellished had the mood taken the duo. However, in spite of this laudable restraint, the ante is nevertheless upped significantly. On opener ‘Endless Sea’, the guitars and dramatic symphonics are brought more to the fore to wonderful effect. The choir sounds magnificent and Anneke’s vocal delivery is captivating, reminding me more of her output on The Gathering’s seminal release ‘Mandylion’ than anything else she has put her name and considerable talents to since.

‘Heart of Amsterdam’ benefits second time around from a surprisingly chunky and heavy guitar tone that I adore and the whole thing has a grandiose majesty and beauty that cannot be ignored.

One of many highlights however must be the delightful ‘Shores of India’ with its Middle Eastern melodies and tangible exotic flavour. Coupled with a really superb rhythm guitar tone, big choir-led crescendo and another brilliant vocal delivery from Anneke, it’s a real head-turner and one of the strongest compositions on this record.

One day, Arjen Lucassen will be involved with a less-than-stellar album, but it isn’t now. The partnership between Arjen and his leading lady, Anneke van Giersbergen has proved to be an inspiring one, one that has delivered a double album which is epic and ambitious but ultimately a magnificent triumph. It might not all be to everyone’s taste, but I love it. Absolutely superb.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:

Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld