THE GATHERING – The West Pole (2009)

The Gathering - The West Pole I had incorrectly assumed that The Gathering would cease to exist after the departure of vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen (who went on to pursue a poppier solo career that I’m mostly ambivalent about). Now, I’m not entirely sure why I thought this (the Rutten brothers founded the band, after all), but it does go to show how large a role Anneke played in the band’s music. So when The West Pole was announced, I was skeptical, and not simply as a knee-jerk reaction to being proven wrong; I had my reasons. Most obviously, it would be a difficult task to find Anneke’s replacement, but more than that, most of my skepticism lay with the quality of the band’s previous album, Home – that album was an uncharacteristically weak effort from the band, lacking in both the groove and the stark atmosphere that they’d d been steadily refining since if_then_else. Home seemed to be crafted for the radio, but what was worse was that, in parts, it actually felt like it belonged there.

So in my eyes, The West Pole had some serious obstacles to overcome, and it doesn’t just overcome them – it demolishes them. The albums is the most sonically interesting thing the band have done in ages, pairing their dark trip-hop with a hazy deluge of guitar. It’s not quite Portishead meets My Bloody Valentine, but it certainly exists somewhere down that union’s road. What’s even more interesting is that the album turns inward as it progress, becoming more insular as the songs wind on, with the guitar being the dominant force in the early songs, and being all but absent in the later ones. Even more amazing, though, is how well the new vocalist Silje Wergeland (formerly of Octavia Sperati) fits into the band; her timbre and and vocal range are eerily close to Anneke’s; this is nothing like when Nightwish replaced Tarja Turunen with Anette Olzon who, although skilled, couldn’t match Tarja’s presence in the music if her life depended on it. With Silje, there’s none of that – she’s about as close to a dead ringer of Anneke as one could get.

The Gathering often get lumped into the metal scene, a scene which they haven’t been a part of in over a decade. Still, associations stick, and when you’re on Century Media for as long as they were, they’re unavoidable. But what The West Pole is, more than anything else, is proof that The Gathering are definitely going in the right direction, despite whatever labels they might’ve accrued along the way.

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