Sunday, 11 June 2017

The Gathering "Always.." (1992)


"Always..." may not be so, against the grain of our half life this record will be one of the first to fade from memory. Its no classic, far from it, nor the sort of record you'll hear anyone talking of again. For me? Its a personal gem, a diamond for my eyes only, an album to adore every second of. Its the Dutch bands debut record released two years before their landmark "Mandylion". At this time they had a different vocalist, Bart Sims, who growls and groans in a very typically tonal, textured and slow guttural Doom Metal way. At their inception the band were very much in this category however they stand apart from other Doom acts with a layer of synth that's inspired, melodic but always a touch cheesy with its cheap and rigid tones. Mostly though, they charm and bring a mysterious atmosphere, vibrancy and a nostalgic character to the record.

The records production is dingy, dusty and moody. Its got just the right amount of meat and punch to have an impact as the instruments get themselves across with volume in a rather low fidelity affair, much of this is thanks to the synths which fill the spaces the low, brooding distortion guitars leave in their wake. The drums have volume that comes with a bit of clatter, the snare and bass kick punch through but the cymbals are a little dizzy, the toms thin and weak, sounding pale in comparison. Bart's vocals are dominant, strong, ample. Alongside him Marike Groot puts in a stunning performance as an effeminate compliment, often singing notes to chime with the synths but then whisked into the spot light to show her sublime range that soars with a wild streak.

The true champion here is songwriting, the aesthetics are an acquired taste one could get used too but so frequently does the magic come from the progressive shifts in song direction. The mood and tone is set, the song is in its cycle and a few instruments break away from the mold to then unleash a transition and the atmosphere is transformed, we are elevated to a new plateau. These songs also drop back into their routine brilliantly. Not a note of this record feels out of place or any musical avenue forced, its a sombre, Gothic melancholy without the romanticism. Some of its best moments come as more instruments get involved. The bass is very active with a bustling tone and attitude that has it scaling the fret board to accent the guitars and cue musical shifts. In these shifts and breakaways short lead guitars or solos often drop in with a knack for being within the moment and climaxing with licks that drop right into the chemistry, not taking a spotlight but sounding akin to all that's going on around them, flowing like a river with the music.

I know this record like the back of my hand, I discovered it at a time when I was getting into the next wave of brutal music, so it never seemed all that heavy to me. Now its become apparent that the dense meaty guitars, Bart's slugging growls and the crunching drums were probably rather dark for the time however the melodic synths and appropriated use of reverberated acoustics play that down. As well as drawn out, doomish power chords the guitars have moments of heavy, head banging chugging with a touch of Groove which was growing prominent at the time.

If the record has a weak spot, perhaps the interlude track "Always..." is a touch weak in comparison, the soft synths and synthetic toms over crashing waves feels a little thin without the full band. My favorite song "In Sickness And Health" gets a nod for pitting a somewhat Death Metal riff against  a swirly synthesizer effect that sweep phases back and forth for a truly magical, astral moment. Its been a year or two since I last enjoyed this personal favorite and I'm happy to share this with anyone who cares, however Id totally understand if someone didn't see eye to eye with me on this old gloomy record.

Favorite Songs: In Sickness And Health, King For A Day, Second Sunrise, Steongarden
Rating: 10/10

3 comments:

  1. Your take on this album is unique and has made me go back and listen to it . I can definitely see what you mean this never was something I could say I love but, now I appreciate it more and many of the songs have found their way to my playlist , thank you for reminding me of this band.

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    Replies
    1. I hope it grows on you! :-) Also check out their third record, that ones a classic and introduced the world to Anneke

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