THE GENTLE STORM
Wait! What's this? Stop press! Anneke Van Giersbergen has made an album with someone who isn't Devin Townsend! Yes, it's true, for here she is with an equally tasty pairing, collaborating with fellow countryman Arjen Lucassen, the Netherlands' godfather of prog (... or, the progfather?!). Of course, it's not the first time the two of them have worked together, as Anneke's previously contributed vocals to a couple of Ayreon albums. It is, however, the first time they've collaborated on an album in its entirety, from concept to realisation of such. Under their chosen moniker of The Gentle Storm (which also reflects the music's concept), they've delivered a double album called 'The Diary'. Arjen is certainly not a man to do things by halves so, for his latest epic undertaking, together with Anneke, they've crafted both 'Gentle' and 'Storm' versions of the exact same songs; the former being mellower, folky arrangements and the latter a full-on, bombastic, sympho-metal affair.
With an epistolary basis, songs' lyrics are, effectively, letters between two 17th century Dutch lovers, one of them being a sailor who's off on a two year voyage. Cue "a tale of love, loss, and separation" with a musically epic foundation. For the 'Storm' takes, they're perhaps not the all-out heavy experience that many might be expecting. Sure, there are metal elements aplenty, but also much light and shade; songs' metal foundations are often punctuated by mellower passages, so it's not monolithic heaviness. As such, the heavier parts are accentuated through the songs' contrasting elements. And despite Anneke's collaborations with the likes of Moonspell, Napalm Death and aforementioned Devin exploits, and a few heavied-up solo numbers, the 'Storm' suite of songs are her most consistently heavy work since The Gathering's 'Mandylion' and 'Nighttime Birds' albums, complete with a few progressive twists and turns, such is Arjen's modus operandi.
The 'Gentle' arrangements are just as they're labelled, gentle throughout. And should you choose to digest the 'Gentle' tracks first then it'll almost be as if it's the calm before the storm! Interestingly, far from being stripped-down versions of their 'Storm' counterparts, the instrumentations are actually even more layered and subtly complex than one would expect, with all manner of eclectic instruments to be heard... or, actually, it could be said not to be heard, as they're cunningly integrated and mixed into a nicely blended whole to create the overall sonics of each song. It's more about the affects of the complete picture rather than individual instruments. But Arjen's always been a master of that, of course.
Compositionally, songs' melodies are simply sublime throughout; inherent in the music, but brought to life by Anneke's ever expressive voice. And she gets to showcase the full range of her vocals on both versions of the songs. The 'Gentle' tracks see her adopt a softer, angelic delivery - just check out 'Epilogue: The Final Entry' for some of her most beautifully fragile vocals to date, which are simply stunning and full of emotional allure in its most sincerest form. By contrast, on the 'Storm' side, she really lets rip with a delivery more befitting of each track's orchestral metal underpinnings, although balanced out with enough emotional variance to carry the mellower passages in enchanting ways that match that of her 'Gentle' delivery.
'The Diary' also features some of the Netherlands' finest, including Arjen's old Stream of Passion cohort, Johan van Stratum, on bass; regular Ayreon and Hail of Bullets sticksman, Ed Warby; ex-After Forever keyboardist, Joost van den Broek; a choir; and orchestral strings. And the combined efforts of all have resulted in a double album that is as stupendously epic as it needs to be to carry the drama inherent in its epistolary narrative. Also, bizarrely, despite the exact same compositions on both 'Gentle' and 'Storm' (with, more or less, the same track lengths), the feeling is that of two entirely different albums, such is the profound level of musical genius that's at work in both sets of arrangements (yes, Arjen, you are a genius, despite your protestations to the contrary!). And while it would've been nice to have another Anneke solo album in 2015 (her last was 2013's 'Drive'), this will most certainly keep her fanbase a more than content bunch of folk, as it will Arjen's ardent followers. In short, 'The Diary' is yet another masterpiece in both Arjen and Anneke's back catalogues of work.
Review by Mark Holmes
57:09 & 56:59
23rd March 2015
DISC ONE (Gentle): 1) Endless Sea; 2) Heart of Amsterdam; 3) The Greatest Love; 4) Shores of India; 5) Cape of Storms; 6) The Moment; 7) The Storm; 8) Eyes of Michiel; 9) Brightest Light; 10) New Horizons; 11) Epilogue: The Final Entry
DISC TWO (Storm): 1) Endless Sea; 2) Heart of Amsterdam; 3) The Greatest Love; 4) Shores of India; 5) Cape of Storms; 6) The Moment; 7) The Storm; 8) Eyes of Michiel; 9) Brightest Light; 10) New Horizons; 11) Epilogue: The Final Entry
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...yet another masterpiece in both Arjen and Anneke's back catalogues of work."