Anneke van Giersbergen's post-The Gathering career has taken an unpredictable, yet familiar twist, with her newly formed band, VUUR. Running concurrent with her decision to focus her solo efforts primarily on acoustic-based, mellower material, this new Dutch outfit sees Anneke travel full circle; returning to her heavier, distinctly metal, roots within the context of a band. Of course, she's dabbled in such, over the years, with various guest spots (incessantly for Devin Townsend), and her much touted The Gentle Storm prog metal project with Arjen Lucassen in 2015. But, this is heavy-Anneke on her own terms... well, sort of...
VUUR is being marketed and promoted as an Anneke-centric project, and understandably so. And, apart from a couple of tracks written by VUUR's two guitarists, the album features contributions from several different composers peripheral to the band, who've been responsible for the majority of the songwriting. Ex-After Forever keys man, Joost van den Broek (also responsible for the album's fantastic production), had a hand in the compositional process, as did Periphery's Mark Holcomb, Amorphis' Esa Holopainen and Anathema's Daniel Cardoso. So, it's not a self-contained, autonomous band, in terms of source creativity. BUT, it is the personnel comprising VUUR who've brought the songs to life.
So, in one sense, it does feel like Anneke and a bunch of hired hands. But, the hired hands are top-notch: Ferry Duijsens, guitarist, from Anneke's solo band; prolific drummer and perennial Ayreon sticksman, Ed Warby; bassist Johan van Stratum from the now defunct Stream of Passion; and My Propane guitarist, Jord Otto. With Duijsens, Warby and Stratum all featured alongside Anneke in the live incarnation of The Gentle Storm, VUUR also feels like a natural continuation of their previous collaboration.
So, yes, as I previously said, this does feel like Anneke going full circle, being the first full, heavy album she's made, within the context of her own band and not as a collaborator or contributor, since her early days in The Gathering... or, more specifically, since 'Mandylion' and 'Nighttime Birds'. And, although this is being touted as progressive metal... it's more in a generic rather than genuine sense, as tried-and-tested metal and prog metal idioms are rife throughout. But they've been appropriated to great effect and elevated by Anneke's ever-expressive, emotionally profound vocals. I'm sure I've said something similar in a previous review of an Anneke album, but this is a lady who could sing her own monthly shopping list and make it sound amazing.
Occasional passages of music feel like I'm listening to 'Strange Machines' or 'On Most Surfaces (Inuït)' all over again... kind of... well, not at all actually... only in terms of Anneke's voice over a heavy backing. VUUR are their own entity. The general pattern of passages in each song is some rather enjoyable foreplay during the verse and bridge, before erupting into melodically organic bliss in the chorus. Multiple times! This is coitus for the ears, my friends. In places, it's pure emotional transcendence.
Thematically, songs concern cities and freedom, whereby Anneke has stated she's picked up "different vibes" from the various cities she's encountered over the years, as a touring artist, and she "wanted to capture the spirit of these particular places into words and music." In that sense, Rotterdam must be a fairly depressing place, as the song that represents this Dutch city on the album, 'Time', is a down-tempo, prog-doom offering. That's just the vibe I'm picking up. Maybe there should be a sequel to this album, called 'In This Moment We Are Trapped - Shities', featuring songs about places Anneke's visited where she's picked up bad feelings! Just an idea.
All in all, VUUR have succeeded in creating a very strong debut album, loaded with masterful musicianship, emotionally moving vocals and some great, albeit clichéd, songs. But, as I already noted, it's Anneke's sublime voice that elevates said clichés to affectively stirring heights. In that sense, listening to the album offers a familiar, yet rewarding, experience.
IN THIS MOMENT WE ARE FREE - CITIES
Review by Mark Holmes
20th October 2017
1) My Champion - Berlin
2) Time - Rotterdam
3) The Martyr and the Saint - Beirut
4) The Fire - San Francisco
5) Freedom - Rio
6) Days Go By - London
7) Sail Away - Santiago
8) Valley of Diamonds - Mexico City
9) Your Glorious Light Will Shine - Helsinki
10) Save Me - Istanbul
11) Reunite! - Paris
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"This is coitus for the ears..."