The Gentle Storm
A collaboration between progressive rock master Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon/Star One) and sultry siren Anneke van Giersbergen (ex-The Gathering/Devin Townsend Project), this two disc smorgasbord of sound and style is definitely going to excite fans and newcomers alike. Both discs offer a different take on the music as a whole, with Gentle offering a lighter approach to the concept, while Storm brings about one of the heaviest performances I’ve heard Anneke fronting since The Gathering’s Mandylion. But before we get into the heavy stuff, let’s start out with Gentle. Although Gentle is a much lighter approach to the material, it is most certainly not the soft acoustic album that you might have been expecting and is most certainly not a throwaway. Rather, each song on Gentle offers several different interpretations of the material and often feels like a trip around the world. This is due to the employ of over forty different musicians on the album, each offering everything from folk music to jazz, and even some world music into the mix. It is also worth noting that Arjen played no keyboards on this album either, which might very well be a first for a record with his name attached to it. But don’t fret, because I’m here to tell you that the real instruments do indeed sound much better than their emulated counterparts. As you might expect, Anneke’s vocals are absolutely brilliant on each and every song here, her angelic lines piercing the veil of reality as they offer up a purely fantastical and unreal experience. I’ve always said that she could sing the phone book, so to speak, and Gentle truly proves that. It’s ultimately a captivating and positively romantic piece, but it only provides half of the full experience of The Diary.
The next disc in the set is called Storm and for good reason. Now here is where you metalheads begin to get involved, and yes – things do get rather heavy in some sections of the album. I was quite surprised and you will be as well. But with a backing band comprising the likes of Merel Bechtold (MaYan) and Ed Warby (Hail Of Bullets, ex-Gorefest, Ayreon) it really goes without saying. Instead of Arjen, this time Joost Van Den Broek (ex-After Forever) plays the keyboard sections and manages to meld in perfectly with the backing band, which additionally offers loads of orchestral sections amongst the heaviness. Storm is a record that certainly sounds like it took a great deal of musicians to compose and you’ll be able to hear each and every one of them as clearly and concisely as you might expect. The production value for the album is exceptionally high and well deserving of the incredibly potent performance. As I said, some sections of the record do manage to offer an unexpectedly pummeling approach from Warby, but I’m quite sure that Anneke is quite used to it by now, especially after working with the mad scientist himself (Devin Townsend) for many years beforehand. At any rate, it is exactly as it implies; an album that sees Anneke von Giersbergen at her most metal in decades. That being said, please keep in mind that the vibe on Storm is more entwined to orchestral laden folk music, rather than the trippy progressive atmospheres offered by The Gathering. This is also not an Into The Electric Castle II sort of deal either, as these two have collaborated to craft something entirely different in a work that reflects the art, history and mystique of their Dutch homeland. Even if you’ve never been to The Netherlands, I’m sure that you’ll find something wonderfully passionate in the music and vocal performance laden within this definite powerhouse of audial pleasure. In the end, The Gentle Storm manages to offer exactly what we would’ve expected from this sort of collaborative experience, as well as few things that we wouldn’t have. So while you’re still waiting for another Ayreon or Star One record to come, this massive effort will more than tide you over. It’s a breathtaking effort that should undoubtedly cement itself as one of the best releases of 2015 and there’s simply nothing quite like it, and there never will be. (Eric May)