June 2021 Feature Release – The Fallen Edition
So just like that we find that a new month is upon us which of course means that we’ll be nominating a brand new monthly feature release for each clan. This essentially means that we’re asking you to rate, review & discuss our chosen features for no other reason than because we enjoy the process & banter. We’re really looking forward to hearing your thoughts on our chosen releases so don’t be shy.
This month’s feature release for The Fallen is 1995's breakthrough third album "Mandylion" from Dutch gothic metal outfit The Gathering. I was reminded of just how much I enjoy this band by a track submission Ben made for last month's The Fallen playlist & it encouraged me to want to return to this old favourite for the first time in ages. I'm looking forward to seeing how I feel about it after all these years.
I did my review, here's its summary:
Throughout their 25-year active run (1989-2014), The Gathering had really made an odd sound evolution. They started in the early 90s as a death-doom band, but starting with their third album, they begin losing their extreme aspects, and by their fifth album, their metal sound is gone (similar to Anathema and Katatonia, but the latter would regain some metal elements later on). Even their extreme albums had this hard-to-describe weird spacey vibe. Perhaps it was the at first unusual mix of gothic metal and death metal; synthesizers and female singing put together with death metal riffs and growling. Feeling like moving away from death-doom, their second album, Almost a Dance was a full switch to cleaner gothic doom metal, which was fine except for the lead singer Neils Duffhues sounding like the REM singer if he was tone-deaf. Realizing how horrible he was at singing, they fired him and possibly the female vocalist Martine van Loon. It was then that they came to the conclusion that a female lead singer would sound much better than their earlier male vocalists and would make their atmospheric doom metal sound more uniquely fresh. Thus came Anneke van Giersbergen and their third album Mandylion! Sounds kinda odd but more in a unique fresh way instead of just weird. I'm not kidding about the weird parts of Mandylion. Like what's with the tiki head in the album cover, odd sounds such as mechanical breathing and synthesized doorbells, and the general unearthly atmosphere? Unusual, but I love it! I think this album might've inspired Anathema to move out of their death-doom style to the Dead Can Dance-esque dreamy darkwave-infused gothic metal next year in their third album Eternity. It's clear that Mandylion and Anathema's The Silent Enigma stand out as two of the best gothic doom metal albums in 1995, while the vocals are more inspired by Dead Can Dance singer Lisa Gerrard. A great inspiring gothic doom metal combination provided in 8 long yet super-interesting songs! Mandylion is often considered a gothic doom classic, recommended to explorers of ethereal atmosphere. Many modern bands have followed the brilliant path built by this album, even gothic rock band Fields of the Nephilim that later made their move to atmospheric melodic gothic rock/metal. Anyway, with clean female singing and haunting atmosphere, Mandylion is one of the most unique gothic doom releases ever!
Consider this my redemption arc following my poor reaction to Within Temptation's debut album that was featured a few months ago.
Where do I start when talking about The Gathering? In terms of gothic metal coming out of the mid to late 1990s, they are one of the groups frequently left behind in a slew of male fronted bands like My Dying Bride, Type O Negative and Paradise Lost. It certainly shouldn't be the case when you consider Anneke van Giersbergen is a truly magnificent voice in gothic metal, as well as the many guest appearances throughout the years in both power metal and progressive metal. And the sound of this album helped influence some of my favourite gothic/doom metal albums of all time, such as Swallow the Sun and Trees of Eternity with its heavy use of darkwave.
And what we end up with on Mandylion is a solid display of control. Anneke could have easily played the "I'm a woman in metal" card and gone for the bombastic, symphonic vocals of Within Temptation's Sharon den Adel that were used two years later on Enter, but rather we have a plainspoken delivery that sounds blunt and bleak, while still allowing for copious amounts of technical proficiency. And what's backing her up? A well balanced, heavily focused doom metal palette that does go heavy on the texture and atmospherics rather than hook or melody, but they are produced with convincing presence and a forward thinking bass line that prevents these sections from becoming played out and uninteresting.
In addition, the songwriting helps with memorability as well. Mandylion is one of the most forward thinking, progressive doom metal albums of the 1990s that I can recall. And yet it features some of the most infectious melodic drives of any of the great 90s doom/gothic metal albums. Anneke's plainspoken delivery makes these songs feel down to earth, as opposed to the bombast of Within Temptation. The drives are simple and match the lyrical content quite well, and many of these songs have a well constructed form making them feel well worth their extended runtimes, especially "Leaves" and "In Motion #2".
In the end, The Gathering are more of a band that I respect more than I like. I will not deny that the quality of Mandylion is very good with its great production and forward thinking songwriting, but I have heard plenty of 2000s and beyond gothic/doom metal that takes the quality of this record and expands upon it. For me, I see this more as a redemption after reviewing (and not very much liking mind you) Within Temptation's debut gothic metal album a couple of years later. I do like this sound and it can be done well. And The Gathering are one of the early influencers of a sound that I really enjoy and respect tremendously.
I last reviewed "Mandylion" way back in 2013 & don't think that I've returned to it since so it's been really interesting to find that my initial review pretty much exactly summarizes my feelings today even though I didn't read it until after I'd given the album a full four listens over the last couple of days. Here's my slightly updated review:
It’s been quite a while since I last listened to The Gathering’s “Mandylion” but it still serves its purpose nicely. Admittedly I think it sounds a little dated at times which probably comes down to the simplicity of some of the instrumentation but Anneke’s voice never gets old. I don’t think she soars quite as much as I remember her doing on the follow-up album “Nighttime Birds” so the highlights are not quite as spectacular but she certainly carries the band through the slightly flatter moments on this record before really taking off on the last couple of tracks. It’s a very consistent release with no weak tracks. The first half generally receives most of the praise but I think my favourite songs are the last three (the heavily Dead Can Dance influenced title track, the epic atmospherics of “Sand and Mercury” & beautiful closer “In Motion #2”). It’s here that I find the tingles appearing up my spine thanks to Anneke’s stunning performance. The best moments from an instrumental point of view are generally those where there’s a bit more complexity as the more basic sections are where The Gathering start to flatten out a little. It’s the type of album that sneaks up on you though & I find myself wanting to give it repeat listens as it’s really very pleasant on the ears which is a nice change for a metal album. I was pretty close to going for the extra half mark here but I think 4/5 is a fairer assessment of the quality on offer.
For fans of The 3rd & the Mortal, Theatre Of Tragedy & Tiamat.
I've really been enjoying Mandylion over the past week and a half or so, enough to sadly rescind some of my praise about Enter last month. While I still like Enter, The Gathering are undoubtedly higher quality in general thanks to a more mesmerizing vocal performance that fits the lush but spacey atmosphere and a more varied approach when it comes to songwriting and instrumentals. I'm with Daniel in that the back half of the album is where Mandylion really shines with its patient buildups and eerie atmosphere. This one is kind of just one that I really like and have a hard time breaking down exactly why, so I'll just leave it at that. It makes me want to go back to Wildhoney and see how how it stacks up, since I remember it being more similar to this than something like Type O Negative was.