The Gathering – The West Pole (Season of Mist Records)

Saturday, 16th March 2013
Rating: 8/10

The majesty of Mandylion and Nighttime Birds seem so far off that The Gathering feels like a different band. Well, they are, obviously and that’s both with the departure of longtime singer Anneke van Giersbergen and their gradual move away from Goth metal in tow. Methinks that even with van Giersbergen, The West Pole will follow the same trajectory as 2003’s Home(read: not metal, not at all) and that’s necessarily a bad thing.

The first album with new singer Silje Wergeland (formerly of Octavia Seperati),The West Pole sees The Gathering continue to explore the shoe gaze and alt-rock terrain they started to fall in love with going back to 1999’s oft-overlookedHow To Measure A Planet. Outside of the all-instrumental opener “When Trust Becomes Sound,” there’s little muscle in the guitar department, yet this all comes together very nicely with Wergeland’s ethereal vocals, especially on “Treasure” (which sounds like the Cranberries, oddly enough) and the bouncy “All You Are.”

There’s a lot of restrain demonstrated here, not unlike recent Anathema where space and atmosphere is brandished heavily. Case in point, “The West Pole” and “No Bird Call,” the latter of which is sublimely charming tune that offsets the positive nature of most of the album. “Capital of Nowhere” is more akin to late 60’s pop rock than anything, while “You Promised Me A Symphony” and “Pale Traces” continue with the trend of alternating between the positive and upbeat to the mildly morose.

Getting one’s head around The West Pole is going to require some work. This thing is not as far removed from the bone-chilling excellence of the band’s mid-90’s period as one would initially think, but the dearth of distortion and guitars is going to make The Gathering circa 2009 a tougher sell than they should be. However, The West Pole is quite good. Not Nighttime Birds good, but a well-executed, occasionally mesmerizing effort that gets their post-Anneke era off to a good start.

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