The Gathering - The West Pole
Psychonaut Records
Atmospheric Rock
10 songs (54:17)
Release year: 2009
The Gathering, Psychonaut Records
Reviewed by Goat

We Metal folk are a conservative old bunch; we simply do not like changes in our favourite bands. Being fair, much of the time we’re right to be cagey – for example: whilst Cryptopsy’s middle period fronted by Mike DiSalvo turned out to be pretty darn good with hindsight, I seriously doubt we’ll look kindly on Matt ‘I turned Cryptopsy into a festering pile of shit’ McGachy in ten years or so. From Bruce Dickinson leaving Maiden in the nineties to David Vincent quitting Morbid Angel, the change of a frontman is rarely a good thing, and so there are few fans of The Gathering out there that won’t have been looking very askance indeed at their favourite Dutch Goth-atmospheric-prog-rockers since the departure of frontwoman par excellence Anneke van Giersbergen in 2007. Every bit of hype you’ve heard about her fantastic voice is correct, and really, there’s little point in pining for what’s been when you can take a walk down memory lane and listen to any of the fantastic albums that she lent her angelic voice to.

Fortunately for us all, Anneke’s replacement, Silje Wergeland of Norwegian Goth-Doomers Octavia Sperati, has a fine voice indeed. Interestingly, she’s quite similar to Anneke in breathy, yearning style – both remind me of a, well, more normal Björk, and whilst free of the Icelandic singer’s uncanny otherness, have an uplifting soulfulness that’s... I suppose the best way to describe it is nice. You couldn’t see either singing anything down and dirty, they’re the air to other singers’ earth. And since a good number of albums now the music seemed to be written around Anneke’s voice, number ten is no different.

From the first moments of opening instrumental track When Trust Becomes Sound, it’s clear that this is a bit noisier than before, but it’s the same style – laid-back Rock that is gently atmospheric and progressive without shoving it in your face. First song proper Treasure is the kind of uplifting ballad that The Gathering do so well, and from then on it’s pretty much a less experimental version of their last album, Home. All You Are is backed by a catchy percussive beat and shimmering strings, No Bird Call is practically ambient, and Pale Traces has strident drumming and the barest hints of Toolish plucking, but there’s nothing particularly outstanding on show, nothing that your average The Gathering listener will stop and stare at.

It’s that which ultimately makes me wary of giving The West Pole a high score. Fine, the songs are pleasant enough listened to one after the other, but The Gathering’s past albums had moments of genuine musical progression, whilst this just seems a decent, atmospheric Rock album that takes no steps from its comfort zone. A few extended instrumental sections aside, this could be from a myriad of bands, lacking that special something which makes offerings from The Gathering so special. After the first couple of songs the tracks here blend together, the album turning into one long piece that touches on dullness several times and doesn’t particularly reward the listener with multiple listens.

Having said that, if you don’t compare this with past efforts from The Gathering then there’s really little wrong with it. The West Pole stands firmly above the average crowd, and newcomers to the band may well love it. Heck, the chances are that fans of the band will enjoy it, it’s hardly bad, but like Home, ultimately the songs don’t stand out enough to make this anything other than a solid effort that will last a few weeks in the playlist before being rejected in favour of How To Measure A Planet? or even the last full-length from Autumn, an album with equal atmosphere and better songwriting. It’s never a good sign when band’s rivals make better albums than the originators, and if I had to choose between the two I’d go for Autumn’s effort without a doubt. If you’ve followed The Gathering slavishly up to this point, then The West Pole is another step along the same path, but when looked at in the wholeness of things, it’s another step down towards mediocrity – a place I never imagined The Gathering visiting. Like the admittedly excellent cover art, this promises another look at a world we’re all familiar with, but the album, alas, fails to deliver.

Killing Songs :
Treasure, All You Are, Capital Of Nowhere, Pale Traces, A Constant Run
Goat quoted 70 / 100
Other albums by The Gathering that we have reviewed:
The Gathering - Disclosure reviewed by Goat and quoted 90 / 100
The Gathering - How To Measure A Planet? reviewed by Goat and quoted CLASSIC
The Gathering - Mandylion reviewed by Charles and quoted CLASSIC
The Gathering - Nighttime Birds reviewed by Charles and quoted 91 / 100
The Gathering - Home reviewed by Ken and quoted 75 / 100
To see all 12 reviews click here
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