The Gathering - Mandylion
Century Media
Gothic/Doom
8 songs (53:50)
Release year: 1995
The Gathering, Century Media
Reviewed by Charles
Allow me to reiterate what I said in my Nighttime Birds review. The transition from 1993’s Almost a Dance, an inept fumbling together of flailing attempts at “majestic” gothic synth pieces and drab Gothic-era Paradise Lost worship, to Mandylion is huge. It’s not simply the change of vocalists, from one of the worst I’ve heard on a metal album to one of the very best, it is a totally transformed attitude to songwriting. Rather than mimicking the distinctively oppressive down-beat attitude that comes from living in West Yorkshire with My Dying Bride, The Gathering took similarly slow, doomy riffs and used them to fashion something genuinely, quirkily euphoric.

The opener, Strange Machines must surely provide some of metal’s most distinctive and instantly recognisable six minutes. An oversized, lumbering riff crawls through the speakers, but is transmogrified by a crystal clear, radiant vocal line that swerves from high to low effortlessly and magnificently. The combination is immense; a dramatic, swooping melody coupled with real doomy weight, and Mandylion's most instantly recognisable track. It’s not a flawless song by any means; there is little need for the rapider, crunching segues, which disrupt its flow without adding much. A similar criticism could be applied to Eleanor, which takes powerfully murky chord progressions and lessens their effect with compositional waffle (it’s not helped by the slightly lame synths, either, which are not one of this record’s strong points- they would get to grips with electronica on later efforts). As such, whilst these are the songs that immediately captivate you, it is the growers that really keep you into Mandylion.

Take Leaves, for example. It is a complete composition, beginning with extravagantly lurching but regally elegant riffing, which collapse into a pool of shimmering melodic ambiance, only to be rebuilt into a dazzling gothic cascade. Fear the Sea has a sophisticated, wormingly chromatic melody that traverses synth-laden washes of sound and rocky chugging metal riffs that morph into hypnotic head banging moments. There is a real experimental streak here, which forces itself to the fore in the latter half of the record. An atmospheric and quasi-ambient epic such as Sand and Mercury, with its sinister troughs and gracefully melancholic peaks clearly foreshadows later flashes of inspiration such as How to Measure a Planet?.

The obvious question with classics is that of their influence. This is seminal because it is the best example of a style, not because it provided a jumping off point for further musical adventures. It took a melodic gothic doom template that was being pioneered by British bands in particular, and used the addition of a great vocalist and an intelligent, inventive approach to songwriting to create something with little equal. Instead of opening a door for equally interesting bands, it has been imitated ever since by things which don’t touch it. There are countless bands that take similar gothic, doomy riffs, and get an impressive, charismatic (female) vocalist, and think that they are doing something as interesting as this. Lacuna Coil’s debut, In a Reverie, has plenty of charm, sounding like a gloomier, back-to-basics take on this album, with the Paradise Lost roots piling back in again. But by comparison, their music is lightweight and uninteresting; a fact demonstrated by the later careers of both bands. One devolved into poppy goth bubblegum fun, and the other continues to venture out on their own, generating distinctive visions, such as The West Pole. This pretty much sums up The Gathering, and more specifically Mandylion; a band, and an album, lightyears ahead of its imitators.

Killing Songs :
Leaves, Strange Machines, Fear the Sea
Charles quoted CLASSIC
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 - The West Pole reviewed by Goat and quoted 70 / 100
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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