The Gathering

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Dutch avant-rockers the Gathering appear to be going through some kind of identity crisis -- at least if the first two releases of their post-Anneke van Giersbergen career are any indication. Here's a theory: the group's first album behind van Giersbergen's very talented if suspiciously clone-like replacement, Silje Wergeland -- 2009's The West Pole -- gamely tried to both revisit and advance several musical plot lines familiar to Gathering fans, but its disappointing sales could not disguise with whom fan allegiances lay following van Giersbergen's departure. And perhaps this explains why its 2012 follow-up, Disclosure, goes to even greater schizophrenic lengths attempting to cover all bases -- familiar and innovative -- with a series of competent, occasionally impressive, but ultimately confusing results. After dispensing with a few tracks resembling karaoke versions of Gathering songs past, including both the mechanically energetic "Paper Waves" and slack-drummed snore-fest "Gemini I," one is left with scant please-all standouts like decent first single "Heroes for Ghosts" and the ethereal "Gemini II" before coming to grips with the LP's rather more challenging pair of protracted sonic explorations. First up is the trip-hop-fueled "Meltdown," which sees keyboard player Frank Boeijen stepping up to the mike (and quickly showing why he needn't have bothered) alongside Silje, but later descends into a MOR lounge jazz pierced by saxophone and xylophone -- surprising, yes, but good? And second is the slowly escalating epic "I Can See Four Miles," which evolves from placid atmospherics into staggering heaviness on its way to a tribal denouement for what is certainly an emotionally complex experience harking back to the How to Measure a Planet? and even Mandylion periods. The irony, of course, is that either one might be labeled a failure or a victory, depending on who you ask -- which brings up the possibility that perhaps the Gathering's fan base is going through an even bigger identity crisis than the band, in all fairness. The big question is: were most fans merely tolerating the group's increasing divestiture of metal (here represented solely by the taciturn "Paralyzed") for electronica because they were under the spell of van Giersbergen's siren-like vocal presence? And is there anything the band and Wergeland can do to recast that spell -- whether it's casting lines in all directions or choosing a single course amid this sea of change? Obviously, only time will tell, but for now, it seems no one can really be sure who the Gathering are anymore.

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