Anneke Van Giersbergen's abrupt departure from the Gathering was understandably traumatic for their small but loyal fan base, signaling the end of an era for one of the most quietly iconoclastic and influential acts of the '90s, one responsible in large part for the proliferation of female-fronted heavy metal bands across the European mainland. But listeners who had stuck with the Gathering throughout their most recent, almost entirely post-metal efforts will actually be hardly surprised at Van Giersbergen's new direction and its slightly more pronounced commitment to gentle sonic dreamscapes, intimate singer/songwriter fragility, and occasional electronic sounds. The difference really is minimal, and since Air's mellow opening track, "Beautiful One," could have feasibly fit right into the Gathering's 2006 album Home (as could have later offerings like "Day After Yesterday," "My Girl," and "Lost and Found"), the reality is only driven home by the pulsing electronic foundation used on the second cut, "Witnesses," which ironically still packs major heavy guitar crunch as well. Van Giersbergen and her bandmates barely touch the hard stuff from here on out, however, only briefly relapsing for the inanely named "You Are Nice" and the second half of the quite striking "Trail of Grief." Rather, they unsurprisingly prefer to keep the arrangements light and minimal for predominantly wistful fare like "Yalin," "Take Care of Me," "Ice Water," and "Sunken Soldiers' Ball," which conspicuously features a discreet but copacetic horn section. Naturally, these songs' uncluttered frameworks only serve to better showcase Anneke's stunning, still mesmerizing, and instantly recognizable soprano, which is sure to melt the harshest critic into helpless mush on the heart-rending madrigal "Come Wander" or the vulnerable closer, "Asleep." In summary, those who gave up on the Gathering circa the transitional If_Then_Else will clearly find no redeeming metallic about-face here; but those enamored with Anneke's voice and talent, above all else, as showcased on all of that band's efforts over the years should be more than satisfied with Agua de Annique's debut.
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia