I’m about as far from a nationalist as you can get, but for metal I make an exception. In the Netherlands, for a country 17 million strong, the amount of metal icons is remarkably low, with Ayreon probably the most famous example from our little patch of Earth. But we did produce some big names among female vocalists, and none more so than the insanely productive Anneke van Giersbergen, whose angelic voice featured on a wide array of guest performances, three Ayreon albums, numerous Devin Townsend collaborations, The Gentle Storm and of course quirky doom goth icons The Gathering, where her upward trajectory began. Seeking more focus in her musical escapades, she decided to relegate her more quiet acoustic side to her solo name (formerly Agua De Annique) and concentrate her progressive metal tendencies in new project Vuur (Dutch for ‘fire’). The debut sees her reflecting upon the myriad of cities she has visited in her musical career, and the duality in feeling each metropolis has left her with. Can Cities measure up to her storied back cataloge?

The album opens with “My Champion – Berlin,” which sets the tone of grandeur with a booming modern riff, sprinkling a light dusting of djent on the guitars much in the vein of Voyager. This is darker music than the Aussies, however. Anneke’s voice is measured and morose, yet infused with the stretched syllables and grandiose notes of gospel. The darkness increases further with “Time – Rotterdam,” which decreases the pace further and finds the lyrics mourning better days long past. Light breaks through the clouds by the time “Freedom – Rio” rolls around, as gentle acoustics mingle with soaring choruses and excellent solos courtesy of Jord Otto (ReVamp) and Ferry Duijsens (Agua De Annique). When the music takes off so triumphantly, Anneke reveals the influence Devin Townsend had; more than once I felt the presence of Epicloud and Transcendence, like the majestic “The Martyr and the Saint – Beirut” or the dynamic “Days Go By – London.” The drums are equally versatile, provided by the ever reliable and multidimensional Ed Warby (Ayreon, Gorefest, Hail of Bullets) who punctuates the quiet and slow moments expertly and pushes the speed and technicality to the limit when the high velocity material kicks in.

But of course, the center stage is for Anneke, and her voice only gets stronger with age. She seems to be able to sing any style; soulful quasi-opera, gentle lilts and powerful belting all come to pass, demonstrated in order of magnitude in the slow build of closer “Reunite! – Paris.” One fear of mine before listening: bands centered around one person carry the threat of that person becoming the sole interesting feature. This is where Vuur sets itself apart, as the songwriting is excellent, balancing catchy melody with grandiose harmonies and versatile song structures. The only aspect I did not take to right away is the pacing, which drags a tad on the first couple of tracks. While it supports the initial darker sound and majestic gait, it feels a little low on energy. But once I sat down with the album on a quiet, unrushed day, this clicked as well, and I could appreciate the way the album opens up slowly but surely. That is dedicated albumcraft, rather than a playlist of songs.

The production is not quite as remarkable as the songwriting and the performances. Devin is another inspiration here: the sound is bright and clear, but the attempt at a wall of sound during the episodes of triumphant grandeur limit the dynamics. Furthermore, while the bass is audible, it is definitely underrepresented, diminishing the low-end. The drums, on the other hand, have a higher presence than usual, befitting the status of their man on the skins, but occasionally distracting from the virtuoso performances on the guitars. Of course, Anneke is mixed highest, but this is neither a surprise nor truly unwelcome given the quality of her voice. Overall, I’d call the production modern and adequate (adequate de Anique?) but not quite up to the level of excellence exhibited by the rest of the album.

Because make no mistake, In This Moment We Are Free – Cities is truly excellent. Compared to her back cataloge, it has the melancholy from The Gathering with the emotional engagement from The Gentle Storm and the triumphant heaviness from Devin Though it’s as clean as ever, it may well be the heaviest music she has put out to date. All those previous outings have long since demonstrated Anneke’s voice, but it’s the well-considered buildup, smart songwriting, and excellent cast of fellow musicians where Vuur goes above and beyond mere expected quality. This is one album where I can grin and say: “Yes, that band is from my country, and they are fucking awesome!”


Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: InsideOut Music
Websites: vuur.band | facebook.com/vuurband
Releases Worldwide: October 10th, 2017

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  • tomasjacobi

    I hate this album. Besides Anneke’s singing there is no redeeming factors. The songs are formulaic and boring and the production is just plain terrible. Over-processed, clinical and compressed.
    Even Anneke sounds like her voice has been processed through 10 different layers of software and it sucks the charm out of her voice.
    Full disclosure: I only listened through the whole thing once on Spotify, but I am not a reviewer, so I don’t have to force myself to listen repeatedly to music I don’t like :-)

    • You best listen again, and again!

      • tomasjacobi

        I’m done, but you go ahead and enjoy it :-)

        • Gibblets

          Yea this is junk,can’t stand it.

    • Frost15

      The album is not that bad, the main problem here is production. The embedded track screams: unzip me before I explode please!
      The music itself is not that bad, Devin like riffs and nice vocals. This is a primary example of production ruining an otherwise pleasant record…

      • tomasjacobi

        I will grant you that the production is the main culprit. It’s much worse than just a loud mastering. Every step of the production goes in the opposite direction of how I like metal music to sound. I can live with a clean, modern sound but there has to be at least SOME grit and weight to a metal record.

        • Punchmp3morons

          If you’re referring to the mp3 sound please shut your mouth.I’m real tired of pointing out to you goofy kids that mp3s will never reflect the actual recording. Idiot.

          • tomasjacobi

            Try doing a double blind listening test between a high quality mp3 and a lossless version and see how it goes….
            Also, love your alias; do you have different ones so they always reflect your comment?

          • RuySan

            You’re “tired of pointing out” because you’re dead wrong. If you were right you wouldn’t tire yourself so much.

          • Since most readers will listen via mp3, we rate the sound of the…mp3.

    • IAmNotKenM

      Accurate. At least now her pitch is good, unlike on The Gathering albums

      • krisdaschwab912

        I like Souvenirs and Mandylion from the Gathering for two very different reasons. For Mandylion, it was Anneke’s raw power. But she became so much more refined by the time Souvenirs rolled around and that album, despite being extremely far from metal, is basically perfect in my eyes.

  • Nate Sweet

    Sounds great! Maybe a tad too obvious Devin influences on the embedded track. Further quibbling is that I don’t feel quite the same emotional impact as I did on Gentle Storm (I haven’t heard her other stuff). Even so she’s still one of the best singers in metal these days so I’ll take what I’m given.

    Side note: I’d like to run my fingers through that beard…

    • HeavyMetalHamster

      I need to revisit Gentle Storm.
      I was bored to tears on first listen and haven’t returned since. But everyone seems to be raving abut it…..

      • Thatguy

        No, you were right. Gentle Storm is boring and even the glorious voice doesn’t redeem it.

        • Ta2dlam

          That was also my opinion as much as I strove for it to not be the case.

      • Levly

        The Gentle Storm is the best record of these past few years IMO. Lucassen’s expert songwriting, sense of melodies, emotions and dynamics combined with the best vocalist on the planet = pure bliss

        • Thatguy

          It needed a beard.

        • tomasjacobi

          It really is great, especially the “Gentle Version”. That’s the one I find myself returning to.

  • HeavyMetalHamster

    ORANJE BOVEN!

    • GardensTale

      And here I was, completely unaware there was another clog-wearing, tulip-kissing flatlander in our midst.

      • HeavyMetalHamster

        Canadian actually.
        But my parents are from Groningen.
        And my last name is actually VanHamster.

        • Iain Gleasure

          Because its almost Remembrance day in Canada, I’ll just throw out that 73 years ago this month, Canadians were the first Allies to liberate Dutch soil in the Battle of the Scheldt.
          So from us to you: ORANJE BOVEN!

          • HeavyMetalHamster

            Darn tootin’!
            Happy to a part of both sides of that story.
            Thanks!

      • HeavyMetalHamster

        And …salty candy loving too.

      • Bas

        There are more of us then you think ;-)

        I am not crazy about this album though, too predictable, safe, smooth and boring to me (probably mainly due to the production.. so I wouldn’t mind seeing them live).
        I remember seeing one of the first concerts of the Gathering with Anneke (it was in Atak with Celestial Season as opener). I thought it was amazing but quite some people were shouting that they wanted the death metal vocals back…

        PS about famous Dutch metal bands: don’t forget Asphyx and Pestilence !

      • I’m not British either. :-) This album didn’t really do it for me on first listen. So far I think it’s alright… nothing really special, but not bad either. But I’ll dive in and give it a few more spins. One of the songs has been stuck in my head for the last day, so that’s good.

  • Thatguy

    Love Anneke’s voice, but I can’t keep my eyes off that beard.

    • HeavyMetalHamster

      That is some well groomed foliage.

      • basenjibrian

        It…calls to me. I must RESIST!

        • HeavyMetalHamster

          go….GO!!!!

    • sir_c

      He uses Grimli’s axe to cut it I think; it’s quite epic

    • Tofu muncher

      wonder how often they play I have hair (and a beard) and you don’t

    • RuySan

      I also love Anneke’s face

  • Eli Valcik

    That beard is glorious.

  • Dammage

    Yes, yes the music is good, but can we PLEASE get a review of that beard? TYMHM 2017?

    • GardensTale

      BYMHM

      • Nukenado

        Nah, more like Beards You Dare Not Miss.

    • Grymm

      That IS an impressive beard…

  • I’ve been seeing some negative reviews of this and was wondering what they were missing that I was clearly not. Hooray for this review confirming my already held opinions!

    • Thatguy

      Always the best kind of review.

  • Planex

    I love it, I absolutely love it. This is going to be a staple on my commute.

  • sir_c

    Love Anneke’s voice, she could sing her grocery list and I’d still buy it.

    But the Heavy Devy steamroller production is a let-down. This album begs for some air.

  • Mollusc

    2 Unlimited were Dutch.

    • HeavyMetalHamster

      So was Goldmember..

      • Mollusc

        Tight.

  • eleven.eight

    Color me excited to hear this. I remember listening to a podcast with Anneke where she described the album as a real band-oriented effort. Glad that observation held water.

    Also, the gentleman with the impressive beard needs to team up with Anneke for a haircare project called The Lathering.

    • Grymm

      Now available in unscented and Mandylion!

  • IlldisposedForgotten

    Illdisposed are Dutch, and put this turd of an album to shame.

    • Damy Gleijm

      You are sure? I thought they were Danish…

  • HeavyMetalHamster

    It’s a solid album.
    Nothing earth shattering though.

  • krisdaschwab912

    Not sure why Anneke feels the need to try a Devin-style production seeing as she knows Devin well enough to possibly persuade him to take a listen (or to at least connect her and the band to Nolly? I think that is his name; the guy who worked with Devin on Transcendence).

    Of course, I love Anneke and will buy anything she is involved in and more importantly, be seeing her in Krakow in a couple weeks. I had to go all the way to Atlanta from Columbus (OH) just to catch her at Progpower 2016 which still might be the best lineup I have ever encountered. Now I live in Krakow where a festival is a 20 euro Ryanair flight away.

  • Levly

    I really like the record and this is one of Anneke’s best performance to date, which is saying a lot, but I’m not entirely convinced by the riffing. Very good on some tracks but too djenty and bland on others and a little monotonous. Thankfully Anneke reliably picks up the slack. Favorite track: Helsinki, which sounds the most like Gentle Storm and is accordingly wonderful. They should invite Lucassen to help with the songwriting next time :)

  • PretentiousFuckwad

    I truly do feel as though Anneke’s voice is simply too good to be anything but the main course of a song, which might be why I was not nearly as satisfied with the embedded track as I am with The Gentle Storm. While I did not think the song was bad per say, I did find that she was occasionally placed in the background, and the whole song suffered from it. Perhaps I only think this way because I wasn’t very pleased with the instrumentation, but at the same time it would be equally as bad if not worse to present her vocals alongside production quality that could only manage to be par at best. Doing so would make the music sound worse than it actually is.

  • Wilhelm

    2 minutes in and have to stop…The production is everything I hate about modern music, the drums sound like they were recorded under water, the guitars sound like they used a free plug-in effect and amp – How these musicians allow such a shit sound on a product is beyond me.

    • Dead1

      Totally agree. It sounds horrible. I have no idea why these bands want such a sterile sound. They need to dig back to the 1990s to figure out how to record music again.

    • Dymanic

      Amen. Most musicians, it seems, have no idea what sounds good. I’m glad the music is generic shit, otherwise I’d be quite disappointed.

  • What I wouldn’t give for a V3 (vocal take on G3) session with Anneke, ICS Vortex and Björn Strid – I’d lose my mind!

    • Now there’s a good idea!

    • While not the same, but still interesting, Anneke did tour a few years ago with Liv Kristine and Kari Rueslåtten, singing songs from their careers. I think they called themselves The Sirens…

  • Tofu muncher

    Interesting. May check this one out later as my last purchase for this month went to lovebites’ and Pink Cream 69’s latest (they’re both good imo)

  • RuySan

    Ok, heard it and came away unimpressed. The music just feels cold and formulaic. This stings even more since it’s the exact opposite of what The Gathering felt at their prime. Mandylion had such a warm feeling and vibe that I never felt with any other record.

    I’m glad I was able to watch The Gathering shortly before Anneke left. She was immense. And she was very much pregnant, which gave it even more gravitas.

  • Piet

    I feel like you totally forgot that Epica is Dutch. Compared to Ayreon they have 5x as many followers on Spotify, 15x as many likes on FB and even Simone has twice as many likes as Anneke.

    Sorry for the nitpicking, and yes I’m not the best at parties. It’s totally true though that the amount of (quality) metal coming out of the Netherlands is insanely low, especially with it being such a northern country and having roughly the population of Scandinavia as a whole.

    Back to Vuur though, I thought the embedded track was pretty good although I still don’t understand the hype surrounding Anneke.

    • RuySan

      The Gathering and God Dethroned is enough metal credentials for a country. And if I was dutch i wouldn’t bring Epica to the conversation, unless it was to talk about Simone’s lovely hair.

    • krisdaschwab912

      Given Anneke’s work in The gathering and for Devin Townsend, as well as a solid performance in an album with Amadeus Awad, she deserves all the hype she gets.

  • Davy Bonnevalle

    Love Anneke’s voice, even the Dutch accent doesn’t bother me anymore ;)

    She aged like a fine wine!

  • DutchCrunch

    Ayreon? No idea who that is. 3000cds,800 LPs and 300 tapes plus terabytes of mp3s.nope never heard of ayreon. I’m pretty sure there are waaaay bigger bands from there than some crap called ayreon lol.

    • Dudeguy Jones

      Anyway, Fluisteraars is the best Dutch metal band.
      Certainly not the biggest, though.

    • sir_c

      Yeah big mac > wagyu steak cos more people eat burger

  • I like Anneke, especially on Mandylion, Nighttime Birds and Devin Townsend’s stuff, but the embedded track is pretty bad. I’ll give the rest a try, but I’m not expecting much.

  • Dudeguy Jones

    I got really excited thinking this was the Belgian band Vuur, who were fucking sick dark grinding hardcore.

    Frankly, this isnt for me, but it did make remember the awesome Grinding Halt/Vuur split, which now needs a few listens on this early Thursday morn. Good day to you’s!

  • aelena74

    Dutch bands: Pestilence and Thanatos. Early Gorefest. End of story.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    But what about that guys beard?!
    Seriously what’s a guy gotta do to get attention when you play with Anneke?
    I see you bro!

  • h0ttentot

    Plastic metal.

  • Felchmeister777

    What a surprise, boring and indistinctive. Nothing we’ve not heard a thousand times before either. It sounded EXACTLY as one would expect it to sound.

    Metal journalists need a kick up the arse. Sure, a healthy scene keeps them in a job, but for fuck’s sake, original, distinctive metal is like rocking-horse shit. A little more objectivity would be nice…

  • Jeff Kent

    Anneke is dreamy. I once saw her across the room at a tiny venue in Austin at SxSW and I actually swooned.

  • beurbs

    You know you fucked up when you make Devin Townsend’s production seem good.

    • krisdaschwab912

      Devin Townsend’s production IS good (most of the time).

      • beurbs

        I guess that depends on your taste. I like dynamics, so I don’t appreciate his production.

  • h_f_m

    It seems like they have skill, but just not digging it. It’s like bereft of soul or something aside from the vocals. Sounds flat and sterile.

  • Thomas Tallant

    Can I whine a little that he’s reviewing sonic quality listening to 192 kbps mp3’s?

    • No. As we’ve detailed repeatedly in other places, the audible difference between a 192kb/s mp3 and lossless audio is not really noticeable. Listeners _in studio settings with professional equipment_ start to notice the difference in quality between lossless and mp3s at 128 kb/s. Most audio information that’s removed on compression is inaudible, which is how audio compression is supposed to work.

      • Thomas Tallant

        Yep, clearly no difference.

        Someone lower in the thread said “we review mp3’s because that’s what people listen to”. That’s a fine, legitimate argument. But to say it’s not noticeable is not accurate. Just look at the sheer compression of the top 10k and the bottom 10 hz, making everything extra bassy. If memory serves it’s actually closer to the bottom 60 hz being “combined”. Many people ENJOY this, but it doesn’t make it accurate… or what the artist intended you to hear.

        http://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/bec61a872f6820d8b50aa99956142732e34071986fe4b7593cc746ab5143f40f.png

  • Is it possible to enjoy the individual elements of the album… her voice, heavy guitars, etc. without really liking any of the songs? That’s where I’m at with this release.

  • Jaeger

    I pre-ordered the CD and t-shirt, but they haven’t arrived yet. :-/ The folks at M&E were kind enough to send me a download link to listen to the album while I’m waiting. (655MB of WAV files, so probably a raw CD rip.)

    It’s one of those albums that will take a few sessions to get a proper handle on it, but the first, background pass was fine. (Next: through headphones.)