The Gathering - MandylionThe first half of 1995 was a special time for yours truly. Having been told by my peers in high school that metal was all but dead, I was able to prove them oh so very wrong. In doing so, I was able to discover a whole world of interesting music kept under the metal umbrella. One band that Metal Maniacs pushed quite fervently in their Aural Assaults section was a six-piece atmospheric group known as The Gathering, who were releasing their third albumMandylion, with their third vocalist, a charming young woman by the name of Anneke van Giersbergen. Little did I know that not only would I be blown away by just how beautiful and uplifting the music was, but I never thought in my then-18 years of existence that Mandylion would be what I call a “soundtrack album.”

Saying that The Gathering were a band that was trying to find its footing was putting it quite mildly. 1992’s Always… was lumbering doom/death metal with an extremely guttural, but sadly uninteresting, performance by then-vocalist Bart Sears. 1993’s Almost a Dance would hint at what was to come with its immediate successor, but it was bogged down by some absolutely horrendous vocals and goofball lyrics. But Mandylion was where The Gathering got the formula right. As soon as “Strange Machines” kicks in, you can hear traces of their doom metal sound, but it feels a lot more positive. That positivity goes into full throttle as soon as Anneke starts singing. Possessing one of the most angelic voices in all of music, let alone metal, her performances provide a stark contrast to the heavily doom-drenched music of her bandmates. Her voice acts as a vessel, carrying the listener across the skies and away from any worries or fears.

The Gathering - 1995

Something that has always bothered me about the reception of both The Gathering, and specifically Mandylion, is that they got lumped into the “dark metal” bin that was all the rage in the mid-90s, thrown into a supposedly neat capsule that also contained MoonspellSamael, and Tiamat. First, this is a lazy way to categorize a band (especially since none of the above sound like each other, and they also only had the fact that Century Media was their label as a unifying factor), and secondly, despite the heaviness of the music, Mandylion isn’t dark at all; to the contrary, it’s an uplifting, beautiful album. “In Motion #1” has a playful, almost chime-like melody performed by keyboardist Frank Boeijen that, along with Anneke’s voice, can calm the most thunderous of hearts, especially in the chorus. Closer “In Motion #2” sneaks in that chorus again so fluidly that it’s ingenious. But the centerpiece was easily “Sand and Mercury,” containing beautiful guitar melodies by René Rutten and Jelmer Wiersma, and some of the most heartwrenching lyrics and performances by Anneke. The Waldemar Sorychta production was as pristine as it could get, with each instrument given allowance to shine properly, while Anneke’s beautiful singing sat in the forefront.

But like so many of the best records, it’s not just about what a good album Mandylion is that makes it so special, but also about my personal attachment to the record. Not only was this a beautiful album in its own right, but it arrived at a time where things were turned upside down in my life. My dad got incredibly sick and ultimately needed quadruple bypass surgery to live. Not only that, but he also ended up laid off from his job while recovering, forcing my mom to work three jobs to keep a roof over our heads, as well as me working and giving what little I made to my family to help out. Mandylion (and “Sand and Mercury” in particular) got me through one of the worst times of my entire life, as it was the only positive force I had at the time, and I am eternally thankful for its creation.

Personal context aside, Mandylion is an essential album for those who want to take a breather from the heavier, darker, more evil side of metal. It’s one of the last truly metal albums that The Gathering would create (save for 2000’s comparatively average if_then_else) and a great introduction to one of metal’s most talented and most optimistic female voices it’s ever seen, and I’m very proud to be the one to induct Mandylion into the Yer Metal Is Olde Hall of Fame.

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  • One of the most haunting and beautiful “metal” albums of all time. Nightime Birds was right there too.

    • Ernesto Aimar

      Haunting….thats the word.

      I ve always said that I d love to have Sand and Mercury played in my funeral, even when I wont be able to listen to it. Such a deep song, it moves me every time (BTW, the voice at the end of the song is JRR Tolkien himself).

      Just as Grymm, I will always thank The Gathering for this piece of art.

    • “Nightime Birds” was my first Gathering album… then I went to see what else they produced. I am glad I took the chance.

  • Grumpyrocker

    One of my favourite bands, if not my favourite. Despite being a metal fan I prefer the less metallic later outings to Mandylion – How to Measure a Planet and Disclosure being my favourites.

  • tbrCHUD

    I was 12 when I used to this song off the Identity Sampler to get a girl to make out with me for the first time. Album still works for that purpose decades later.

    • tbrCHUD

      Seriously, think of how many metal heads this album helped with the ladies? They should get a Nobel Peace Prize.

      • [not a Dr] Gonzalo Salazar

        The lady who introduced me to Therion and Nightwish almost 15 years ago is currently digging this. So am I.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Her voice is truly out of this world…really enjoying this right now. Thanks for the review Grymm well written.
    I still can’t get into Gentle Storm though..

    • De2013

      Same for me. The songs don’t stick. Every time I put it on it sounds like I listen to it for the first time.

    • Monsterth Goatom

      Gentle Storm doesn’t work for me either — just pedestrian, while the songs on Mandylion are transcendent.

  • madhare

    This is again one of those albums and bands that I missed because I encountered them at the wrong age. I remember a friend of mine foaming about Nighttime Birds and trying to play it to me. But perhaps it was too… adult. Too progressive for that young me. Maybe even a bit too slow for someone who was into Megadeth, Annihilator and others. I remember Anneke’s voice mostly just irritating me back then. So I completely avoided Gathering for a long time.

    Then I grew up, “gave up childish ways” and started enjoying more variety, subtlety, and depth in my music. So I had to rediscover lot of things that I had missed. The Gathering included.

    Actually, I’m still continuing my rediscoveries to this day every now and then. Like you guys have pointed out, it wasn’t easy finding new music then. Sure, one would hear about the mega stars from Metal Hammer etc. But new stuff was often limited to what one’s friends liked. This also caused a lag of even a year or so, as the new music disseminated from people to people. And one might easily miss new schools and styles completely. (And this is one reason why these olde metal -series are important.)

    Perhaps because of the early bad start, I never really became a big fan of The Gathering even later. But thank you very much for reminding me about them! Will definitely give Mandylion a few more changes to grow on me – once again. Especially because I think I used to listen more to Nighttime Birds than this.

    As a completely non-musical thing, I have to say that I’ve always been put off by their “logo”. Or their non-existing logo. They simply have various bad typographical arrangements. Always annoys the hell out of me. Actually, most or perhaps even all of their artwork has been pretty horrible. It’s like they are (or their artist is) trying to imitate more talented people – like Dave McKean and Dead Can Dance etc. – but they just don’t have any idea how to do it properly.

    • I enjoyed reading both the article and your comment. there are some albums you just don’t get it in first listen but after sometime it starts growing.

    • Innit Bartender

      How to Measure a Planet is probably their best artwork, and it still looks like a Roger Corman movie, making the best of a tripod and a tele-lens when you should have had a lunar module…
      Souvenirs cover also is quite “up to the times”, but I agree, they never had a good logo or a good image over. And the poster for the Sleepy Buildings tour was just a bad Anneke photo, very amateurish…

    • jetrica

      when talking about covers, I remember that I could never manage to get over simply awful Voivod covers, especially on their last album. I read a lot of good reviews of it, but still couldn’t get over cover. :)
      When talking about the Gathering, I was introduced to them about 6 years ago, with if_then_else, and immidiately fell in love with their syle, melancholy and Anneke’s voice. If i found them just few years before, I would probably throw away CD :) (yeah, I also had similar musical taste to you back then :))

  • De2013

    Thank you for sharing this personal story Grymm.

  • Chris Timbó

    I also love this one, though I personally favor Nighttime Birds. I used to listen to those with the lights off, particularly Kevin’s Telescope – which is a favourite, since I majored in Physics. I would get goosebumps from Anekke’s voice. Very haunting and beautiful too. I’m sorry that Gathering isn’t what they used to be, but they had a good run.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    Great review and recommendation, Grymm. Honestly never heard this one before, and it’s blowing me away. I can see how music like this can be a great comfort.

  • ronin1572

    Great album, saw them a few times in the US. Anneke has such a great stage presence.

  • nomrom3

    After Gentle Storm, I was looking up other bands Anneke had sung with and listened to one of The Gathering’s albums (don’t remember which one), and wasn’t that impressed. But I’m really enjoying this one; it’s been the only thing I’ve listened to all morning at work.

    Since I didn’t start listening to metal until the mid 00’s, I really like reading these articles and finding older material to listen to.

    • krisdaschwab912

      She has sung in three Devin Townsend albums (Addicted, Sky Blue, Epicloud) as well. Those three albums are generally far more upbeat than Mandylion (which I love dearly).

  • Vikh666

    With this album, The Gathering marked a great difference with another bands with female voices.

    • Grymm

      And there still isn’t any quite like The Gathering.

  • Roquentin

    Beautiful. Love it as much as the first time I’ve heard it many, many years ago.

  • Innit Bartender

    A dear friend of mine got me into The Gathering at the beginning of the 00’s, lending me the whole package from Mandylion to Souvenirs. It was a sad time of my life as well (falling in love with the wrong girl, etc…) and Anneke’s voice is deeply rooted to that period in my memory.
    My favourite track above all is Frail from How to Measure a Planet, for obvious reasons, if you bother to read the lyrics.
    Strange Machines and In Motion are still great songs. I will always love Mandylion.
    The only thing I still cannot muster are Anneke’s solo records. And the “new” Gathering albums have no staying power for me. They are good but don’t pass the test of time.
    Nice review Grymm!!

  • RuySan

    Even though they have had a solid career, they never released another great album. This is pure bliss.

    There’s no other singer like anneke.

    • Grymm

      I thought Nighttime Birds was equally beautiful.

      • RuySan

        For some reason it didn’t impressed me that much back when it was released. Maybe i should give it another try.

        • Wilhelm

          When I listen to their other stuff, I take it for what they’re worth. Nighttime Birds is a good transition into their alt rock style.

    • MelbCro

      Disagree on saying they’ve never released another great album, they released 6 of them during Anneke’s tenure. I love Mandylion but I would personally rate HTMAP and Souvenirs ahead of it. The Gathering (Anneke era) stands up there as one of my all time fav bands.

  • Kronos

    Grymm, you’re fucking awesome. I have a huge amount of respect for you because of pieces like this, because you’re not afraid to tie your own hardship to the impact of art that means a lot to you personally. Your review is great and I’m happy to know you even in the very limited context that we do know each other.

    • Grymm

      Thanks, Kronos.

      As much as I like portraying the offspring of Abbath and Grumpy Cat, sometimes sharing a bit of myself is the way to go. And as someone who admires your writing, your words are high praise. So, again, thank you!

  • Thatguy

    Me too

    Great review, great album, great voice

  • Wilhelm

    I bought this after hearing “In Motion #1” on a century media sampler (was listed as “Leaves”) way back when it was brand new. I have to say that Mandylion still never fails to impress me. It was not pure doom, not particularly sad but definitely melancholy, dark and heavy enough to highly appeal to this, then, sixteen year old. Anneke’s vocals were absolutely breathtaking, they were pure and innocent (which towards the end of their career with her turned rather annoying and disappointing) her lyrics were great too – just a flawless, magnificent album. Nighttime Birds was good too but they never recaptured the magic of this one. Great review – I wish someone out there today could do half as good within this style.

    • DrChocolate

      Same here – it was ‘Identity 2.’ Wow, that brings back memories. That Identity series was like a gateway drug for me with Metal.

      • Wilhelm

        Yeah, Century Media was gold back then.

  • doom-erik

    Great album!
    The first I heard from The Gathering was Nighttime Birds, and that didn’t really do it for me at the time. But then I heard Mandylion and suddenly “got it”. Maybe because it has a bit more heaviness and darkness to it, but with the same beautiful melodies. And I had a huge crush on Anneke for years, perhaps even to this day? :)

    Without a doubt the band’s best work. How to Measure a Planet is my number 2.

    Ah, the wonderful year of 1995 that also brought us classics like The Angel And The Dark River (MDB), Lepaca Kliffoth (Therion), Infidel Art (Sigh), The Gallery (Dark Tranquillity) and Pentecost III (Anathema)!

    • DrChocolate

      Word, ’95 was a damn near a watershed moment…Dranconian Times, Slaughter of the Soul, Wolfheart (maybe that’s just me…), Symbolic, Storm of the Lights Bane, Demanufacture, Nevermore, Orchid, Amok, The Power of Inner Strength…. It just keeps going.

      As an American High Schooler in 1995, those releases quite possibly cemented my listening habits for the next 20 years.

  • Elton Chagas

    “Underneath the mask you’ve buried yourself into
    it’s coal-black…”

    Thanks sir, for this review. The Gathering was one of those bands I found years ago while searching for doom metal albuns à la Katatonia’s Brave Murder Day.

    Never forget the day Mandylion finally came into my hands. Amazing atmosphere. Amazing album. Great review.

  • krisdaschwab912

    I love The Gathering. I love this album. I love Anneke van Giersbergen. I love lamp.

    In all seriousness, I have this as my #2 favorite album ever released, right behind Devin Townsend’s Ocean Machine. This album is simply beautiful. I always liked How To Measure A Planet. It wasn’t until later that I really started liking If_Then_Else and Souvenirs but now they’re both in regular rotation. Their newer, post-Anneke work is hit or miss for me but I can appreciate it.

    I also never really got Nighttime Birds. One of these days I’ll have to go back to it but every time I do I lose interest. Regardless, great review.

  • Well said. This album was part of what I call my first wave of underground metal. In the summers of ’95 and ’96, I discovered The Gathering, Iced Earth, Morgana Lefay, Nightingale (and therefore Dan Swano), Paradise Lost, Therion, Tiamat, and a huge number of other bands that would later shape my musical tastes which has lasted to this very day. I remember being enchanted with Anneke’s vocals, and I am still a fan of hers to this very day. I liked the followup to this, Nighttime Birds just as much, although ‘Birds is more atmospheric. I was saddened at the direction the band took after that as it no longer appealed to me, but thats OK because at least I had those two albums. Honestly, I haven’t listened to Mandylion in probably 10 years, and its high time I put it back on. I anticipate it feeling like it was only yesterday when I played it last.