Artist: The Gentle Storm
Album Title: The Diary
Label: Inside Out Music
Year of Release: 2015
‘The Gentle Storm’…if you stop and think about it and let the words mull over in your mind for a time, it suddenly hits you what a really nice, clever and simple name it is. A contradiction in terms it may be but it’s one that beautifully sums up what this album is all about. But more about that in a moment; first, some context.
The Gentle Storm is the latest release from the intense workaholic that’s Arjen Lucassen, the Dutch multi-instrumentalist that is occasionally – and rightfully in my opinion – referred to as a musical genius. Arjen has been a part of the rock/metal music scene for over 30 years and in that time, has recorded some of the most highly regarded music within the progressive genre. With The Gentle Storm, normal service has been resumed and this project stands shoulder to shoulder with Lucassen’s previous work under his several various guises, be it Ayreon, Guilt Machine or Star One to name a few.
To be entirely accurate though, The Perfect Storm is more of a joint collaboration between Arjen and his compatriot, Anneke van Giersbergen, better known for supplying her angelic vocals to The Gathering and more latterly, in collaboration with Devin Townsend but also as a revered solo artist in her own right.
The fiendishly talented Lucassen handles the majority of the standard instruments on the album. However, a plethora of guests join him and Anneke on the record including a choir and over 40 authentic, exotic instruments making it an ambitious project to say the least. But Arjen is no stranger to handling such huge logistical efforts as he proves once again.
There’s even a live band for when The Gentle Storm goes onto the stage. Yes, you heard that right, the reclusive Arjen is going to perform live. For this momentous occasion, Anneke and Arjen are to be joined by an all-Dutch crew comprised of guitarists Merel Bechtold (Purest of Pain, MaYaN) and Ferry Duijsens (Anneke van Giersbergen, ex-Dreadlock Pussy), drummer Ed Warby (Hail Of Bullets, Ayreon, ex-Gorefest), bassist Johan van Stratum (Stream of Passion) and keyboardist Joost van den Broek (ex-After Forever).
But what’s the music like that fans will be treated to?
The Gentle Storm is, to put it mildly, an intelligent and multi-faceted beast. It’s a double album that features eleven tracks recorded twice in two different guises. Disc one features ‘calm’ versions of the eleven compositions whilst disc two revisits the songs and in the process dials up the metal. No suprise then that disc two is referred to as the ‘storm’ disc. I find the whole idea thoroughly fascinating.
But that’s not all. ‘The Diary’ is a concept album lyrically as well. In celebration of their Dutch heritage, the concept centres around the Dutch Golden Age from the 17th Century, a time that encompasses the likes of Rembrandt and Vermeer for example as well as new discoveries and advancements in many of the important areas we now take for granted. The story is then brought to life and given a real human element via the creation of two central characters. A sailor and his wife are kept apart for two years and their only means of communication is via letters, the content of which are explored throughout the album. It’s both am enlightening and touching story that only serves to add to the drama and richness of the album.
Disc one, the ‘gentle’ disc is stunning in its beauty. To say it is simple would be grossly unfair but so expertly crafted is it that the music gives off the illusion of simplicity; the melodies are hook-laden and breezy, the compositions feel light and airy and the almost ethereal vocals of Anneke sound effortless. The entire disc has a demonstrable folk feel to it; acoustic guitars, woodwind, strings, French horn, pianos and the myriad of aforementioned authentic instruments all play a part in creating an end product which is really rather special. Lucassen’s compositional skills are well-known and widely lauded but here, he has pulled out all the stops. In interviews, he readily admits that he wrote the music to allow Anneke’s voice to shine and he has achieved his aim with aplomb. The music is instantly recognisable as Arjen’s work but he has allowed his melodic sensibilities to come to the fore and has created some of his strongest material to date, allowing Anneke to shine like a diamond throughout. Frankly, so beautiful is Anneke’s voice that I could genuinely listen to her singing the contents of a tax return all day long.
I must admit that I wasn’t immediately put under a spell by the ‘gentle’ disc but I cannot deny that the more I listen, the more I want to return for more. The chorus within ‘New Horizons’ for example is gorgeous and captivating, the subtleties within ‘Endless Sea’ or ‘Heart of Amsterdam’ are remarkable and the almost cheeky instrumental interplay within tracks like ‘Eyes of Michiel’ is a real joy to behold.
However, I am the Man of Much Metal and for all the copious strengths of the ‘gentle’ disc, it is on the ‘storm’ disc where I unsurprisingly derive the most enjoyment. Others will no doubt disagree, but to my mind, the whole thing comes fully alive on the second disc.
We’re not talking extreme metal here and, in all honesty, the metal excesses and fripperies could have been further embellished had the mood taken the duo. However, in spite of this laudable restraint, the ante is nevertheless upped significantly. On opener ‘Endless Sea’, the guitars and dramatic symphonics are brought more to the fore to wonderful effect. The choir sounds magnificent and Anneke’s vocal delivery is captivating, reminding me more of her output on The Gathering’s seminal release ‘Mandylion’ than anything else she has put her name and considerable talents to since.
‘Heart of Amsterdam’ benefits second time around from a surprisingly chunky and heavy guitar tone that I adore and the whole thing has a grandiose majesty and beauty that cannot be ignored.
One of many highlights however must be the delightful ‘Shores of India’ with its Middle Eastern melodies and tangible exotic flavour. Coupled with a really superb rhythm guitar tone, big choir-led crescendo and another brilliant vocal delivery from Anneke, it’s a real head-turner and one of the strongest compositions on this record.
One day, Arjen Lucassen will be involved with a less-than-stellar album, but it isn’t now. The partnership between Arjen and his leading lady, Anneke van Giersbergen has proved to be an inspiring one, one that has delivered a double album which is epic and ambitious but ultimately a magnificent triumph. It might not all be to everyone’s taste, but I love it. Absolutely superb.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25
If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld