This isn’t an easy album to categorise, which is probably the idea. Hints of prog, yes, especially when a shape- shifting 10-minute track with a quite glorious mid-section, melding brass and groove, is named Heroes For Ghosts, and has you wishing you could hear more. Yet through the course of the fluid Disclosure there are also waves of alt.rock, ambient electronica and certainly a billowing cloak or two of goth. What you won’t find are many traces of the death/doom metal that characterised the Dutch band’s early career.
Curiously, that original line-up is going to be playing gigs around the same time that this current ensemble (with three of the same members) is seeking to establish its own identity. Perhaps they feel this album does enough to achieve that. For the most part, it does.
The Gathering’s 10th album – 20 years since their first – sees new(ish) singer Silje Wergeland bedding in and getting involved: on 2009’s The West Pole, just after joining, she was basically reading pre-written lines. The Norwegian is confident and strong all across the work here. It can’t have been an easy task to replace Anneke van Giersbergen, who wasn’t short on presence, after her own 12-year shift in the band, but Wergeland sounds forceful and in charge without ever trying too hard. And the band seems to have relaxed into its regeneration.
Not everything here is inspired, and there are spells where things just float along affably, somewhat like Evanescence fronted by Julianne Regan, without catching fire. In the cool, however, there is always class. In the busy Meltdown (the second track, but the one where the album seems to really circle the wagons and dig in) Silje shares vocals in a dialogue with longstanding keyboardist Frank Boeijen. Elsewhere, she’s front and centre, notably on the haunting Paralized. This opens with post-industrial drones and glitches, before flowering into a deceptively sweet love-letter then getting all crushed and apocalyptic again.
The Gathering retain their knack for book-ending what might otherwise be relatively conventional songs in swirls of moody atmospherics. If Heroes For Ghosts is the one you’ll instantly want to play over and over, there’s much else here to intrigue and woo: the startling chorus of Gemini 1, seemingly switching from trip-hop to stadium anthem in a millisecond; the keening sighs of Gemini 2; the scratchy, serrated buzz and echoing neo-dub of I Can See Four Miles (Nina Simone singing for Bauhaus, anyone?). This one ultimately cascades into a thunderously over-the-top climax - finally, some prog! By the end then, The Gathering have worked up quite a lather.