The Gathering - A Sound Relief DVD - Psychonaut / The End Records 2005
Running Time Disc One: 79:00
Running Time Disc Two: 99:00

With a band like The Gathering - at least beginning with the genre-defining Mandylion -, it behooves one to approach with an open mind. After the more expected sounds of follow-up Nighttime Birds, time found the band not just flirting with various textures within the framework of hard music, but at times sprinting away from metal altogether, and embracing the more ethereal soundscapes of say, Portishead or a slightly more guitar-friendly Cocteau Twins. Of late, The Gathering has taken marked steps back to the basics of their sound, taking furtive steps away from the overdone production of last studio project Souvenirs, and stripping down their sound to the mostly-acoustic live Sleepy Buildings. With the birth of vocalist Anneke's first child in February 2005, the band wisely took a year off from touring. This gave Anneke important time with her son, as well as allowed the band a much-needed rest from the rigors of the road. Never ones to drag their heels, The Gathering has given us their first live concert DVD in A Sound Relief to fill the empty space between albums, and provide a document of the events of 2004.

The first disc features The Gathering in concert at the Paradiso in the band's native Holland. Filmed on a late May evening in 2005, we see a band at their most comfortable. Filming a live concert in front of a hometown crowd is kind of a "gimme". In this situation, the relaxed vibe of the Paradiso, coupled with the band being in their comfort zone gives the band a chance to forego all the theatrics and let the music - quite literally - do the talking. There are no Dimmu-strobes, no Ozzfest-size stage sets to reckon with, which only adds to the intimacy of the gathering (pun intended, and thank you). From the exquisite arrangement of 'Rescue Me' to the long, slow build of 'Travel', all aspects of The Gathering's sound are touched on. The latter, especially, bears witness to the sheer virtuosity of newest addition, bassist Marjolein Kooijman . When the crescendo of 'Travel' builds to one of the most noticeably "metal" moments found on A Sound Relief, the music rises like a wave, then cascades over you almost before you notice the change. Anneke's voice is in fine form as always, the desperation in 'A Life All Mine' bleeding through every note of music, every word of the lyrics. The only showing from Mandylion appears in the form of 'In Motion II', which receives a fairly straightforward treatment, given The Gathering's penchant for rearrangement of their songs in the live setting. Closing with an exquisite version of 'Herbal Movement', The Gathering politely (and quite self-consciously, it seems) stand stagefront for a minute or so, take their bows, leaving the audience still somewhat mystified at the wonder of beautiful music played beautifully.

Disc Two contains a plethora of bonus footage, featuring a tour diary from 2004, an Italian TV special, and an informative Dutch television special commemorating the fifteenth year of The Gathering, who are undeniably one of Holland's main musical exports. Regarding the tour diary, I found it to be somewhat "rushed" in delivery, especially considering the pristine quality of the performance leading up to it. Choppy would be the best word to describe it, however, it does document The Gathering's inaugural visit to Mexico in their fourteen-country jaunt. Of note also is the fact that for just over half of these shows, Anneke was in various stages of pregnancy. Say what you will about women being "the weaker sex", I doubt many death metal vocalists could've made it through forty-plus shows with a growing child inside them. The Dutch special does most of the legwork on the second disc, being both informative and entertaining. It does my heart good to see a band both unafraid to admit their talent, yet not above being somewhat flustered by all the attention given them. The Italian TV portion is primarily an interview, which provides little new information, but still holds the attention quite well. Disc Two ends with animated music clips of six "newer" songs by The Gathering, created by the same artists responsible for the live visuals during the Paradiso show. Think Fantasia as seen through the eyes of The Gathering, and you've got an idea what's going on here. A perfect ending to the release as a whole, and worth watching on their own merit.

Thanks to The Gathering for offering us this gift for standing behind you the past decade-and-a-half. As long as the quality of the music created by this Dutch fivesome remains of the degree it has been (and I have no doubt it will), here's to another fifteen...and beyond...

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