Yeah, yeah, sometimes I can really understand that old fans of THE GATHERING, who love(d) the Gothic Metal period of the guys from the Netherlands and who are now turned off by the newer directions of this band. It’s not that I would not love the newer stuff, in contrary; but you can’t deny a certain brilliancy of the former sextet in that rather limited area of Gothic Metal. I think, I don’t have to tell much about the history of THE GATHERING, I think, everybody has its own view about them.
It’s a fact, that “Mandylion” was the first record with Anneke van Giersbergen on vocals and that it is the until now most successful album of the Dutch. The hit single “Strange Machines” reached the highest positions in diverse European charts and with “Mandylion”, THE GATHERING reinvented the Gothic Metal genre. The mixture of a beautiful and highly individual vocal style, a perfectly executed musicianship, an undeniable atmosphere and mood and the sense for catchy but long-term lasting melodies with a high infectious factor, made THE GATHERING to a mega act in the paralysed Metal scene of that time (due to the aftermath of the Grunge scene) in the mid 90s.
It’s always difficult where to start with an album but basically, you can’t do anything wrong on “Mandylion”, you can start where you want, you will never do anything wrong. But at first, something “very short” about the title of the record (if you aren’t interested in it, just skip to the next leg): “Mandylion”, that’s also the name for the “Picture of Edessa”, which got lost in Constantinople in 1204 and which is supposed to be identical with the today’s known, world famous “Shroud of Turin”. There are lots of stories and myths about this shroud and it’s also not historical witnessed, that the “Mandylion” and the “Shroud Of Turin” are indeed the same thing but it’s witnessed, that the “Mandylion” was found folded together in the city wall of Edessa (today: the Eastern Turkey city Urfa) in 525 and that it carried the face of a man. Due to the occupation of the Byzantine army, the “Mandylion” went 944 to Constantinople, which was plundered and robbed by crusaders in the beginning of the 13th century and that the trace of the “Mandylion” was lost then. Many theologians, shroud researchers and scientists took care of the “Mandylion” and tried to reconstruct how the “Mandylion” could turn from Constantinople to the todays “Shroud Of Turin”, which was firstly historical witnessed in the 14th century. Who wants to know more about this, I can recommend the books of the Brit Ian Wilson, who dealt meticulously with the topic “Mandylion – Shroud Of Turin”.
But now, let’s come to the music. If you compare a work like “Mandylion” with today’s genre’s records, it comes obvious, why this band had such a significant bit in the world of Metal that time. The third album of THE GATHERING has it all, every song is completely different from each other and far between, you could already recognize the band’s sense for experimentation. To say it short, this album represents indeed the complete contrast to that, what is the today’s majority of works in this genre. Songs like “Strange Machines” or “In Motion #1” will grip you initially with their bombastic choruses, but like so often, the fine details of them let such songs turn to long-running successes. “Eléanor” and “Fear The Sea” are pretty multi layered songs, which don’t lose anything of their magic after many spins, in contrary. “Leaves” is as well interestedly-structured as you think the vocals firstly pretty disharmonic but only that the music then turns into a beautiful, small but pretty effective guitar solo after the first two vocal verses. That’s really first-class! The titlectrack is then a highly interesting, moody instrumental. I don’t know whether someone of you knows the Europe Park in Rust in Southwest Germany and whether you know then the “Pirates in Batavia” attraction, because I think, “Mandylion”, the song, would be perfectly for it. On this attraction, you drive in a little boat in the water through a jungle-like area, where you’ll meet some pirates. With “Sand & Mercury”, there follows then a song, which gave already hints of the sense for experimentation of this band. It’s not that much as today but at least, they show off so much things in this 10 minutes lasting drama, other bands can only dream of. Especially the ending as soon as Anneke is introduced (which lasts a while), is pretty dramatic. Finally, there is even a quote of fantasy guru J.R.R. Tolkien. With the second part of “In Motion”, this wonderful record ends, this song is then once again differently-arranged but integrates that goose flesh causing chorus of the first part.
Yes, I have to admit it and I admit it gladly, “Mandylion” was and is unmatched in its own way. Also “Nighttime Birds”, the stylistically similar follow-up, couldn’t strike at the divine status of “Mandylion”. Of course, I can understand why many bangers had been disappointed when the band took a totally different direction in 1998 with “How To Measure A Planet?” but on the other hand, where would have been gone the way of this band, when they would have been continued in this style? I think, TG is a band, which has to follow their feelings and moods, everything else wouldn’t be honest. Would they have gone the supposed secure way (like I said, “Mandylion” is until today the most successful album), I’m sure, this band wouldn’t exist today in this form.
So, above mentioned fans should keep the band as a wonderful remembrance in their minds, they should be happy that this band existed and maybe, some of you might take the time to listen carefully to the newer material and maybe, you’ll find something, you like. Otherwise, put “Mandylion” in your stereo and enter a dreamworld, you unwillingly quit, admittedly. (Online April 24, 2004)