Cities Carved In Stone DVD: Making Of "The Gathering Wilderness"
Some call this "Pagan Metal", some "Celtic Metal", some even "Black Metal". Personally I'm even tempted to call it "Doom Metal", but apart from silly genre classifications, "The Gathering Wilderness" is one thing for sure: absolutely, positively kick ass.
What you get on this album are seven crushing tracks of melancholy and bleakness, the shortest of which is . The lyrics speak of the changing world, of a descent into darkness, and A. A. Nemtheanga's delivery brings them across perfectly. At times he sounds wrathful, at times sorrowful, but always there's this very emotional vibe to his voice few vocalists can handle without sounding pathetic. He's not always perfectly in tune, either, but this only adds to the grimness of the music.
Indeed, the entire album sounds very raw and harsh. Nemtheanga has said the band purposefully went for a rougher sound on "The Gathering Wilderness", forsaking triggers or samples in favour of a more natural and heavier sound. As a result, this album is an experience all of its own, bringing with it an oddly warm sound which is missing from so many records these days.
Not that one would think the music lends itself to a warm sound. As was said, the songs themselves deal with desperate days and times; the best example probably is "The Coffin Ships", at also the longest song on the album. It deals with "Án Gorta Mór" ("The Great Hunger"), the Irish Potato Famine of 1846-1849 that cost the country over three million people all things considered (about one million died and two million emigrated to Great Britain, the US etc). Although an impressive song by itself, it becomes even more powerful once you get to know the whole context and really take it in. Similar things can be said of the other songs on this album; while there are relatively few songs, they are deep and powerful enough to keep you listening for many hours.
I made a reference to Doom Metal earlier. It's not as much because the songs on "The Gathering Wilderness" are particularly slow (although some are fairly low-tempo, there also are a few faster tracks/passages), but because of the general mood as well as the album's crushing heaviness. It's one of those albums for which you will want to crank the volume up to maximum; having a good low end helps as well. "The Gathering Wilderness" is majestic and tremendous, encompassing you like a thunderstorm at night: dark, hopeless and utterly devastating. When Nemtheanga wails "a season of our stolen youth/shall teach our hearts to break", you will feel like you are not ever going to see the sun again.
There is a DigiPak edition of this album that comes with a DVD documentary, about twenty minutes long, which shows the making of "The Gathering Wilderness". While I still feel most bands who choose to add features like these do not remotely use the medium to its full capacity, this documentary actually is decently insightful, interesting and even funny (quoth their producer Billy Anderson after Nemtheanga lets loose that scream at the beginning of "Tragedy's Birth": "somebody needs a hug!"). Additionally, the CD itself contains the album's lyrics and liner notes in .DOC format; the band's biography in four languages; high-res versions of the album cover and band logo; a sizable amount of both session and studio photos. More bands need to include goodies like those.
The design of the packaging and the cover artwork itself is great as well: rather simplistic (greyscale photos of birds in flight in front of a clouded sky, with the band name/album title/track names embossed in golden letters), but very effective and perfectly appropriate considering the music.
What I'm trying to say is: "The Gathering Wilderness" is pretty much everything you could conceivably want as far as dark, heavy, melancholic metal goes. It's definitely my favourite album so far this year and a strong contender for the "Album of the Year" award six months down the line. (Online May 10, 2005)