If there’s one thing that can be said about Anneke van Giersbergen, it is that she is one of the world’s most spectacular vocal talents. Few, if any, can express as wide a range of emotions — wonder, mystery, anger, bliss, fear, triumph, scorn, innocence, etc — as effortlessly as she has over her career. She is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the true greats.
If there’s another thing that can be said about Anneke van Giersbergen, it is that she rarely works with musicians that are one dimensional. With The Gathering, she was lucky enough to work with a group as restless in their development as she was, playing everything from doom/goth metal and neo-prog to post rock and their so-called “trip-rock.” Her talents grew as the band around her grew, and by the time of albums like How to Measure a Planet? and Souvenirs the band was producing some truly remarkable music. As a solo artist, she used these styles as a jumping off point while delving further into folk, pop, and other styles. She simultaneously found time to work with the likes of Anathema’s Danny Cavanagh, Devin Townsend, and chamber act Árstíðir.
Label: InsideOut Records.
Sometimes that is more than enough, but sometimes it creates some hurdles. Unfortunately, one such hurdle comes right at the album’s start. The opening of “My Champion – Berlin” is plastic, awkward “prog” that has very little presence or subtlety in its performances (half-time drums and all). It is unfortunate because once Anneke comes in, everything is generally peachy, and downright stunning as she performs the simultaneous crescendo/ascension of the chorus. She undeniably saves the song, something that can be said for a high percentage of the album.
However, some moments — those that don’t necessarily fit naturally into the “progressive metal” mold — might have been better left to further simmer. “Freedom – Rio,” for example, begins as soft, beautiful balladry (Anneke is consistently amazing during the album’s softer passages), but feels the need to wedge a half-djent chug-a-thon of a pre-chorus before the somewhat trite, but admittedly pretty and pop-oriented chorus. An (also admittedly nice) solo section attempts to heighten the metal factor, but by then the song feels like a confused combination of mostly decent ingredients. “Sail Away – Santiago” has a similarly pop-oriented vibe that seems more fitting of Anneke’s solo career, an impression furthered by the ill-fitting and rather passionless background music during the chorus. The album’s hour-plus run time also suggests that some of this could have been cut, focusing extra time on the greater material, to the betterment of the whole.
Still, when Anneke’s presence is enough, the album delivers some true gems. “Your Glorious Light Will Shine – Helsinki” feels far more lush than much of the album due to some keyboard flourishes, and it takes full advantage of great leads (Jord Otto is excellent throughout), while closer “Reunite! – Paris” is like one long exhale, with Anneke moving from an angelic near-whisper to a mighty wail by the end of the song’s swell. The album’s finest moment is “Days Go By – London,” which places its foundation upon a cyclical, actually proggy-sounding set of riffs while Anneke soars gloriously over the top before landing a fairly unforgettable chorus. It’s the type of majesty and mystery that shows exactly how great this project can be, and hopefully will be moving forward.
In fairness, the album succeeds far more than it falters, with about 99 percent of the credit being owed to Vuur’s inimitable frontwoman. Anneke absolutely keeps up her end of the bargain; as mentioned, her vocals are nothing short of incredible, and at least her part of the songwriting process resulted in greatness. But it’s clear that far less thought was put into the backing instrumentation, both in terms of composition and performance. And it wouldn’t have taken much — a little variation in the drums, a touch of variety in the guitar tones, or a deepening to the textures of it all — and all would be greatly enhanced.
Perhaps they didn’t have time, perhaps In This Moment We Are Free was simply rushed. This would explain the instrumentation limitations as much as it would add a layer of wonder to the depth of Anneke’s performance. But if it wasn’t rushed, and this is the best this band can come up with as supporting cast for one of the all time greats, then perhaps they aren’t the right guys for the job.
Overall, a very pleasant disappointment, but not what it deserved to be by any stretch.