Band: The Gentle Storm
Album: The Diary
The Gentle Storm is the newest in a growing list of projects from Dutch maestro Arjen Anthony Lucassen, and features lyricist and vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen. While that pairing alone should have any prog fan turning their head, the pairings’ debut work, The Diary, is more than simply great composer meets great vocalist. The album comes in two discs, one “gentle” and one “storm”, featuring softer and heavier versions of the same songs. But don’t be fooled into thinking the softer album is simply your typical stripped down acoustic album. Instead the songs, while seemingly built from the same cores, are constructed quite differently on each disc.
The glue between the two discs is most certainly Anneke, who’s beautiful and melodic vocals shine through on both versions of each song. For those unfamiliar with her previous work, most famously on Devin Townsend Project albums, you are in for a treat. She manages to have a hauntingly beautiful timbre to her voice, but she has the ability to present it with significant power. Not to be confused at all with more “ballsy” female vocalists, she simply manages to hang on high notes without appearing thin.
Instrumentally I would say the “gentle” disc is certainly the more interesting of the two versions. There is an amazing diversity of instruments that put unique stamps all over the tracks. The “storm” album isn’t particularly heavy or metal by many standards, but has a traditional drum setup and is generally more guitar driven than its counterpart and is probably closer to Ayreon than Star One. The “gentle” tracks however bring full on folk and eclectic sounds that have not been seen since Ayreon debuted with The Final Experiment. The “gentle” album is also where you will likely notice what a fantastic job Arjen has done with the piano on this album, as it is featured prominently on several tracks.
One of the aspects I enjoyed about the “storm” album, is that the only keys are the piano; no minimoog, or synthesizers; truly a first for Arjen. With that in mind, if you take a moment to notice the sounds you’d so often associate with a keyboard patch on the albums and listen closely, you can fully appreciate how nice the plethora of instruments sound in their place. Even on the heavier “storm” album the violins, double bass, and other strings really stand out. The analog synths that Arjen has often employed has always been one of my favorite parts of his sound, and so for an album without them to be so good is a big credit to him.
Arjen’s songwriting and use of the many instrumentalists is stunning throughout both discs. Arjen clearly did not set out to make the “gentle” album more than an album featuring cheap acoustic versions usually used as b-sides and fillers by other artists. The thought and arrangement of the music clearly shines through, and the albums don’t feel identical songs with instruments swapped out. Anneke’s lyrics and vocals are captivating and powerful, as to be expected based on her recent collaborations. With every listen new songs and new parts always seem to stand out, and in the end this looks like another home run from Holland’s leading progressive mastermind.
Nick’s Grade: A