Released: 2009, Psychonaut Records
I have to admit straightaway that I’ve never encountered this Dutch band before, but doing some research on the band, one of their former members stands out immediately. Anneke van Giersbergen was a member of The Gathering between 1994 and 2007, and while I know Anneke from her guest work with Ayreon, she was apparently to The Gathering what Tarja was to Nightwish. Similarly, when Anneke left, there was major speculation as to who her replacement would be. The band finally recruited Norwegian warbler Silje Wergeland from Octavia Sperati, a doom/gothic outfit that was neither too inspiring nor very original.
THE WEST POLE, on its own merits, is quite an enjoyable album. Silje has a gentle voice that manages to be sweet without being saccharine. If you imagine a cross between Simone from Epica and Sharon Corr from The Corrs (major Irish/Dutch hotness, giggity giggity goo!), that pretty much sums up Silje’s performance on THE WEST POLE. The tendency for many female singers in metal, especially those of the gothic metal persuasion, is to overreach themselves in trying to attain that ‘operatic’ tag. Silje thankfully doesn’t try to do this, staying within herself and the boundaries of the album, and it’s a massive relief.
But the hero of THE WEST POLE is the other lady in the band, the very understated Marjolein Kooijman. Her simple yet intensely touching basslines are subtle and fill out the ethereal soundscape that The Gathering conjure up. This is Steve Digiorgio if he were to forget himself one day and play on a pop album, and the dynamics, harmonies and tone that Marjolein achieves is very impressive indeed.
I doubt many fans of extreme metal will pick this up, so stay well away if you like Spawn of Possession more than Sinead O’Connor or Simon and Garfunkel. This could be the soundtrack for one of those escape-from-yourself movies. You know the type, where the troubled heroine is cruising down the open desert road with the night breeze whipping through her hair, high on cocaine and alcohol trying to forget…But in all seriousness, for a relaxing trippy pop record (that isn’t stupidly superficial) with gothic and celtic undertones, performed by good musicians, look no further than THE WEST POLE by the Dutch veterans.