Here I am going to hunt for once well outside my usual haunts and dark forests of yonder badlands, lost at sea – feeling like Jack Sparrow with his compass pointing nowhere. Landing back in spice trade nirvana, creaking planks and salted beef for supper. This new endeavour all started when I heard about a double-concept album called ‘The Diary’ coming out under the name of The Gentle Storm, featuring Anneke Van Giersbergen (long time ago with The Gathering, Townsend project and solo) as THE VOICE (okay, the vocalist…LOL) and Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon, Stream of Passion). And I got very excited.
With the bottomless creative reservoir of Arjen Lucassen at work for song writing and a very capable vocalist like Anneke in charge of lyrics, ’tis just gotta be good. Right? RIGHT?? And in truth, The Diary is a delight to listen to, with some slight similarities to the album Embrace the Storm of Stream of Passion 10 years earlier – but only just. Looks like they like stormy names for their productions.
Displaying an artistic style of – how best to call it – folksy Symphonic Progressive Rock with metal injections, The Diary is greedily feeding off this kind of symbiotic relationship between Arjen and Anneke. It seems that the chemistry is just right to produce something stellar. Real Metal moments have been injected too, even complete with some riffs – one prominently featuring in Endless Sea (Storm version). But those are few and far between – so I would not call this a Metal album, much too diverse for that.
Now, throw in a few (or many – depending) musicians, folk interludes at every corner, some jazzy elements, violins and stuff and you got yourself a bunch of songs that are happily hunting in everybody’s and sundry’s background for catchy melodies and emotional messages to pass on to your trusty fans. And just look at who else is contributing: Marcela Bovio (Stream of Passion) for backing vocals for the live shows as the lore goes, Johan van Stratum (Stream of Passion) on bass, Rob Snijders on drums (not surprisingly..).
And why the hell is The Diary called a double-concept album?
You are getting actually two version of the same theme in The Diary, like some sort of a split personality:
The Gentle Version is of the softer and lighter, kind of variété style, somewhat jazzy in parts, with lots of folk elements. One of the many details I liked is the introduction of the transverse flute in ‘Heart of Amsterdam’ and in ‘New Horizons’ (Storm Version) – not something we heard often this side of Jethro Tull. The attempt to reproduce a contemporary atmosphere with specific instruments like the hammered dulcimer is particularly well done. They actually used an insane number of instruments to pull this one off – but all of them particularly well used to purpose.
The Storm Version, hmm … much more of the metal kind and straightforward. This one will appeal to the rougher metal crowd better. It is much more full-bodied and rockier – like some mature old wine, best consumed in front of the fire. I did however miss the stormy bit somehow. Being a metalhead, I of course favor the storm version and would thus have liked it much stormier.
But believe me, none of them versions in The Diary are bad. It will depend on your mood, which one you would like to listen to at any given time. Also, don’t expect the Gentle version to be your usual ubiquitous acoustic delivery thrown in to boost sales and embellish the digipack version. The Gentle Version is indeed a different flavor of the same, but much more complex.
The theme harkens back to the glorious days of the Dutch East India Company governed by the mighty Seventeen back in the 1600s, holding outposts like Batavia and the Cape of Good Hope (okay, all you Brits forgive me, I know it is still a sore issue with some of ye..). This was the time when the fat spice ships roamed around oceans and no law was known beyond the line – fair prey to belligerents and pirates alike. The story itself centers around a couple with the husband going to sea, leaving his wife behind. The wife taking ill after giving birth to their son, desperately seeks to communicate with her lover to return, not succeeding. The full story is available on the album cover.
The Diary is flawlessly produced with the usual attention to detail that we are used to in Arjen’s line of work. Okay, almost: Nobody is perfect and there are hiccups, but too minor to get worked up about. Of course, without Anneke’s outstanding vocals, this album would never have cut it so well. What I like most is the emotional authenticity and passion you feel when listening to this album. No easy feat when telling a story dating centuries back. And that The Diary cannot be compared easily to any style or band in this music universe of ours is another indicator of a stellar album.
You know, usually I do not spend a lot of time on lyrics or album art covers. But this time, it will behoove you to listen a little closer to the words spoken. The Diary features beautiful lyrics, adapted to the theme that are actually understandable. Very pleasing if I compare this to the usual delirious garbage you get from many bands. The artwork is … well … artfully executed. All of that crafted to fit the cover story. Very good!
Now, what about the tracks?
You know, none of them are bad. There are no fillers (no kidding, poor RockmusicRaider did not find anything of importance to bitch about – I almost feel bad). It is just that this monster delivery of not quite 120 minutes of music is split in two different settings. To be recommended are Endless Sea, Shores of India with a happy confusion of culture in the video, Arjen sitting on the ground with a sitar without strings. The Moment – an emotional and very beautiful ballad is very recommendable.
To this, here an acoustic version of The Moment that Anneke and Arjen did for BZ Berlin. And yes, I know it is not Metal, but what can I say:
As said above, the Storm Version features a more metal driven direction – specifically The Storm, Eyes of Michiel and Brightest Lights feature elements, some with riffs to boot. Now, this still does not make this a Metal album, folks – you need a few more things than distort a couple of guitars at times.
The Diary will probably turn out to be one of the most memorable highlights of 2015. Freshly telling a story of old, using many different styles and nuances to get with the story, delivered with a lot of gusto by very talented musicians. Very varied, full of little surprises at every corner of the road. I can only recommend it. If – however – you look for a (purist type) Metal album, then this is definitely not for you.
Well done, band. I am truly impressed. And so was the team dealing with the 2015 Top 10 Records.