Here I am going to hunt – for once – well outside of my usual haunts and dark forests of yonder badlands. Lost at sea, like Jack Sparrow with his compass pointing to nowhere. And this lands us back in spice trade nirvana, with creaking planks, and salted beef for supper.
This new endeavor all started when I heard about a double-concept album called The Diary. Released under the name of The Gentle Storm, featuring Anneke Van Giersbergen (a long time ago with The Gathering, Devin Townsend, Ayreon, and solo) as the vocalist, and Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon, Stream of Passion, Guilt Machine).
And that is a truly exciting mix.
With the bottomless creative reservoir of Arjen Lucassen at work for songwriting and a very capable vocalist like Anneke in charge of lyrics, ’tis just gotta be good.
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. And it seems that they like stormy names for their productions.
The record displays an artistic style of – how best to call it – folksy Symphonic Progressive Rock with metal injections. And, The Diary greedily feeds off this kind of symbiotic relationship between Arjen and Anneke, that’s for sure. Which – probably – is key to its undeniable qualities. It seems that the chemistry between these two was just right to produce something stellar.
Real metal moments have been injected, too. Even complete with some solos, one prominently featuring in Endless Sea (Storm version). But those are few and far between, so I would not call this a metal album in the proper sense. It is 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 is The Diary called a double-concept album?
You are getting actually two versions of the same theme in The Diary, like some sort of a split personality.
The Gentle Version
This one features a 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
More straightforward and much more to my taste. 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 on offer. It is indeed a different flavor of the same, but much more complex.
A theme at the height of the Dutch East India Company.
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 takes ill after giving birth to their son and desperately seeks to communicate with her lover to return. The full story is available on the album cover.
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 spoken word. The Diary features beautiful lyrics, adapted to the theme that is 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!
The Diary is flawlessly produced.
And with the usual attention to detail that we are used to in Lucassen‘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 van Giersbergen‘s outstanding vocals, this album would never have cut it so well.
Now, what about the tracks?
You know, none of them are bad. There are no fillers. It is just that this monster delivery of not quite 120 minutes of music splits into two different settings. To be recommended are Endless Sea, Shores of India with a happy confusion of culture in the video, with Arjen Lucassen on the ground with a sitar without strings. The Moment – an emotional and very beautiful ballad is very recommendable.
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 solos to boot. Now, this still does not make this a real 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 and 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.
Get dat tune: