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The Gentle Storm - The Diary CD (album) cover

THE DIARY

The Gentle Storm

 

Crossover Prog

3.91 | 25 ratings

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Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars 2015 saw Dutch multi-instrumentalist Arjen Anthony Lucassen of Ayreon fame collaborate with ex- The Gathering female singer Anneke van Giersbergen on an ambitious and lavish symphonic concept album entitled `The Diary', with the pair credited here as The Gentle Storm. The name could not be more appropriate, as the duo deliver a mix of acoustic storytelling folk with hard-hitting guitars, although not necessarily at the same time! The album is actually offered in two contrasting interpretations in the one package, a `gentle' version that presents the pieces in a prettier and frequently orchestrated format, and a `storm' version of the same core tracks that adds the heavier rock guitars perhaps more associated with Lucassen. The eleven pieces on offer are sophisticated and evocative as opposed to the overly technical and complex arrangements of his Ayreon works, and it offers a nice change of pace for the musician, as well as a fruitful pairing up together with Van Giersbergen.

`The Diary' tells a love story set in the Seventeenth century by way of journal entries, resulting in songs taking on the form of gothic, romantic and historical literature through the ages. In many ways, the `gentle' disc is the most appropriate version, and fans of those wonderful shorter tracks that often appeared between the epics on the classic Seventies era of British female-led symphonic group Renaissance will find much to similarly enjoy here. Tales of seafaring voyages to the East and West, merchant trading, births and deaths and loves won and lost all feature, conveyed by instruments as diverse as flute, recorder, cello, violin, mandolin and whistles, even tabla and sitar, but with welcome guitar and keyboards throughout as well.

Looking at some of the highlights, Anneke's voice trills sweet and wistful yet gently melancholic throughout opener `Endless Sea' behind midnight hour violin laced with eerie unease and haunting mystery, with a carefully operatic and lightly theatrical finale. Violin and ravishing acoustic guitar themes prance joyfully throughout `Heart of Amsterdam' (Anneke successfully channels a very similar tone to Renaissance's Annie Haslam in just a few fleeting moments here, and in choice little spots throughout the entire album!), and listen out for the spirited flute and violin instrumental duel in the middle that would have been right at home on plenty of vintage Italian prog albums of the Seventies! Eastern themes unsurprisingly ripple through `Shores of India' by way of groaning sitar, droning tabla and Anneke's hypnotic multi-tracked vocals, and when `The Moment' moves into an extended passage of whistles, piano and dazzling harpsichord it provides one of the more overtly prog-flavoured moments of the album that convincingly sounds like a lost Renaissance classic.

The `Storm' version adds heavier guitars to the same set of songs (yet very rarely reaches the "full- on metal assault" that the boast on the front cover claims!), often giving them a heightened tension and intensity. The fiery and exquisite `The Greatest Love' was already deeply romantic, but the added heavy guitars crunching in unison with the searing violin themes give the piece an added chest-beating conviction, and truthfully both versions rank as one of the most striking moments of the album overall. `The Storm's aching violin, beckoning gothic croons and snapping electric guitar bite takes on a bombastic and urgent flair, `Brightest Light' has a nice strident kick to it that wouldn't have sounded out of place on the earlier Ayreon albums, and the reaching electric guitars and choir middle passage of `New Horizons' briefly reminds of early Seventies Queen (and what a heart-stirring hopeful chorus).

The two different presentations of the album are fascinating, both equally valid and offering their own merits. With the `gentle' version, there's definitely a couple of moments that would have benefitted from the extra drama that the heavier adaption offers, and there's also moments of the `Storm' version that sound a little immature by falling back on some pretty generic heavy chugging guitars, so it will be up to the individual listener to discover which version resonates with them the most. Feel free to make a pick-n-mix compilation of your preferred versions once you've given them both several good spins!

Admittedly throughout both versions an occasional sense of sameness creeps in here and there, and many of the tracks have a similar `verse-chorus-instrumental passage-chorus' pattern, but there's no denying the sumptuousness and sophistication on display, with beautiful passionate singing and rich evocative musicianship surrounding it. It would be great if the duo get the chance to experiment a little more on a future release with longer and even more challenging compositions, so hopefully a positive response from listeners will see the Gentle Storm becoming a proper project as opposed to a mere teasing one-off! But it's a lovely album as it stands anyway, and Arjen Anthony Lucassen, Anneke van Giersbergen and their musical guests here should all be immensely proud of their efforts.

Four stars - and if you really want to spoil yourself, look into one of the exquisite vinyl sets available!

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 4/5 |

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