The Gentle Storm
5/9/2015 - Review by: Greg Watson
This album came to me and when I opened it up and saw that there were four albums included, I was trying to figure out just what in the hell I had gotten myself in to.
The Gentle Storm is the brainchild of composer and artist Arjen Lucassen of Ayreon and Star One. The vocals are supplied by former The Gathering vocalist, Anneke van Giersbergen. "The Diary" is a concept album based on a 17th century story about two lovers who are separated when the man leaves to go abroad for a period of time. Their only communication is letters exchanged between the two and this provides the majority of the lyrical inspiration from Anneke. The reason for the multiple discs with this release is that there are two versions of the album included. The first is the "Gentle" version which features acoustic guitars and a bevy of orchestral and world instruments. The addendum to the "Gentle" version is a purely instrumental version of the album. The second incarnation, "Storm", follows the same pattern but is more in line with the progressive rock/metal sound and features arrangements that are a bit different from the "Gentle" version.
The album itself is an incredibly emotional, well-formed, and executed concept that makes you feel the elation of the male lover as he is exploring new worlds and relating to what he is seeing and feeling to his companion back home. You also feel the anguish that is part of the story that I won't go in to as it will ruin the story itself. But what stands out to me most about this album is just the feeling that pours out through the speakers in the musical arrangements of Lucassen and in Anneke's vocals and lyrics. The combination of the two can have you soaring to wondrous heights and then instantly have you plummetting towards your demise and heartbreak in the blink of an eye.
Tracks like "Heart of Amsterdam", "Shores of India" and "The Storm" feature some very complex sound and musical arrangements. For instance, "Heart of Amsterdam" begins as a typical folk track with some very soft acoustic guitar before giving way to a swing tempo replete with brushes being used on the drums for some authenticity. "Shores of India" has a more exotic feel as a sitar is employed to lend to the atmosphere and ambience. With the "Storm" version, tracks such as "The Storm", "The Greatest Love" and "The Moment" take on totally different feels as the music is a bit more aggressive and the arrangements have been tweaked to lend themselves more to the heavier styling employed.
The more I listened to the album, the more I found myself preferring the "Gentle" version. I felt that version really just grabbed you and held your heartstrings in its hands and played you like a classic Stradivarius in the hands of a master. The atmosphere, the story and the feel of the album are simply indescribable and after many, many listens I am still hearing things that I had missed on my previous listens. The production is phenomenal as it ties the arrangements, the instrumentation and the vocals all together in perfect synchronicity and clarity. I would be remiss if I did not mention van Giersbergen's vocals briefly. For those of you that aren't familiar with her former band, The Gathering, they were somewhat folky with a tinge of metal. The timbre of her voice and her delivery is something that you will have to get used to. Think of Alanis Morissette but not as whiny--a bit sing-songy and with incredible power.
That aside, there is something for everyone to enjoy on "The Diary" and I find myself being lost again and again in the fantastic story that is told so well.
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