The Gentle Storm is a new band composed of Ayreon main man Arjen Lucassen and The Gathering singer Anneke van Giersbergen. The pair collaborated before on Ayreon’s “Into the Electric Castle” and “01011001”, but this time they decided to create a new project. Since both of them hail from Holland, they turned to Dutch history for the narrative that runs through “The Diary,” their concept debut album. The story tells of two lovers in the 17th century, one a sailor embarking on a two year journey, the other the wife he leaves at home in Holland. The only way they can communicate is through letters, and these provide the basis for the songs. Lucassen wrote all the music, and it is no surprise that it is epic; van Giersbergen wrote the lyrics and made the tale of the separated couple come alive.
The double album essentially presents two versions of the same song. CD1 is labelled “Gentle”, and offers stripped down acoustic/folk versions of the songs. The second, “The Storm”, brings out the heavy guitars and drums and presents the song in a more progressive metal form. It is an interesting experiment; it’s rare to hear two different arrangements of the same album. Both work well for different reasons, and I guess it’ll come down to individual preferences, but I still can’t make up my mind about which one I prefer.
Lucassen used a lot of different instruments for the album, ranging from a large choir, double bass, french horn and over 40 different exotic acoustic instruments! What makes the music work so well too is that these instruments are not merely there to double the rock instruments (think about most rock bands playing with an orchestra) but are given parts of their own, and are essential to the songs. Gone are his trademark Hammond organ and Minimoog; in fact the only keyboard instrument used is a grand piano.
Van Giersbergen’s voice is given center stage in the music too, and as a result the chord progressions and harmonies are more elaborate than ever. The music is a clever mix of symphonic metal, progressive rock and folk. That may seem too disparate, but it works very well. Van Giersbergen plans to take the album out on tour with a full band, but without the reclusive Lucassen. He will however accompany her for a string of acoustic dates.
It’s an intriguing concept, realized by two very talented musicians. The crossover aspect could mean they’ll reach a wider audience, or it may mean that people who gravitate more towards one of these poles will find it too diluted for their taste. But it’s worth a listen for fans of prog, folk, and metal: it’s different, ambitious and fascinating
The album comes out March 24th from Century Media. Available as: 2CD Digipak (consisting of the Gentle and the Storm version), 4CD Artbook (incl. extended artwork and the Gentle and the Storm album as instrumental versions), 180g 3LP gatefold version (incl. both albums on 2 CDs)
For more of Jean-Frédéric Vachon’s writing, read his blog Diary of a Music Addict.