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The Gentle Storm - The Diary

The Gentle Storm - CD Review
The Diary




CD Info
Inside Out Music
22 Tracks on 2 CDs
English Lyrics

There has been so much hype and so much buzz over social media about this latest gargantuan brain child of Arjen Anthony Lucassen that the anticipation has been seriously ramping up at an incredible rate as the release date of March 23 (the 24th of March for North America) inches ever so closer.  I don't over-exaggerate when I use the term "gargantuan", either; this is a double CD feat of epic proportions, containing 22 tracks, and 11 songs per CD: one is the "storm" version of the album, which is the metal side of the production, and the "gentle" CD, which contains the same songs in unplugged, subtly different versions.  After sitting with this album almost constantly for the past two weeks, I can tell you with certainty that if you are a fan of Lucassen, and partner in crime, Dutch vocalist Anneke Van Giersbergen - who really needs no introduction - you will be all over this release.  And to be honest, I'm not even that familiar with Lucassen's complete works, though of course I have heard his music and even have a copy of Aryeon's The Theory of Everything, and I have never really been into Van Giersbergen's solo stuff, though I was a fan of The Gathering's earlier works.  So, I'm not even on either artists' significant bandwagons yet I can say without any hesitancy that, even though it's only the end of March, if The Diary isn't my album of the year, or in my top three for 208, I'll eat a monkey's uncle.  This release is utterly mind-blowing.

The Diary is a concept album with an highly engaging story contained within it.  Essentially, the story revolves around two characters, the sailor Joseph, and his wife, Suzanne.  Joseph takes off on a long, arduous, and dangerous journey, and Suzanne is left back in the Netherlands cooling her heels.  They write to each other, and these writings comprise the songs of The Diary.  I love novels with an epistolary aspect, and the same goes for CDs, so this was right up my alley from the beginning.  As Suzanne and Joseph jot down their experiences during the seaman's absence, a story of exotic ports, daring oceanic escapades, loneliness, triumph, and above all, love, unfolds just like the plot of an epic novel does.

Lyrically, this album is brilliantly composed by someone who is obviously a very deft storyteller.  I didn't get lyrics with my press kit, which is typical, but thanks to Van Giersbergen's ability to enunciate as she sings, I could very easily pick out what was going on in the story even though I didn't have the words to read along to while listening.

Let me give you my favourite example: "The Heart of Amsterdam", the second track off the album, and for which there is a highly entertaining music video (though the single version of the song is shorter than the album version, just an FYI).  There is so much fantastic, evocative detail in this nearly seven minute delight.  The song mentions the noises of the harbour in Amsterdam, the sounds of the birds in the parks, it brings to life the crowds in the streets and alleys, describes the merchants' neighbourhood, the town hall, the canals and the bridges, and of course the art!  Because guess who is in residence at this time in the city?  Rembrandt himself. On a historical note, Rembrandt lived in Amsterdam between 1639 and 1656, near the aforementioned town hall, and this is a very important detail as it sets the scene for Joseph and Suzanne's story in the proper historic context.  Now we get the larger picture of the setting of the tale, which is necessary in the listener's understanding of the dangers at sea in that era, and the great personal risk Joseph undertakes by being a sailor in that time.  So, this song packs a lot into it's 6:38 run time, and it is fantastically, craftily done.  Big respect to Lucassen for succeeding in doing so much in one song.

Muscially, the "storm" versions of the songs are, again, very well-crafted and composed.  Featuring a ton of folk instruments, cellos, violins, keys of differing kinds, and progressive song structures, not to mention heavy riffing, very prominent electric guitars and exciting drumming.  There is not a dull moment in this package.  Another outstanding song on the album, "Shores of India", demonstrates all of these components, with an Eastern flare to boot, since we're in India, after all.  And the lyrics are just as evocative of 17th century India as "The Heart of Amsterdam" was of that city.

Other songs I loved were "The Moment", "New Horizons" and the heart-in-throat finale, "Epilogue - The Final Entry."

Van Giersbergen sounds spectacular, and I have a ton of respect for her pretty much flawless performance in The Diary.  She is kind of our narrator, as she sings both Joseph and Suzanne's viewpoint songs.  She has a wonderful light and lilting delivery, and as I mentioned above, I appreciate her enunciation so I could understand easily most of the lyrics.  She is backed up by choirs at times and some gorgeous vocal harmonies in the background.  It seems to me that Stream of Passion's Marcella Bovio is involved in those backing vocals; she appears singing backup in the "In the Heart of Amsterdam" video, and appeared in a band picture on The Gentle Storm's Facebook page, but isn't listed as a band member in the bio information I received.

Speaking of guests on the album, Delain's guitar virtuoso, Timo Somers, plays a blistering duel of the instruments against violinist Ben Mathot in "In the Heart of Amsterdam."  Live, guitars will be handled by a young lady known as Merel Bechtold, who also can be found shredding away with Delain from time to time.  Other musicians of note are ex-After Forever member and producer extraordinaire Joost Van Den Broek on keys, and Stream of Passion's bassist Johan van Stratum.

As for the "gentle" CD, there is a lot to love about these versions of the songs though they are unplugged and more folk and symphony instrument centred.  The songs get really good revamps.  For instance, "The Heart of Amsterdam" loses its heaviness but gains a gentle jazzy groove created by cymbals and bass.  "Brightest Light" gets a bluesy feel with its new bass line.  Van Giersbergen gives her lower register a good workout in "Shores of India."  There are fewer backing vocals on the gentle CD and more flute, cello, and harpsichord. Some of the furious urgency on the storm  CD is replaced with a sense of serenity, like a nice calm sea. 

I'm not giving away how this story ends; you'll have to listen for yourself to find out.  But it's definitely a trip you'll want to take, I can guarantee you that.  I haven't given out many perfect scores in my reviews in a while, but The Diary definitely deserves it.  Amazing concept, amazing lyrics, amazing music - it's all breathtaking, quite frankly, and I am blown away. I hope you will be, too.  I would kill to catch them on tour!