THE GATHERING - "DOWNFALL - THE EARLY YEARS" (HAMMERHEART)
The release of this album was first mentioned, I seem to recall, about a year ago. The old pre-"Always..." demos were to be put on a CD with an old concert as an added bonus in the shape of an MPG. Now, finally, this event has happened. Has it been worth the wait?
In 1991 I had just started my English studies. Somewhere in the southern part of the Netherlands, a band called The Gathering was playing death metal music, and I didn't know. In 1992, they released their debut album ("Always..."), and quite a lot of people started digging them seriously. For some reason the spark never ignited me, at least not in those years. Although I did eventually get "Always...", it took until the appearance of third vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen that my fancy was tickled, the spark flew, and I was ignited wholesale.
Back to 1991. At the time The Gathering were a death metal band with vocalist Bart Smits. They had released two demos ("Moonlight Archer" and "An Imaginary Symphony") and the infamous unreleased 7". It is from those demos that the recordings on "Downfall...The Early Years" stem.
The recordings from the 7" are almost identical to the first album, but sounding a bit heavier. It contains three tracks - "In Sickness and Health", "Gaya's Dream" and the short "Always...". "Moonlight Archer" and "An Imaginary Symphony" (five songs each) sound more bland, dulled, than the crisp sound of the 7". However, these tracks contain the items of the interest for the old Gathering fan in the form of tracks that didn't make it on "Always...". There's "Anthology in Black", "Downfall" (two versions), "Six Dead, Three to Go", "Another Day" and "Share the Wisdom". In general, these tracks are a little more straigh-forward death metal, a bit faster too. The three last tracks even sound a little - I shudder to mention the word in the context of the old Gathering - happy and up-tempo... Some of the tracks that later made it on "Always..." also sound a bit different here and there, most notably both versions of "Second Sunrise" that have a different start.
"Downfall - The Early Years" is an interesting release, especially interesting for those who lost the original demos, or who never found them in the first place. It should be obvious that the quality isn't all that happenin' sometimes, in fact the brightness of the sound fluctuates blatantly here and there. And it goes without saying that those who like Anneke-era The Gathering are in for quite a shock and should perhaps not even think of touching this release with a very lengty long-pole.
Another few words need to be spent on the bonus disc with the 55+ minute MPG of a multi-camera video made at the 24 November 1991 (Willem II, Den Bosch, Netherlands) Gathering show. It contains 8 tracks, but the first one ("Subzero") can be considered almost entirely lost to visual and sonic flaws in the original recording. The rest is pretty decent, however, and includes "Downfall", as well as crowd favourites "King for a Day" and "Second Sunrise". I imagine the primary group of people interested in watching this are people who were at the performance, who might just see themselves (especially if they undertook a couple of stage dives).
Written April 2001
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