The Gentle Storm
With a working relationship dating back to 1998, two of Holland's finest musicians have united for a new project dubbed The Gentle Storm.
Ayreon mastermind / multi-instrumentalist Arjen Lucassen and vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen - who rose to fame with The Gathering - originally crossed paths in '98 for Ayreon's breakthrough third album, Into The Electric Castle. Ten years later they teamed up again for Ayreon's seventh record, 01011001, both having established themselves as world renowned heavy metal / rock artists in the decade between releases. Although their respective musical styles went in vastly different directions during that time, Arjen and Anneke retained a common ground that ultimately led to the creation of The Gentle Storm's debut album, The Diary.
Given that both Anneke and Arjen are from Holland, they decided it would be interesting and authentic to base The Gentle Storm concept on something Dutch. The obvious choice for them was to focus on the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century. It was a unique time of remarkable progress in art, mathematics and science, and much of that progress was happening in Holland.
"The art alone from that period is a rich source of inspiration," says Arjen. "You can't really look at a painting by Rembrandt or Vermeer and not feel inspired."
The album concept is a tale of love, loss, and separation told through the story of two fictional seventeenth-century lovers. A Dutch sailor embarks on a two-year voyage, leaving his wife at home in Holland. The only way for the couple to communicate and keep their love alive during the long separation is through letters. These letters form the basis for the songs on the album.
The Diary double album - close to a year in the making - is an epic production of Ayreon proportions featuring two contrasting interpretations of the same songs, all composed specifically for The Gentle Storm: acoustic / folk arrangements (CD1 - Gentle) and a full-on metal assault (CD2 - Storm). It also heralds Anneke's return to the realms of heavy guitars and soaring vocals reminiscent of The Gathering's breakthrough album, Mandylion. Of course, it wouldn't be an Arjen Lucassen project without his trademark progressive elements, but he readily admits his main focus was on Anneke's vocals.
"Anneke's got an amazing instrument in her voice, and I wanted to showcase that by giving her strong melodies to sing," says Arjen. "So this time I was hyper-focused on chords and melodies when composing the music. I even wrote and demoed all the songs using one simple orchestral string sound for everything before I started arranging the other instruments. That cheesy demo string sound made every song fight for its life, and only the strongest survived. Working this way has arguably led to The Diary being my most melodic album to date."
The Diary breaks new ground for Arjen in particular in that it was the first time he worked with a large choir, real double bass, and a real French horn. In addition, he found people to play many different exotic acoustic instruments. “There are over 40, in fact,” he says. “Some of them so exotic that people probably haven't heard of them!” It's worth noting that, apart from an acoustic grand piano, there are no keyboards on The Diary. Arjen's beloved Hammond organ and Minimoog remain under wraps, although it wasn’t an easy task leaving them there.
"Arjen is great to work with because he's so focused and so dedicated," Anneke says of her partner's creative drive. "He works fast and knows exactly what he wants, but is also open to my input. Within a few weeks he was completely done with his composing, and from there we came up with this huge concept of having this double album with the metal and the folk parts. Both parts are equally important."
Due out on March 23rd in Europe and March 24th in North America, the album release will be followed by live dates that same month and into the European festival season. Known for touring extensively year after year, Anneke will take The Gentle Storm on the road backed by well known Dutch talents including former After Forever keyboardist / (Epica-)producer Joost van den Broek and Ayreon / Hail of Bullets / ex-Gorefest drummer Ed Warby. Arjen will not be part of the tour save for an exclusive appearance in Amsterdam at the official album release show on March 26th. He will, however, do a string of acoustic shows with Anneke through Europe in February out of respect for her and The Gentle Storm.
"Being somewhat of a recluse, I stopped playing live a long time ago for too many reasons to mention," Arjen explains."If anyone else had asked I would have turned them down flat, but to share the stage with Anneke is something I simply couldn’t refuse. I’m slightly nervous of course, but strangely excited at the same time."
With regards to the full band shows, Arjen admits "I'm really thrilled that finally one of my creations will be taken on the road. Especially this one with Anneke, who wrote all the lyrics. And it's in trusty hands. Anneke is one of the best female singers I ever worked with, and we managed to get an amazing super band together who will also play on the album. Win-win situation for everyone here, including the listeners!"
The Gentle Storm's full band setlist will consist of songs from the new album, as well as fan favourites from The Gathering, Ayreon and Devin Townsend Project records, all of which have featured Anneke prominently.
"I can't wait to take these powerful songs on the road," says Anneke. "I have formed a new band with some of Holland's finest metal musicians, ready to blow the audience away!"
Carl Begai / BraveWords