Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Gathering’s “How to Measure a Planet?”: Best Concept Album Ever?

Though it came after when their Nighttime Birds album was praised by music fans disenfranchised by mainstream music, is The Gathering’s “How to Measure a Planet?” the best concept album ever?

By: Vanessa Uy

A somewhat large majority of concept album sounds in long listening sessions like they are way worth less than their glossy album cover artwork tries to portray them to be, although there are a few exceptions. Released after their Nighttime Birds album gained them a fan-base composed mainly of disenfranchised music fans fed-up with Nirvana and Pearl Jam clones of the mid 1990’s. It seemed like the band members of Netherlands-based band The Gathering had it in spades when they released their “How to Measure a Planet?” album near the end of 1998. But “fate” had never been kind to artistic visionaries.

Fronted by Anneke van Giersbergen with her skillful use of Western European Classical singing in a Progressive Metal context, which to me at least, is probably the lynchpin which makes The Gathering not only one of the greatest Progressive Metal bands brave enough to release an album with nary a hope of commercial success. But also make them stand out against the slew of Northern European Progressive Metal bands of the late 1990’s, like Lacuna Coll (whose style was later ripped-off by Evanessence) for example. The rest of the band members that made The Gathering one of my “bands to die for” are: Frank Boeijen on keyboards, Hugo Prinsen Geerligs on bass, Hans and René Rutten on guitars.

Though The Gathering’s “How to Measure a Planet?” gained widespread popularity in the “post 9 / 11” Central Asian enclave in my neck of the woods. Probably by conscious artistic decision or by “creative accident” the band sounded like a Gibson Les Paul and Marshall Amplifier equipped Bardic Divas of Central Asia singing about space travel and space exploration – related topics, literally. Looks like not all “space rock” tunes is about psychoactive drug use in the Christian West by the way.

Probably popularized by the regular airplay of the music video of Liberty Bell on some cable stations not allied to MTV, The Gathering did manage to stick out like a sore-thumb in a musical landscape populated by teen-aged fashion models forced to sell “product” despite of their musical ineptness. Though my favorite track is probably “How to Measure a Planet?” this 28 minute 32 second instrumental track is probably the band’s attempt at channeling John Coltraine during his heroin-induced musical panegyric. Probably after hearing first-hand the tune that God hummed to Herself when using Her infinite wisdom in creating our universe.

What I like about The Gathering, well, unlike the late 20th Century American “Boy Bands” which they were unfortunately in competition. Their female vocalist at least knows how to sing and has a really great voice, unlike their Billboard Chart-topping contemporaries. And I don’t know if anyone who have ever heard of The Gathering’s “How to Measure a Planet?” album being played in a really good hi-fi rig loves or hates them for it. It is that they “sound” as if the band is playing in a venue intended for Classical Music performance – rather than a recording studio overstuffed with sound-absorbent foam. I know a number of Heavy Metal music aficionados pointing this out – especially fans of older American Blues-based Rock which kinds of bothered me. But in spite of this, The Gathering did gain hi-fi demo disc status because of the unique way they used (probably digital-based) reverb to make them sound that there are playing in a space other than your typical recording studio.

Even though the band kind of went downhill creatively after releasing subsequent material following the “minor” success of “How to Measure a Planet?”, majority of The Gathering fans that I know of are still hanging on to these two albums. Namely: “Nighttime Birds” and “How to Measure a Planet?” as The Gathering’s best albums of all time. If you want to know more about the band, please visit their homepage at or you can e-mail them at in the hopes that they might tour in a major city near you.

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