Anneke Van Giersbergen – The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest
Inside Out Music
Release Date: 26/02/2021
Running Time: 41:51
Review by Dark Juan
Alright, me old muck spreaders? It is I, your Northern overlord, Dark Juan, here once again to regale you with tales of derring-do and heroism on the field of battle. Not about me, you understand. If there were ever a time I was required to serve in the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom I’d head straight for the RAF’s recruitment office. You see, the RAF are sensible. Unlike the Army, the RAF sends the officers out to fight their war while all the lower ranks stay home and drink cocktails and occasionally tinker with something expensive and probably explosive. Let’s be honest, you wouldn’t want old One-Tooth Joe from the Black Bull pub on the corner operating a computer based killing machine worth £100million at supersonic speeds on the frontier of a hostile state. That’s what Wing Commander the Right Honourable Algernon Charles St. John Cholmondeley- Featherstonehaugh is for. One-Tooth Joe can be better employed putting oil in the trucks at the base where the good WingCo will be landing after dropping a thousand pounds of laser-guided explosive death on some miscreants somewhere in the Middle East…
None of which has anything at all to do with what I am supposed to be doing, which is listening to the latest record from the absolutely wonderful Anneke Van Giersbergen. Yes, the estimable and superb vocalist of The Gathering, VUUR, The Devin Townsend Project and many other records has returned with a selection of new music. A warning – if you are expecting the face of Anneke that is the metal queen version, you are going to be gravely disappointed with this album as this is a record that proves the versatility and uniqueness of Anneke Van Giersbergen as an artist in her own right, untrammelled and unconstrained by genre or style. Indeed, the actual music on this record is incredibly sparse, most of the time just some simple percussion, some strings and an acoustic guitar, and the clear and bell like tones of Anneke’s unique voice, sometimes multitracked into some sublime harmonies.
The album is based around the fact that there was a period in Anneke’s life and marriage that involved profound upheaval and heartbreak and this album is her catharsis. To that end, the lyrical content is woundingly personal and honest when discussing feelings and the sense of loss and suffering that she had been experiencing at that time, and the internal discussions she was having with herself. The title itself suggests that in order to get to the sunlit uplands of life you have to go through the black times to appreciate the light. Which, to be fair, during these current times of pestilence and lockdown rules, is a timely reminder that suffering now will bring reward in the future and that you must remain focused on attaining normality again.
Musically, the album reminds me in many places of Kate Bush and Cyndi Lauper – not because of the voice (because Anneke is quite unlike any vocalist ever) but because of the sheer disinterest in fitting in with any standard or genre. ‘Hurricane’ is the most Bush like of the songs on here, with choppy, unpredictable harmonies and vocals and a strange sounding acoustic riff. It is musically intrepid even with the simple instrumentation and multitracked harmonies and cheerfully stomps all over any notion of fitting in. Talking of stomping, ‘Survive’ does just that, percussion building into an almost war dance while Anneke builds from a soft, lilting vocal into a powerful contralto shout and drive for the survival of her relationship. This is the theme of the whole record – Raw emotion and agonising honesty over music which is just a vehicle for what Anneke wants to say to her husband. It is not a record that was ever planned to be released, in my opinion, but it is a public affirmation of love and a desire to make everything right again and to never stop fighting for her marriage. In that regard, it is one of the heaviest records of all time because of the naked heartbreak and pain on display, but it is by no means a heavy metal record. Not even a little bit.
If anything, it is the aural equivalent of Kintsugi – The Japanese art of repairing broken things with precious metals, because the value and the beauty of the repaired thing and the continued love and appreciation of it only increases. This album is musical Kintsugi and that is its sole purpose. Taking that as a basis for my critique, then, Anneke Van Giersbergen has repaired her relationship and shot it through with veins of silver and gold and made something stronger than ever before and musically has welded those precious metals into the open wounds of suffering she was displaying and sealed them closed with profundity and honesty and gold and silver and made herself transcendental. Therefore, this record is a colossal success on that front.
But, because I am a hard headed and black hearted bastard, I have to remember that I write for a heavy metal website and this ranks among the least musically heavy records I have ever heard. However, one of my scoring criteria is that the music has to be interesting, and Anneke van Giersbergen delivers interest in spades. The lyrical content couldn’t be any heavier if it tried (I’m not talking about dragons and fucking demons and succubi here, I’m talking about the themes of loneliness and suffering and love dying and there being desolation all around you – that shit is heavy as FUCK and if you disagree you’re frankly wrong, mate) and although the music is gentle and sweet, it still holds you in some form of rapture. The sheer beauty and versatility of Van Giersbergen’s voice is amply displayed and flits from soft, almost inarticulate (the kind of sounds an upset child might use to comfort themselves) crooning through to full powered, vibrato fuelled rebellion, and her delivery is never less than utterly flawless. This is not a record to listen to. This is a record to feel, and frankly Dark Juan is fucking disgusted with himself for actually having been affected by this album and discovering that he hasn’t actually purged all human emotion from his twisted black soul. Although that could be because I have adored Anneke Van Giersbergen’s voice since The Gathering released ”Mandylion” in 1995.
I’m extremely conflicted. This album is a work of emotional subtlety and exemplary songwriting prowess and musicianship and deserves a huge score because it is a tumultuous rollercoaster of emotion and pain and redemption, but it is not a heavy metal record. Fuck it, I’ve decided…
The Patented Dark Juan Blood Splat Rating System awards Anneke Van Giersbergen 9/10 for a record that doesn’t just tug on the heartstrings, it rips them out and beats you to death with the wet ends. Moving, affecting and utterly captivating, this record is worth the expense simply for the cathartic effect it provides when you want heavy emotion but not heavy sounds. However, I have deducted a mark because it isn’t a heavy metal record and I write for Ever-METAL.com. This should not be taken as a demerit, it’s just that Anneke’s album ain’t a metal one although it is heavy as fuck.
Agape (Lyric Video)
03. My Promise
04. I Saw A Car
05. The Soul Knows
06. The End
07. Keep It Simple
08. Lo And Behold
09. Losing You
11. Love You Like I Love You
Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of ‘Dark Juan’ and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.