Released in 1995, Mandylion was The Gathering’s first album with singer Anneke van Giersbergen, The album was a departure from their early years of doom/death metal on 1992’s Always… and the more gothic and arguably unfocused sound of Almost a dance.
The album begins with the time travel themed ‘Strange Machines’ kicking the album off with a crunchy mid paced guitar riff before introducing the majestic voice of Anneke van Giersbergen to many – and it’s a good introduction containing some great vocal melodies and epic lyrics. To add to this The Gathering show they are not afraid to add a fair amount of atmosphere from choir synth sounds to samples from The Time Machine.
The album continues at a mid pace with Eleanor, the guitars and synth do a good job of creating wall of sound in the verses while double kick drum parts stand out in the chorus showing influence from The Gathering’s extreme metal roots.
In Motion #1 adds a touch of doom from the simple heavy guitar riff in the verse over interesting sounding synth parts and deep, what sounds like, fretless bass lines. The chorus has a symphonic sound due to some very tasteful double tracked vocal harmonies, along with emotional delivery of, some may say, gothic lyrics. A strong psychedelic tinged instrumental bridge completes this track.
Leaves is an atmospheric metal ballad, something that must have sounded unique when released and still sounds fresh to this day. This was the track that the band chose to promote via music video and is a firm fan favourite (with a great guitar solo too!)
Fear the sea picks up the pace with lots of crunchy guitar, creative bass lines and an energetic chorus you can really head bang to. The instrumental break on this song has to be one of the strongest on the album, with hypnotic guitar and synth lines and over an unusual bass progression.
The title track, Mandylion once again changes the pace of the album and showcases a more ambient as well as fully instrumental sound. The track makes use of a deep sounding flute and synth alongside some sublime vocal parts and plenty of sparkly sounding chimes all to the beat of what sounds like bongo or djembe. This track shows clear influence from bands such as Dead Can Dance.
The next track Sand and mercury keeps the Dead Can Dance vibe going before bursting into a doomy guitar and synth combo. The second half of the song slows down the pace leading to some honest and heartbreaking lines from Anneke and a fitting harmonised guitar outro topped with a reflective Simone de Beauvoir quote read by a .J.R.R. Tolkien – Very touching indeed.
In Motion # 2 carries on where number 1 left off, although this song has more of a ballad sound to it – along with a catchy melody and progression in the verses with cello snyth featuring heavily. The chorus on this song repeats from part one but not before another of this album’s trademark instrumental breaks that really builds up well to the chorus making it all the more effective.
Mandylion was a big step for the gathering, a new singer bought in a whole new sound and direction for the band and also for the metal scene in general, which at the time hardly featured any females creating the music, let alone fronting a band. Although this album may not be for every metal head out there, it has to be said The Gathering helped pioneer a whole new style of metal with the atmosphere, song writing and passion shown within this fine album.