A creative, classy, and highly refined "symphonic metal" outfit from Holland, the Gathering debuted with 1993's Always, a fairly straightforward death metal album with vocals by Marike Groot, although heavy use of keyboards made it stand out a bit from other such albums at the time. The follow-up, 1994's Almost a Dance, saw the departure of singer Groot as well as "growling" vocalist Bart Smits, replaced primarily by Niels Duffhues, whose punkish tone was decidedly out of step with the music. The album also featured occasional vocals by Martine van Loon, a low-key singer with a pretty tone but one who seldom took to the forefront of a composition.
It would appear that the seed had been planted in the bandmembers' heads to pair their uniquely compelling songwriting style with a passionate female vocalist; the result was the addition of the incomparable Anneke van Giersbergen, an incredible singer capable of stretching miles of emotion out of each and every syllable. The next album, 1995's Mandylion, remains one of the very best Dutch heavy metal albums ever recorded. Van Giersbergen's poetic and haunting lyrics, together with the band's orchestral ruminations, resulted in darkly important songs that seamlessly blended from one to the next. The follow-up, 1997's Nighttime Birds, acted as a companion piece to Mandylion: similar in tone and delivery, Birds was filled with the melodic and adventurous play that became the trademark of the band. Superheat and If_Then_Else followed in early 2000. After a break with Century Media following the release of If_Then_Else, the band took time off before going into the studio to work on the 2003 follow-up, Souvenirs.
The next three years saw the group release a semi-acoustic live album called Sleepy Buildings (2004), along with a pair of concert DVDs. In 2007 van Giersbergen left the Gathering to pursue a solo career, and in 2008 they returned to the studio to begin work on their ninth full-length outing. The resulting West Pole, released the following year, would mark the debut of new vocalist Silje Wergeland, formerly of the Norwegian goth metal outfit Octavia Sperati. Disclosure arrived in 2012, followed in 2014 by the companion piece Afterwords. That same year saw the Gathering perform a series of sold-out shows with four of the group's previous vocalists (Bart Smits, Marike Groot, Anneke van Giersbergen, and Silje Wergeland) in celebration of their 25th anniversary, after which they announced that they would be going on an indefinite hiatus. Blueprints, a double album of outtakes, demos, and unreleased songs from the recordings of Souvenirs and Home, arrived in 2016. ~ James Bickers