One of the hardest things about reviewing albums is coming across one by an idol. This is the case here, as Arjen Anthony Lucassen is one of the biggest names in many of our childhoods, spearheading the progressive metal movement of the early to mid 00’s. The Human Equation is still one of the best albums ever made and alongside his other brilliant albums, it’s hard to lash out at him for getting dim in the heart as his career continues. Sadly enough, this is exactly the case and The Gentle Storm‘s first album, The Diary, fully owes its failure to the “Ayreon Signature” being forced upon it.
Making the review even harder is the presence of Anneke van Giersbergen. It’s hard to score anything she lends her voice to in any critical matter, since her voice is just so down-right beautiful. That’s the case here as well, especially since Lucassen is undoubtedly a highly gifted vocal producer (remember those Mikael Akerfeldt growls on The Human Equation?). Let’s get this out of the way: she’s great. Her voice is spot on whether soaring high on the melodies of ‘The Greatest Love’ or waxing melancholic on ‘Cape of Storms’. There’s little fault to be found with it but a perfect tool still needs to be skillfully wielded.
And herein we come across the failure of this album, which completely robs it of the potential it might have had: the composition and writing is extremely monotonic and repetitive, to the point that every track melds together. One basic progression is used through-out: a short intro with strings and rolling drums, building up until the first verse can come in. From there, the basic structure of the verse is repeated four or five times, spotted with an unimaginative chorus from time to time that does little to dis-spell the monotony. The same problem persists in both version, both the heavier “Storm” and the lighter “Gentle” version of every track.
That’s right, we forgot to mention that fact that this is essentially a double album. One side, “Storm”, presents heavier versions of the songs; that basically means that the guitars have distortion on them and that the drums are loud in the mix. The other side, “Gentle”, presents lighter versions of the songs; that basically means that the guitars have been swapped for wood instruments (mostly a flute), the drums are more subdued and van Giersbergen sings softly. Other than that, there is no discernible change. The songs progress the same, are arranged mostly the same and offer no true variation on a theme.
At the end of the day, this is just not enough. Sure, some parts sound good because we know that Lucassen can write an inspiring guitar riff and an emotional synth progression to be its companion. But, to be frank, this album sounds like a B-Side to Into the Electric Castle or Earth/Y. Some of the riffs and melodies are almost identical, leading to the entire thing sounding stale and sterile. It’s sad to say, but this album holds little of worth to add to the illustrious Lucassen name. Hopefully, greater things are on the horizon.
The Gentle Storm – The Diary gets…