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Album review: ANNEKE VAN GIERSBERGEN – The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest

ANNEKE VAN GIERSBERGEN - The Darkest Skies Are The BrightestInsideOut Music [Release date 26.02.21] There is no doubt that some of the best music is made as a result of emotional adversity.  This explains why we cannot, perhaps, expect any great emotional pull from aged rockers who are more … Continue reading

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Anneke van Giersbergen – The Darkest Skies Are the Brightest (Album Review)

By Nick Tate

It’s an old joke in prog circles that there’s never a line for the ladies room at King Crimson concerts. But, joking aside, it is true that progressive rock — particularly the heavier, concussion-inducing stuff — has always been mostly a boys’ club.

But that’s changing. One reason: Artists like Anneke van Giersbergen keep putting out some of the best of the genre’s new material.

Case in point: The Dutch singer-songwriter’s latest solo release, The Darkest Skies Are the Brightest. This breath-taking album, Anneke’s 23rd recording, is one of the most enchanting, if surprising, releases of the past 12 months. It’s a one-off album that marks a huge departure from the prog-metal that has been Anneke’s main musical squeeze since the mid-1990s — with her first band, the Gathering, and later with Devin Townsend, Arjen Lucassen, Anathema and others.

It’s a largely acoustic album of story songs that showcases Anneke’s siren-song vocals, drawing on an eclectic range of musical styles — from folk, classical, prog and even Eastern ethnic music.

In this respect, it’s the polar opposite of 2018’s Symphonized, a live orchestral album recorded with the Residentie Orkest The Hague, featuring lush rearrangements of 11 songs spanning her entire back catalogue.

But it would be wrong to call Darkest Skies Anneke’s “unplugged” album. On the strongest tracks, she sings with the devil-may-care abandon that distinguishes her best work — suggesting it might better to describe what’s here as Anneke “unleashed” or even “unhinged.”

On the whole, this is a work of passion and unflinching honesty. She has been open about the lyrical content of the album, which lays bare the struggles of her 18-year marriage with husband/manager and drummer Rob Snijders.

Although those challenges are now happily resolved, she says, they inspired her to make an introspective solo record instead of a new album with her current prog-metal band VUUR.

“I knew instantly I needed to write music about fixing my life,” she says. “This creative endeavor would be too personal for a VUUR album. And it would also require solitude.”

Anneke wrote and recorded the basic tracks on her own in a small house outside her hometown of Eindhoven. She then asked producer, Gijs Coolen, to help her finish the record, adding strings, horns and percussion to her barebones voice-and-guitar pieces.

The result is a stark and intimate album that is daring and heartbreakingly beautiful. Like Riverside’s Wasteland (written after the death of guitarist Piotr Grudziński) and Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here (inspired by the late mad genius Syd Barrett), Darkest Skies pulls at your heartstrings without being maudlin or overly sentimental.

Most tracks are built around Anneke’s exquisite voice, as strong and intoxicating as Jameson on ice. Coolen’s stripped-to-the-bone production and spare musical embellishments perfectly match the tone of the 11 tracks here.

The album opens with “Agape,” a gorgeous anti-love song that sets the tone for what follows — stacking the triple threat of Anneke’s honey-sweet vocals, spare guitar figures and catchy melodic hooks that stay with you. Other highlights include:

• “My Promise” — the standout track on the album — featuring Spanish guitar flourishes and romantic string arrangements that provide savory counterpoints to Anneke’s wild-gypsy vocals.

• “Hurricane” and “Survivor” — a pair of driving acoustic rockers elevated by witchy harmony vocals that give these tracks a haunting quality.

• “The End” — a wistful lament so personal and intimate it feels like a musical diary entry.

• “Love You Like I Love You” — a lush slice of symphonic folk that echoes the best of popera artists like Sarah Brightman and Charlotte Church, but with an edgier delivery. It’s the song that best demonstrates Anneke’s classical training as a mezzo soprano.

Not everything here is quite as successful. Some tracks feel a shade too light next to the weighty intensity that defines much of this album.

“The Soul Knows” and “Keep it Simple” cross a bit too far into pop-radio territory. “Losing You” and “Lo and Behold” hustle the same adult soft-rock corner worked by the likes of Enya and Jewel. And “I Saw a Car” is a light-hearted ditty, about a gold-digger with a conscience and a sense of humor, that feels out of place here.

Darkest Skies will also, no doubt, leave some hardcore fans wanting more of the feral vocal histrionics that have defined Anneka’s eclectic prog-metal career.

Nothing here approaches the banshee wail she delivered on such grinding Devin Townsend Project masterworks as “Supercrush” and “Hyperdive” (from 2009’s Addicted) or the heady theatrical intensity she brought to the buzz-and-crunch rocker “Grace” from Epicloud.

But, even so, Darker Skies finds Anneke at the top of her game and still breaking new ground in ways that are both unexpected and compelling. At 47, she isn’t afraid to take a risk and reinvent herself.

The bottom line: This is a remarkable album — musically and lyrically — that showcases one of prog’s most distinctive voices (regardless of gender). It also reflects a confident maturity and depth that rewards repeated listenings.

One final note: For the headbangers among us, Anneke says she hasn’t given up on VUUR and additional collaborations with Lucassen and others may be in the offing.

But whatever she chooses to do next will bear watching — and listening — regardless of whether decides to drop her acoustic guitar in favor of her trusty black Gibson SG.

Released on Feb 26th, 2021 on InsideOutMusic
Key Tracks: My Promise, Hurricane, The End

01. Agape
02. Hurricane
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
10. Survive
11. Love You Like I Love You

Click here to pre-order the album:
https://annekevangiersbergen.lnk.to/TheDarkestSkiesAreTheBrightest

 

The post Anneke van Giersbergen – The Darkest Skies Are the Brightest (Album Review) appeared first on The Prog Report.

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Anneke van Giersbergen releases music video for “Hurricane” from upcoming album

Anneke van Giersbergen recently announced the release of her new solo album ‘The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest’ for February 26, 2021. Today sees the release of the second single and video for “Hurricane”, which you can watch here.

Anneke comments on the single as follows: “For the new album I wrote a lot of songs filled with messages of love and heartache, but I also went on a more propulsive journey, with darker storytelling. The percussive opening groove of ‘Hurricane’ is maintained until a slightly ominous middle section. The track closes with heavy drums and a glorious trumpet solo.”

The album will be available as CD Digipak, Gatefold LP + CD & as digital album.
01. Agape
02. Hurricane
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
10. Survive
11. Love You Like I Love You

Click here to pre-order the album:
https://annekevangiersbergen.lnk.to/TheDarkestSkiesAreTheBrightest

 

The post Anneke van Giersbergen releases music video for “Hurricane” from upcoming album appeared first on The Prog Report.

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Anneke van Giersbergen releases music video for “My Promise” from upcoming album

Anneke van Giersbergen recently announced the release of her new solo album ‘The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest’ for February 26, 2021. Today she is happy to reveal “My Promise” as the album’s first single. The track premieres alongside an accompanying music video. Anneke comments: “I wrote ‘My Promise’ when I imagined what life after divorce would really entail. The lyrics deal with a determination to fight for love. The song starts off with an acoustic Arabo-Spanish Gypsy vibe and gradually builds towards a euphoric ending. Ruud Peeters wrote a hauntingly melancholic string arrangement.”

Anneke continues: “We shot the video in Radio Royaal, one of my favourite restaurants in my hometown Eindhoven and it shows a few defining moments in a relationship, represented by different couples.”

You can watch the video here:

The album will be available as CD Digipak, Gatefold LP + CD & as digital album.
01. Agape
02. Hurricane
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
10. Survive
11. Love You Like I Love You

Click here to pre-order the album:
https://annekevangiersbergen.lnk.to/TheDarkestSkiesAreTheBrightest

 

The post Anneke van Giersbergen releases music video for “My Promise” from upcoming album appeared first on The Prog Report.

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Anneke van Giersbergen announces new solo album ‘The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest’

Anneke van Giersbergen has just announced a new solo album for next February. The new album’s title, ‘The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest’, refers to the idea that, when facing personal challenges, we are forced to find answers to life’s biggest questions. But, at this point in her near-three-decade-long music career, this solo album – and, crucially, the heartbreak that inspired it – was not something Anneke van Giersbergen ever anticipated writing.

In 2018, Anneke began working on new material for her metal band, VUUR. Although their debut album, ‘In This Moment We Are Free – Cities’, was met with a mixed reception, fans were warming up to their heavy, progressive sound. Therefore, a rapid follow-up album would surely establish Anneke’s return to fronting a metal band. However, behind the scenes, these were troubled times.

Anneke shares, ”My belief in VUUR saw me spend all my savings on recording VUUR’s debut album and taking the band on the road. After completing our first touring cycle, I realized that more VUUR would mean yet more, huge financial risks.”

To make matters worse, in 2018, her long-lasting marriage, which had always been wonderful, unexpectedly saw a storm approaching.
Anneke adds, “I instantly knew I needed to write music about fixing my life. This creative endeavour would be far too personal for a VUUR album. And it would also require solitude.”

With just her acoustic guitar and basic recording gear, Anneke retreated to a small house near the woods, just outside her hometown of Eindhoven. She let go of the pressures of what VUUR’s future might be, and fell into the meditative process of writing a solo album. In 2019, work continued on the new songs. In 2020, Anneke asked her friend and producer, Gijs Coolen, to help finish the album.

Throughout the completion of the album, Anneke’s fragile, acoustic song-stories were fused together with an alchemy of panoramic strings, horns, and percussion. The resulting 11-track record has all the intimacy of Anneke serenading an audience of one, combined with surprising departures into swampier, foot-stomping grooves.

The Japanese art of kintsugi has inspired Anneke to use a repaired heart as the album’s symbol. Kintsugi teaches that bringing together the pieces of a broken object – with the use of a precious metal – adds value and uniqueness to it. And, instead of giving up on their marriage, Anneke and her husband decided to take the time to mend their bond. They now cherish the repaired heartbreak as something profoundly valuable.

Their journey through this personal storm, and the album that Anneke created in the eye of it, proves that the darkest skies truly are the brightest.

The album will be available as CD Digipak, Gatefold LP + CD & as digital album.
01. Agape
02. Hurricane
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
10. Survive
11. Love You Like I Love You

‘The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest’ is Anneke’s 23rd career album. It proves, once again, that the award-winning Dutch artist defies being pigeonholed by any genre.

After thirteen years as the front woman for melancholic metallers, The Gathering, she struck out on her own in 2007. Since then, her creativity has known no bounds. Anneke quickly solidified a successful solo career (initially under the moniker Agua de Annique), and has recorded and performed with Canadian metal genius Devin Townsend multiple times. She has also lent her serene yet powerful voice to the likes of: Anathema, Icelandic folk group Árstíðir, Within Temptation, Ayreon mastermind Arjen Lucassen, Amorphis, and prog legend John Wetton.

2012’s ‘Everything is Changing’ was something of a milestone in Anneke’s solo career. The album, which was the first to be released under her own name, received two Edison Award nominations – Holland’s most prestigious music prize – in the categories ‘Best Female Artist’ and ‘Best Album’.

In 2015, Anneke van Giersbergen and Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon) released their collaborative album ‘The Diary’ under the name The Gentle Storm.
In October 2017, Anneke’s progressive metal outfit VUUR released their much-anticipated debut album. ‘In This Moment We Are Free – Cities’ entered the Dutch Album Top 100 at number 2, Anneke’s highest-ever chart position.

Forever the unpredictable artist, in late 2018, Anneke released ‘Symphonized’, an 11-track live orchestral album. It was recorded at two career-spanning concerts alongside Residentie Orkest The Hague, and features rearrangements of songs from her entire back catalogue.

2019 saw Dutch music copyright organisation Buma Cultuur honor Anneke with the Buma ROCKS! Export Award. This is their award for the Most Successful Dutch Artist Abroad in Heavy Music. In 2021, the release of her new solo album ‘The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest’ will see Anneke surprise her fans all over again.

The post Anneke van Giersbergen announces new solo album ‘The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest’ appeared first on The Prog Report.

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