The Gentle Storm - The Diary

 The Gentle Storm The Diary cover
The Gentle Storm
The Diary
InsideOut Music
The Gentle Storm is an interesting musical project... the brainchild of one Arjen Anthony Lucassen (Ayreon, Guilt Machine, Star One, ex-Ambeon, ex- Bodine, ex-Erik Norlander, ex-Galexia, ex-Stream of Passion, ex-Vengeance, ex-Strange Hobby) on guitars & basses (both electric and acoustic), keyboards and hammered dulcimer  it combines his undeniable talents with those of fellow Dutch, Siren and chanteuse extraordinaire, the muse known as Anneke Van Giersbergen (Agua de Annique, Devin Townsend Project, The Sirens, ex-The Gathering) on vocals for the first time over an entire album, as the two have previously collaborated, in Ayreon, but never before has Lucassen, dedicated an entire album to the lovely lady. Johan van Stratum (Stream of Passion, ex-Agitator, ex-Forcefeed, ex-Ratcom) joins on bass, Joost van den Broek (Sphere of Souls, Star One, ex-After Forever, ex-The Supremacy, ex-HDK, ex-Sun Caged) on keyboards, also longtime drummer collaborator of Lucassen’s and best known as a member of Gorefest Ed Warby, drums away and Jeroen Goossens (Ayreon) takes care of various wind instruments...
There are even more musicians, participating, since in usual Arjen fashion, the aforementioned project is offered in two different flavors the more folk oriented “gentle” edition, which has a lot more delicate, subtle orchestral arrangements and the more “metal”, pompous and tempestuous “storm” version that exchanges most of those for heavier, louder percussion and various more symphonic arrangement, replacing some of the folk ones. In essence it’s the same eleven tracks, more or less identical, but performed, in a more relaxed and a more edgy way... could a middle of the road instrumentation be done, with only “certain” tracks, offered in “different” editions? Sure... but Arjen went and re-did the whole album, just to see, how it would turn out, I presume?
The album is inspired, by the late years of Joseph Warwijck (born in Amsterdam in 1644) and Susanne Vermeer (born in Delft in 1647) that were married in 1666, and lived in Lindengracht, Amsterdam. The story is set in the late 1600’s during the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th Century, when the Dutch sailed to many far regions of the world and is certainly heartbreaking, as the accounts of their relationship after, Joseph was a young officer serving with VOC (a company similar to the British East Indies company, only Dutch) left on a two plus year journey during which the young couple relayed their news via, often delayed, letters which later were filed and became their “diary”, chronicling their lives... The tragic, is that as Joseph, is tied down in India, he finds out (with considerable delay) in Batavia/the then official name of “Jakarta”, sometime in early 1968 that he’d become a father, back home. He’s overjoyed at the prospect, but unable to correspond for most of that year and blissfully unaware, of the fact that his young bride has fallen gravely ill, which she relays to him, by letter, at first suggestively but then more openly. Still on his way back home sometime in 1669, somewhere over the “Cape of good hope” he receives more of his wife’s “earlier” letters, but continues to be unaware of her illness. On May 7th, 1669, Susanne dies in Amsterdam and is buried by her family a couple of days later. Two months later, on July 1st, 1669, Joseph finally arrives back at his house in Lindengracht, only to learn of Susanne’s death, and is able to meet his son Michiel for the first time, who is now almost 2 years old. Joseph finds Susanne’s diary containing many entries while he was on his journey, describing many of her thoughts and feelings as well as many other things she wanted to share with him while he was away. He finds more letters she had written between the diary’s pages and then realizes her words and their son, Michiel, is all he has left of Susanne. Joseph then places her letters within the pages of the diary and keeps them safe so they may be passed on to Michiel. The very next day, after returning home, Joseph visits Susanne’s grave with Michiel. The next year, in 1680, Joseph becomes Captain of the VOC ship “Merel (The Blackbird)”. He then departs the island of Texel for another voyage with Michiel accompanying him. During the years, those letters and the accompanying diary in which they were placed, were passed as a family heirloom. They were forgotten for many generations until they were again unearthed in the early 21st century causing public interest in that old by tragic tale of these two young souls.
Following the rather difficult, “Theory of Everything” Arjen’s latest Ayreon “adventure”, “The Gentle Storm” is a perfectly executed experiment in simpler and incredibly catchy conceptual songwriting. One could vaguely categorize it as prog-rock, but it’s so much more and thus piling it with a lot of over-self-indulgent, self-absorbed and marginally boring releases in the said genre would be a “sin”.
There isn’t a single note that “excessive” and every song in the story, from the opening “Endless Sea” to the epilogue with the “Final Entry” is a minor masterpiece both musically and in terms of adapting the story from prose to verse. The melodies of songs like “Heart of Amsterdam” or “The Greatest Love” are heart-achingly beautiful. Songs like “Shores of India” or the “The Storm” completely place you in the late 1600’s the golden age of Dutch commerce and naval conquest. The following songs up to the epilogue carry on the “journey” unaware of the tragedy at hand, which makes the “Final Entry” ever more effective.
The “Gentle” version is a masterpiece in every way, but the “storm” isn’t far behind, (as it’s virtually the same songs, with a somewhat different slant), certain instrumentation sound more lush (mainly strings) and the addition of choirs, give a different majesty to the same songs, that now sound quite transformed. From a soft serrenisma, now Anneke, often opts for passionate crescendos... and an allover more lively performance in order to keep abreast the considerably louder arrangements. I dare say, for most of the songs it’s a “tie” between the two different “takes”, but the “storm” edition of “Shores of India” sounds a lot more grandiose, and it’s quite fitting... the moment, turns from a “tender” little song almost neo- classical, but again it’s the more epic of songs like “The Storm” that benefit the most, with its “stormy” version being slightly more impressive when compared to the “gentle one”. “Brightest Light” also is presented “greatly altered”... and maybe the more “dramatic tone” of the stormy “Final Entry” feels more appropriate too... I don’t know.
The bare fact is that Arjen Lucassen is a mad genius; Anneke is a goddess of sorts and could probably tame lions with her voice, so when she sings she really does magic… and the “Gentle Storm” is a great album of cinematic proportions offered in 2 director’s cuts, for your aural experience and pleasure. Don’t miss this great voyage of the senses, at any price.
PS: For the cuckoo-barking mad fans, there’s even some super luxurious 4 CD, earbook type of edition that offers instrumental versions of the 2 “versions”, but I hardly think I could bother with that, since Anneke, is the one single element that really makes these songs take flight, so the vocal-less version feel rather empty. Interesting, but in the lack of any other bonuses, their inclusion feels, a bit over the top.