REVIEW: VUUR – “In This Moment We Are Free – Cities”
Anneke van Giersbergen has become a name that carries a rather wide and impressive musical catalogue behind it. Best known for her work as lead vocalist for melancholic metallers The Gathering, she has also worked with the renowned Devin Townsend on multiple occasions, admirably cemented a solid solo career for herself as well as launching her own prog-rock group, The Gentle Storm. As if all this was not enough, Giersbergen also recorded an album with Icelandic folk group Árstíðir, and this still fails to cover all she has achieved this far in her musical career. Most recently, and in an attempt to focus her more heavy efforts and ease some of the confusion amongst her fans, Anneke has now brought to fruition her next endeavor, Vuur; a band fronted by the vocalist herself and consists of a line up which is said to feature some of the best heavy metal players in the Netherlands today. While Anneke has had more than a few kind words spoken of her, being cited not only as one of the hardest working people in music but also for retaining such extensive versatility that she defies the notion of genre entirely, on ‘In This Moment We Are Free – Cities’, the title for the forthcoming debut album for Vuur, there is little evidence to fully back such a weighted claim.
Opening track and leading single “My Champion – Berlin” depicts much, though not all, of what lies ahead. Vocally, Giersbergen demonstrates her range, in this instance peaking on the symphonic, holding her notes and stretching the lyric at every opportunity. Musically, she is backed by an unfortunately rather sluggish, consistently stagnant paced effort composed of stale riffing, both lead and rhythmically, giving the impression that there was not much creative freedom here. That is the assumption, at least, if these backing musicians, Ed Warby (drums), Jord Otto (guitars), Ferry Duijsens (guitars) Johan van Stratum (bass), truly are some of the best the Netherlands have to offer.
Chart hitting producer, Joost van den Broek (Ayreon, Epica) took the helm on this record, having worked with The Gentle Storm on previous works, and is credited here with both songwriting and arrangement inputs, also. Clear, crisp and concise (almost too much of all the above, leaving little to no edge) in its delivery on an audio level, it begs the question as to what exactly the dynamic between producer and band was in the studio. “The Fire – San Francisco” generates more vocally interesting moments, particularly initially, but the haunting, ghost-bride like call grows old with the sheer amount of repetition it gets. With a seasoned pro such as Anneke coupled with the successful producer that is Broek, more is expected as this again oozes cautiousness and even invokes a sense of rushing to get the track done.
If ‘Cities’ doesn’t always hit the mark, all is not lost, as it has its more than impressive moments, too. None more so than in “Freedom – Rio”, the most musically interesting, vocally engaging and lyrically captivating work to be found here, and in the form of a ballad of sorts. Finally, a little way down the line, “Save Me – Istanbul”, a considerably more up-tempo (or at least noticeably different tempo) track and, in truth, the only point where the listener actually gets any real feel for the city and culture these songs come watermarked with.
A lot of heart rings true while a generous serving of swagger struts its way around the eleven tracks this record is compiled of. If there is little doubt in the level of work that went into it, the same cannot always be said for the quality of work that came out of it. An album that will supposedly take you all over the world, tracing Anneke‘s footsteps, each track is named after a city that has left a distinct impression on her. Sweet on sentiment, the culture punch one might expect from such a choice never quite delivers.
‘In This Moment We Are Free – Cities’ feels much like a record that played it safe at every turn, never quite extending that brave and courageous reach at moments it really needed it. The dependency of its success falls entirely on the weight of Anneke’s vocal presence and, therefore, her shoulders. Hopefully, it succeeds in her initial efforts by being a place to focus her heavier works and easing that confusion with fans, and in time maybe becoming something even more again.