Mandylion is an album that has been a true and trusty companion from the moment it was released. I often return to it, not only because it moves me every time, but also because it serves as a touchstone that can be used to test many styles of rock music against.
Let’s start with the vocals, the most obvious asset of this Dutch doom metal outfit. For me, Anneke Van Giersbergen vocals are the most expressive, commanding and beautiful vocals ever to grace a rock music. On later albums she would become more versatile but here she is in full epic glory. Yet she sings so gracefully and spontaneous, never straining her voice, never overdoing it. She’s pure emotion and melody. Her vocals are the benchmark for any vocalist attempting this style.
The playing skills of the rest of the band are often criticized. Obviously they do not attempt anything that demands advanced studies in musical proficiency, but that is not the issue I’d say. The point these guys are making here is how their instruments can be applied to maximize the perfection of the songs.
Don’t get me wrong. Most of the music I listen to has a high musical complexity, but for me the emphasis on serving musicianship here gives a refreshing view that will filter out all self-important bragging from my CD collection. Not only that. It also works in the opposite direction. Not much ‘easy’ rock music works for me, so whoever wants to impress me with basic chord progressions will have Mandylion’s standard to live up to.
The Gathering surpassed this album with their later and more diverse album If Then Else from 2000. But this one will be most appealing to (doom) metal-heads.