Review: Anneke van Giersbergen and Arstidir – Verloren Verleden

They say when worlds collide, magical results often abound. What happens when the world of Iceland’s premiere neo-classical/indie folk outfit collides with one of the most beautiful voices in the world? Well, let’s just say that the result is indeed a magical one.

Anneke van Giersbergen became a household name for metal fans as the voice of Dutch progressive metal act The Gathering from 1995-2007. The immense catalog of music she helped to create includes some truly classic albums, but since her departure, her solo career has been equally intriguing for anyone keeping score at home. From Agua de Annique to her namesake releases to her work with The Gentle Storm, van Giersbergen has kept fans on their toes with a bevvy of musical ventures that span a wide array of genres. Over the years she has also lent her wonderful voice to the projects of a laundry list of acts including Devin Townsend, Anathema, Napalm Death and many more. This time out finds van Giersbergen joining forces with Iceland’s Arstidir, an act seemingly steeped in as much history as they are musical influences. Their combined effort, Verloren Verleden, sees these talented musicians tackling songs from some of the greatest composers to ever put pen to paper, along with a handful of traditional numbers. The end result is surely one of the most unique and gorgeous albums you will come across in the near future.

When we say that van Giersbergen and Arstidir decided to tackle some songwriting heavyweights, it’s not hyperbole. From Henry Purcell and Edvard Grieg to Irving Berlin and Leonard Bernstein, these are just some of the names with songwriting credits on this album. The songs on this album span from the Baroque period to Arstidir’s own composition, “Per eg unni.” But instead of an album sounding like a disjointed classical music greatest hits album, van Giersbergen and company are able to pull it all together by re-imagining them “within the Arstidir/Anneke sound-universe.” And what a lush and powerful ‘sound-universe’ it is.

With all due respect to the phenomenal musicianship of the Arstidir boys, these songs begin and end with van Giersbergen’s vocals. Her lead vocals on such tracks as “Het Dorp,” “Heyr Himna Smiður,” and “Pavane” are simply enchanting in their delivery. Her voice is still truly mesmerizing in all of its elegant beauty, each note delivered with painstaking aplomb. Not to be outdone though, Arstidir prove to be her perfect compliment here. Guitar, baritone guitar, piano, violin, viola, their own spectacular vocal arrangements, and the occasional cello accompaniment round this album into absolutely perfect form as they do indeed re-imagine the works of these great composers.

It would appear as well that the farther back in time they went to pull songs for this album, the more creative, and therefore the more poignant these songs somehow became. Album opener, “Bist Du Bei Mir” by Baroque composer Gottfried Stölzel (an aria that was at one time incorrectly attributed  to J.S. Bach) is as elegant and as gorgeous as it ever was, with van Giersbergen again delivering a knockout vocal performance. Another Baroque classic is easily one of the album’s many highlights as they perform Henry Purcell’s “When I Am Laid In Earth.” It is done so in a way that would make the angels in heaven themselves weep at its beauty and powerful delivery. Edvard Grieg’s “Solveig’s Song” (taken from the Peer Gynt Suite originally written in 1867) is as stunning as it is sombre. A true tear jerking number in its original form, the Arstidir/Anneke treatment renders it even more emotive than could be initially imagined.

Verloren Verleden is more than just a loose collecton of songs. It is a sonic experience. It is a showcase for five musicians at the top of their respective games – Arstidir showcasing their ability to piece together some of the best neo-classical music around, and van Giersbergen showing why she should absolutely continue to be considered one of the top vocalists in the entire world, genres be damned.

Verloren Verleden is out now. You can experience and purchase the album both at the Arstidir Bandcamp page and the Anneke van Giersbergen website.

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