The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest’ is Anneke van Giersbergen’s 23rd career album (yes, you read that correctly!) released in February 2021. Let’s quickly check back on that illustrious career to date.
After thirteen years as the front woman for melancholic metallers, The Gathering, Anneke van Giersbergen struck out on her own in 2007. Since then, Anneke quickly formed 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 and CRS fave John Wetton.
Back in 2012, ‘Everything is Changing’ became 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. Check it out sometime, if you haven’t heard it.
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. And forever unpredictable, in late 2018, Anneke released ‘Symphonized’, an 11-track live orchestral album recorded at two career-spanning concerts alongside Residentie Orkest The Hague, featuring rearrangements of songs from her entire back catalogue.
This time round, lyrically and musically, this esteemed Dutch artist lays her soul
bare with the most evocative record of her career – captivating song-stories told with acoustic guitars, strings, horns, percussion, and Anneke’s hypnotic vocal harmonies. The 11-track record has all the intimacy of Anneke serenading you alone, combined with surprising departures into swampier, foot-stomping grooves. I love it when all attempts to pigeon-hole an artist fail miserably as they break out of the genre box that critics and listeners have tried to cramp them into!
‘The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest’ is about finding answers to life’s biggest questions when challenges arise. It comes out following a torrid and difficult time. In 2018, Anneke had begun working on new material for her metal band, VUUR after a mixed reception for their heavy and progressive debut album, ‘In This Moment We Are Free – Cities’, was met with a mixed reception. But 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.”
At the same time her long-lasting marriage was impacted. 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.”
As artists are so often able to do, Anneke retreated to a small house near the
woods outside hometown Eindhoven with just her acoustic guitar and basic recording gear. She let go of the pressures of what VUUR’s future might be, and fell into the meditative process of writing a solo album throughout 2019 involving friend and producer, Gijs Coolen, to help finish the album in 2020.
‘Agape’ is a gorgeous opener, beautifully shimmering then staccato strings accompany a heartfelt vocal performance that lifts the spirit, lovely harmonies to close. Contrast that with the stomping ‘Hurricane’, lower register vocals creating a different atmosphere, those harmony vocals this time creating an eerie unquiet, horns and electric guitar sparsely used to good effect, all creating a compelling and driven mood. ‘My Promise’, guitar, percussion and naked vocals are joined by violin as the song develops, wrapped in an air of mystery and plaintive desire. The ‘I Saw a Car’ verse stomps initially like an acoustic “We will rock you” chorus, releasing into an interwoven, airy chorus, delicate mandolin and multiple vocals soaring to the stomping close. In fact, the one thing that becomes clear as the album progresses is the clever rhythmic nature of the songs, underpinning the personal, direct and honest vocals on the likes of the uplifting, latin-tinged ‘The Soul Knows’.
‘The End’ begins in a classical guitar way, and develops into a dreamlike soundscape, possibly the best heartstring tugger on the album. ‘Keep it Simple’ sways gently, its subtle percussion again a driving force, and here is where you can’t fail to recognise the vocal talents of Anneke van Giersbergen, from acapella, fragile through to forceful and determined.
‘Lo and Behold’ has another stomping rhythm verse going into storing chorus whereas ‘Losing You’ has the delicacy the song title requires. ‘Survive’ uses a flamenco-style guitar and driving vocal to assure us of the endurance of love in a fragile environment. Another toe-tapper. The closing song ‘Love You Like I Love You’ is one that reinforces this lady’s position in the echelons of female singer-songwriters. A songwriter unafraid to be honest and authentic, to create powerful yet fragile songscapes, to utilise an astonishing vocal dexterity , and frankly, with the ability to deliver a powerful album.
The pleasing thing about this is the outcome of the album. The press-release tells me that Anneke was inspired by the Japanese art of kintsugi 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. So, instead of giving up on their marriage, Anneke and her husband decided to take the time to mend their bond. The same press release tells me they now cherish the repaired heartbreak as something profoundly valuable.
A heartwarming story and a heartwarming album, and indeed a reminder that the darkest skies can truly be the brightest.
3. My Promise
4. I Saw a Car
5. The Soul Knows
6. The End
7. Keep it Simple
8. Lo and Behold
9. Losing You
11. Love you like I love you
Anneke Van Giesbergen online: