This is quite a unique album. I’ve never really found anything quite like it. The Gentle Storm, before I go into it further, is made up of Arjen Lucassen and Anneke van Giersbergen. That may have sounded like a bunch of strange words with too many N’s, but Lucassen is the brains behind the group Ayreon, Star One, his own solo project, and a ton of more music that I have written about. Anneke, on the other hand, you could know from Devin Townsend albums as the female vocalist in albums like Addicted, Epicloud and Z2. She previously worked with Lucassen on the Ayreon album, 01011001. So, that backstory out of the way, if you’ve read any of my reviews from the past few years, you would have at least tangentially heard of what either of these two artists can do. Why is this significant, you may find yourself asking? Because this album, a special double album, consists of two drastically different recordings of the same songs. The first album is termed the Gentle version, and the second is the Storm version. So, if a listener liked a particular song but didn’t like how light or heavy it was, they could switch and listen to it in a totally different way.
So I’ll start this review off right by giving you both versions of the first song on the album, Endless Sea. In a nutshell, this album (a concept album, as you would expect) is about a sailor in the 1600’s that gets separated from his wife, and chronicles their journey back to each other. According to interviews I’ve listened to and read, the story is actually fairly accurate and the two worked with a historian to write the lyrics for this album. So, this album gets the famous “based on a true story” tag, and along with it, one heck of a musical journey. I am one of those strange listeners who enjoyed both versions of the album, and from what I have gathered so far, other listeners will pick one album that they feel is significantly superior to the other.
I personally prefer the storm version a little just because it is bombastic and orchestral compared to the folksy and celtic sound of the gentle version. The selling point of this album, of course, is that if you want to switch to the other album, you can easily. Some albums, like the new Death Grips album that just dropped, are albums that you can only listen to in a certain mood, but The Diary transcends that by making an album that on its face sounds more sad, and has a partner album of the same music that is more upbeat, depending on the song. I think you get what I’m trying to explain now.
When the songs that I posted above came out a few months ago, I listened to them back to back, and felt a whole lot of things with each listen. I was so impressed how different emotions were stirred from the two albums that were lyrically and temporally identical (oh, did I not mention that? The albums are practically the same length, with just ten or so total seconds of difference between the two). On the gentle version, you have an emotional folk/celtic rock sound which focuses more on Anneke’s vocals, while on the storm version, her voice is just another instrument in an endless sea of music. See what I did there? Good. Glad you’re still paying attention. Some people can find her voice to be a little droning at times, but I think it was utilized beautifully on this double album. If I haven’t sold you yet on this album, the storm version uses a choir, and it’s an intense choir surrounded by an orchestra and a lot of music going on at once. They really encompass the musical “storm” that they intended to create with this album in certain songs. If you want a huge song that swirls into a maelstrom of great music, look no further than the storm version of the track The Storm. Yeah, I’m aware that it is The Storm (Storm version) but it doesn’t matter. It sounds great.
This album is nothing short of a home run. Since this review was posted in 2015, more tracks have been released by this band so I was able to give you Shores of India as well as a live version of The Storm. As a huge fan of the two artists (and most of the supporting musicians like Ed Warby returning to work with Arjen on the drums again) you could consider me biased, although I know great music when I listen to it. There’s a reason that Arjen Lucassen is known as one of the greatest progressive rock/metal artists for the past 20 years or now, and The Diary once again affirms his status among the elite musicians of our day. How many instruments did he play on this album? He played all of the electric and acoustic guitars, most of the electric and acoustic bass guitars, all of the keyboards, and even the dulcimer, because why not? I strongly recommend this album to any fans of prog or folk music, as many of you most likely are because you read these reviews. It’s a real eye-opener. To update the previous ranking system to what we have now, the previous rating of 12/13 has been updated to 14 Ratings Units out of 15. This album is a beast. As a bonus, try to play both the gentle and storm version of the endless sea that I posted above at the same time. They sync up perfectly, and that combination may be one most interesting musical experiences I’ve ever had.