Sometimes, we reviewers get caught in a weird bind. We like an artist, but find ourselves not connecting with one of their projects. Anneke van Giersbergen is well known from her many collaborations, such as with Devin Townsend, The Gentle Storm, Ayreon, Daniel Cavanagh, etc. Her attempt to dive back into progressive metal is called Vuur; and the debut album, called “In This Moment We Are Free – Cities”, arrives on October 20th. The problem, however, is that this venture feels incredibly forced and truly lacking something that is somewhat difficult to describe.
Vuur consists of Anneke van Giersbergen on vocals, Ed Warby on drums, Jord Otto and Ferry Duijsens on guitars, and Johan van Stratum on bass. Musically, this is progressive metal, kinda. Vuur explores nothing new, which isn’t an automatic count against it or anything, but much of the album does feel like a poor man’s Caligula’s Horse. You also get the feeling like this might be more pseudo progressive in nature, as I’ve heard plenty of radio metal bands play songs that are far more complex than this.
We generally encounter plenty of galloping metal riffs, soulless shredding, and that is honestly about it. There are no keys to create an atmosphere that this album desperately needs, and the guitar style leaves lots of open space that makes many of the songs feel unfinished to me. Even the drums feel pretty lackluster, as the beats are by the numbers and pretty simple overall. Simplicity is not a bad thing, but this almost feels completely lifeless.
Anneke has a great voice, but it is wasted on this album. Through all the flashiness of the music videos and the admittedly slick production, the actual songs do not offer a challenge for her, and there are precious few moments that could not have potentially featured almost any other singer without changing the feeling of the song. There are no hooks, no interesting verse lines, and nothing that will leave you amazed at her voice. Strangely, the best part of her performance is when she abandons words and goes into some opera-style harmonies. A couple tracks are a little more interesting because of this. In contrast to the overall feeling of this album, though, The Gentle Storm and Anneke’s solo work are both tailored to her voice and explore both ends of her vocal range more relentlessly.
In what is probably the most ironic thing I’ve heard in prog this year, “vuur” actually translates to “passion” or “drive”, and I hear almost nothing like that in this album. It’s a pity, too, as the concept behind the album is actually very cool. Anneke attempted to describe the vibes of freedom that she found in cities all over the world, so each track has a name, but also a connected city. That is pretty original, but the music does not deliver. Your mind will literally be screaming for more musical meat. I honestly kept turning up the volume because there is no oomph or intensity or inspiration to any of this.
I’m not sure I’ve heard two tracks this year as uninteresting or as incomplete as “My Champion – Berlin” and “Time – Rotterdam”. Both of them are snooze fests with absolutely nothing that interests me and, honestly, the guitar work and especially the drums on these tracks feel like they are barely even trying. That might sound harsh, but it completely feels that way through all the ho-hum riffing and pitter patter drums. Honestly, most every track on this album sounds the exact same, with only a couple slight exceptions.
Generally speaking, the middle of the album has the most interesting parts. I do like “The Fire – San Francisco”: Anneke sounds great on this track as she holds an interesting operatic note, and I even find the composition to be a little more, well, fiery. Another semi-interesting track is “Freedom – Rio”. It has a pleasant chorus and there are some galloping moments that are pretty okay and headbang-worthy. “Sail Away – Santiago” follows and also has a nice, enjoyable chorus.
While “Valley of Diamonds – Mexico City” has some interesting moments, the rest of the album ultimately returns to the boring, uninspired feel of the first few tracks. The final track “Reunite! – Paris” is especially dull, despite having some orchestration thrown in finally. For what could have been a giant ending, the album finishes with a whimper.
I’m not sure what else to say. Vuur’s debut is incredibly pedestrian and by the numbers, and there are no must-hear moments at all. For what could have been an album that felt empowering and unifying lyrically with momentous musical flourishes to drive our hearts towards hope, “In This Moment We Are Free – Cities” feels more like a tedious cage that just won’t seem to end.
Find Vuur online: