They surely are
Metal’s got a fairly big problem with gender inclusivity, no question. While there are woman-identifying people who have been kicking considerable ass in the genre for decades, their lack of presence by comparison to their male counterparts puts anything they do under a “female metalhead” microscope, seemingly detracting from any actual talent and effort in exchange for an umbrella identifier. Still, that’s not to say that some of their output isn’t deserving of attention. Look at Dutch vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen, for instance, who’s been a pillar within prog-metal for literal years. Her contributions to bands like The Gathering, The Gentle Storm and Vuur are of particular note, but it’s her solo work that calls for the strong eyes currently. Mildly similar—if we have to compare—to what Amalie Bruun has done in the black metal realm with certain Myrkur releases, van Giersbergen’s latest, The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest, is another installation in van Giersbergen’s “gentler,” unconcealed side.
From a sonic perspective, The Darkest Skies… sounds like some sort of metal mashup off Tamaryn and Kate Bush, incorporating folk and bluesy acoustics with slight ’80s pop sensibilities. There isn’t really any metal on the record at all, which isn’t an issue, as it allows van Giersbergen’s vocals to shine in a different type of light. Opener “Agape” has a Joan Baez-esque energy to it as does “My Promise,” both working as gentle guitar-driven trots that let van Giersbergen’s voice take the reins. Her delivery is clear and crisp, which makes it easy to pay attention to her lyrics. Even though they’re fairly simple, it’s obvious that van Giersbergen is still releasing something pent up inside. Look at “Hurricane,” where she compares her emotions to a downpour of water going furiously down a drain (“Spin me like a hurricane/ drag me through the rain/ pour me down the drain/ I feel no shame”).
The slow rolling of the album speeds up in the second half, led by the soft pop rock of “Keep It Simple” and “Lo And Behold.” The most energetic track comes by way of “Survive,” which employs instrumentation typically used in Russian folk dancing. Lyrically, it’s a call to action for survivors of abuse to take a stand for themselves—an action van Giersbergen seems to hold closely.
Despite her solo work being no where near her output in the prog world, The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest still shows that van Giersbergen can get heavy, even if it’s in a different way. The key here is recognizing exactly how all of the record’s individual parts make up the bigger picture. Once you see it for what it is, its beauty really unfolds.