Early in 2012 I heard an album that was so good I offered to eat my own hands if anyone released anything better. Today, I’m typing this post with my fingers and not the tip of my nose, but it was a close thing…
The Album in question was The Quiet Resistance* by Dutch band Nemesea. Starting with a forbidding intro of less than a minute the album flings you into a whirlwind of sonic effects and melodic momentum. It was a rare moment, one of those opening songs that almost literally takes your breath away and the rest of the album continued in the same manner. Piling one hook on top of another, fresh ideas coming at you from all sides, but never moving away from a solid rock core.
Amazing, I thought. Who the fuck are these people? Where have they been all my life? (The answer probably falls at the feet of the British music press that a: hates rock with a vengeance and b: hates foreign musicians when they do things better than the British.) Or maybe, just maybe, Holland had musically lumbered itself for a century by winning Eurovision with Ding-a-Dong in 1975. But that’s not Nemesea’s fault. Sins of the father and all that shouldn’t be used to make a young rock band suffer for the atrocities of Teach-In and the rest of the early seventies Euromob.
A quick glance at the band’s history revealed another surprise. They’d been around since 2002. Ten years! I hung my head in shame that over a ten year period my music radar had allowed them to slip through. Admittedly there were only two albums before TQR, as different as chalk and cheese, so it was inevitable that when I did find them it would be with a bang and not a murmur.
They even had me fooled with the ‘Rammstein’ track at the end of the album. It’s hard to pick out one song when they’re all jostling for an award, but Release Me pretty much captures what this album is all about. A pulsing, insistent creature whispering and roaring, flaring up and settling down, perfectly balanced and performed.
And so I made my foolish promise on Facebook. If I hear a better album released this year I’ll eat my own hands. Well, you know what they always say; you wait ages for a decent Dutch rock band and three appear at once.
One of the bands who nearly had me gnawing off my own limbs was Delain. Nemesea were on tour with Delain, which is how I came to hear about them. And torch me with a flaming rag they had an album out called April Rain that was too good to put into words. Ask me to name my favourite rock singers and you’ll find few men: Ronnie Dio and Ian Gillan spring to mind. But the list of female rock singers is a long one – Ann Wilson, Lee Aaron, Doro Pesch, Tarja Turunen to name a few – and Charlotte Wessels joined that list the minute I heard her curling herself around every syllable of April Rain.
April Rain is a big sounding album. Where The Quiet Resistance pushes and pulls you from one aural trick to another, April Rain overwhelms with cinematic arrangements. And again I was forced to ask myself why Holland? What are they putting in the water over there that’s making people go out and perform music as good as this. Is it the cheese? (If it was we’d be over run by brilliant French bands as well.)
I didn’t want to eat my own hands. They’re too useful, but I couldn’t decide if April Rain topped The Quiet Resistance. In the end I copped out by acknowledging April Rain was released in 2009 and I said ‘a better album released this year.’ So my paws were safe.
2012 was starting to look like a dangerous year when I came across The Unforgiving. Another album mercifully released the year before by another Dutch band. Within Temptation were no strangers to me having heard the track Jane Doe and Sharon den Adel providing vocals for Armin van Buuren’s In and Out of Love. I wasn’t struck by WT’s theatrical compositions, but I could see why they were very very popular all over Europe.
But The Unforgiving was such a quantum leap for Within Temptation’s sound that a Youtube commenter, not always the best yardstick for meausuring the zeitgeist, summed it up as follows: ‘I dislike this album so much that I can’t listen to any of their previous albums now.’ Naturally, the poster of that comment was rounded on with all the subtlety of a zombie attack, and quite right too. What Within Temptation had done was what all good bands do: they pushed themselves. And all good fans should push with them. The Unforgiving is a monumental album with tracks like Faster and Iron sounding like the earth is opening up beneath you.
I was ready to drop. Three albums in as many months, and Delain had We Are The Others lined up for release later in the year. I looked at my hands with all the affection of a faithful dog, ready to kiss them goodbye. We Are The Others was good, but not good enough. It was a slow burner, it grew on me and it was 2013 by the time I was able to appreciate its hidden qualities. And 2013 was too late to honour the promise. The Quiet Resistance had held out as the album of 2012. But Holland had demonstrated why Ding-a-Dongs do not a nation make.
*And if you’re going to tweet a message to Nemesea asking about their album don’t call it The Quiet Revolution!