The sludgy, slow-moving river of electric guitar at the foundation of Baltimore, Maryland quintet Arbouretum's fourth album, The Gathering, represents a sizeable shift from the band's plucky infancy. Where the band's 2004 debut, Long Live the Well Doer, was tinny, reserved, and sentimental, The Gathering is a bullying, commanding set and marks the group's evolution into a new territory of snarling, classically styled rock. But despite their new effects-layered approach, the band's music remains centered on Dave Heumann's trademark bawling vocal style.
The frontman's bellows are filtered into all-pervading, reverberating chants that emerge after uncomplicated, two-chord introductions. Many of the verses are pursued by lengthy instrumental sections, and accentuated lengthy guitar solos, drummer J.V. Brian Carey's cymbal assault, and thunderous bass and Wurlitzer accompaniments. Songs such as "The White Bird" and "Destroying to Save" begin as stalwart marches before spilling over into an enchanting fuzz. The chorus of "When Delivery Comes" sounds like a dirge crafted for a violent, modern western, accentuated by a shrieking string arrangement, while the guitar-driven melody of "Song of the Nile" shadows Heumann's vocal lines note for note before evolving into a 10-minute instrumental epic.
When compared to the album's six other tracks, a starkly withdrawn version of Jimmy Webb's oft-covered "Highwayman" is an awkward inclusion at first listen given its comparative lack of turbulence. But the tracks work well as a refuge from The Gathering's overwhelming din and serves as a reminder of the band's tranquil pedigree. The Gathering is a revitalizing roll in the dirt, particularly for listeners put off by hard rock that either forays too far into other genres or is too polished by spit-shined production.