I don’t know about you, but i can listen to any type of Metal, album after album, all day long and not get bored, but sometimes, just sometimes, there is a hankering for something a little more thought provoking, something to help ease the soul or something you can escape with. For me, there are only two bands that I’m almost guaranteed to be able to do this successfully with upon each new release – one is Ulver and the other is Anathema.
For the uninitiated, Anathema have been on a huge personal journey of musical discovery – starting out as a raw, doom/death metal band in the early 90’s, with each and every release since, they have managed to reinvent themselves, and transform from the proverbial ugly duckling into a stunningly beautiful swan. There is very little “metal” left in the core sound of Anathema, and it could be said that they’ve also managed to pass through “rock” and are now residing somewhere around “atmospheric prog”. Of course, these sorts of labels are utterly useless as the music is what speaks for itself. And none more so than with “Distant Satellites”.
This album sees the band strip back their now trademark sound and elements right down to its bear essentials – there is very little “flab” here to distract the listener, and yet what it does do is allow the music to be at the absolute fore-front and lets the listener explore each and every one of its richly textured layers at their leisure, and to soak up the atmosphere. One of Anathema’s greatest strengths is in being able to judge with razor-like sharpness, how to pace a song and take the listener on a journey; when to build tension; when to soothe; when to pull the rug from under you. Each of the songs on offer here are masterclasses in this.
The double-opener (now seemingly becoming a common theme for Anathema albums) of “The Lost Song Part 1” sees the orchestrated tension being brewed with a hypnotic drum pattern and Vincent Cavanagh’s warm, hopeful vocals. Soon to be overlaid with the glorious voice of Lee Douglas – and when the two voices combine, it becomes a heady, almost intoxicating mix. “The Lost Song Part 2” sees Lee’s vocals take center stage, with a touch of acoustic guitar, perfectly placed bass passages and masterful piano/keyboard pieces. I challenge anyone to not be moved by this heartfelt, ambient and soaring 6 minute epic. This could well be one of Anathema’s finest creations.
The album move up a gear in terms of pace with a more traditional Anathema-style in “Dusk (Dark is Descending)” and see’s its bass heavy undertone bring back very fond memories of their excellent “Judgement” album. Continuing that feeling is “Ariel” and sees further vocal exchanges between Vincent and Lee and its good to hear a classic lead part here harmonizing the music. It adds to the rousing nature of the track.
Early sections of “The Lost Song Part 3” see the album at its most vulnerable and stripped back, but it doesn’t take long for layer after layer to be re-added just in time for cries of “…To Hold On…” to bring the track to a soaring peak. The track “Anathema” though is one that will stick firmly in the mind, and for a long time. I cant recall a time when i heard a vocal performance with as much passion and emotion as this. Its hammered home with the simple, but oh-so-effective strings and a perpetual piano riff until, at its most atmospheric peak, there is a break and its like the most refreshing rain on the hottest day. Stirring and exhilarating at the same time.
Its at this point the album takes a very different turn though, and its very clear that Steve Wilson (yup, he of Porcupine Tree fame…) has had some hand in producing “You’re Not Alone” – its formed from frantic, sampled vocal, piano and guitar pieces and drum loops. It has its merits and certainly harks back to thoughts of Ulver mentioned earlier, but it does stand out, and it makes “Firelight” that follows it seems very subdued in comparison!
And yet, it is simply a prelude to the album’s title track, which see further use of sampled drum loops build on a few simple lyrics and further keyboard compositions, and yet, despite its 8 minutes, it certainly doesn’t feel it and it engages the listener with its uplifting vibe, one that is then piped in to the album’s closer, “Take Shelter”.
All in all, this is an album that you couldn’t really just dip in and out of, it needs to be consumed from start to finish, and for the best results, i recommend a darkened room and headphones to aid you to slip in to another world and escape for an hour. You wont regret it.
Why on earth this band are not making huge waves in mainstream music circles is beyond me, as the quality of the music on offer here (and previous albums to be fair) is simply world class. And to that, i can only say “Tough shit world, its your loss!”, it just means those of us that know about this gem can savor it just that little bit more…