09 June 2014
Anathema’s rise as one of England’s premier rock bands has been a long time in its inception with the Liverpudlian group shifting their initial doomed, death metal sound into one that is completely at odds with their first forays into music. The Anathema of today is a band that creates uplifting, soulful landscapes of sound – sounds that bare pure emotion in their presentation and effect. 2012’s Weather Systems was a journey of bittersweet sentiment and this year distant satellites moves even further into the realms of discovery.
It’s a much more stripped back record than we’re used to from Anathema, but that stepping away from the huge rock anthems of yore has allowed the band to open up their sound even more. As such distant satellites is an incredibly disarming, moving and affecting work from a band that despite being a name for a long, long time, are only now just beginning to have an impact on the wider musical sphere. It’s curious that while many metal fans adore this act, they don’t seem to get attention from the “mainstream” press. Perhaps it’s their past that has hindered representation in those circles and they are dismissed as “just another metal band”, but one can only hope that distant satellites is finally the record that sees them break through.
‘The Lost Song Part 1’ and the following ‘Part 2’ showcase everything that Anathema have been building towards these last few years and records. Gorgeous arrangements swirl around the contrasting voices of Vincent Cavanagh and Lee Douglas – their vocals playing as two sides of a story much in the same way as ‘Untouchable Parts 1 and 2’ from Weather Systems. Douglas here is a beautiful addition to Anathema’s sound and on this record her voice is sublime, the natural cracks that occur in her range adding a depth and reality to the words and playing against Cavanagh’s sweetly reached heights. ‘Part 1’ sets up distant satellites immediately and its gorgeous climb towards its crescendo and Cavanagh extolling that “fear is just illusion” is draped in absolute truth and in turn it wrenches at the soul – these first six minutes are desperately moving and the break into ‘The Lost Song Part 2’ is both shattering and welcome. Douglas takes the lead here, her voice wrapping around gorgeous string sections that dip and move to the sadness that permeates the song and the album.
‘Ariel’ continues to utilise both sides of the Anathema voice section to build a narrative that almost everyone will be all too familiar with, and its these small touches of real life experiences that are what gives the band that little something special and their music the extraordinary feeling that runs through it. ‘The Lost Song Part 3’ follows and it takes the previous incarnations to new heights, expanding the story and giving a sense of resolution and hope.
Hope has always been a central theme for Anathema and while their music certainly has a current of sadness threaded through it, there’s always uplifting moments incorporated in order to show that despite life knocking you back every now and then, there is a way through. For many, that way through is found within this particular band and if there’s ever a chance to experience Anathema in a live setting then take it with both hands (or see Universal from last year). The Anathema live event is one to be cherished and to look around at the faces of fellow attendees will tell you everything you need to know – adoration, connection and emotion features heavily and these new songs will only add to that intensity.
Their music is usually quite dramatic in its execution and the scope and on distant satellites Anathema tries a few different tactics to bring that drama to life. ‘You’re Not Alone’ trips on a curious electronic beat that lies beneath the oddly shifting guitar track above before ‘Firelight’ and its rich, gothic textures take flight and lead the album into the title track. ‘Distant Satellites’ comes over all sub-dubstep in its electro pulses and the chilled down pace is reminiscent of James Blake’s work in particular. It’s certainly an unknown sound for Anathema and boy, does it pay off. Gorgeous layers of piano interact with the beat and Vincent Cavanagh’s voice is a sweetly heartbreaking instrument while the song slowly but surely gathers pace in its course and John Douglas controls the rhythm with sharp, precise drum strikes.
‘Take Shelter’ closes out Distant Satellites on sweeping strings and delightful harmony, the electronic motifs following into the final stages of the record and holding it together quite beautifully. The music steadily climbs towards the peak before falling way to allow the strings to introduce a short period of cool down rather than ending things abruptly. It’s a soaring, expressive finale and one that Anathema is all too deft at creating. distant satellites is melodic, lovely, hopeful and often stunning, but most importantly, it’s utterly human.
Sounds Like: Katatonia, Antimatter, Paradise Lost.
Standout Tracks: The Lost Song Part 1, Anathema, Distant Satellites.