It takes talent and force of will for a band to change direction as solidly and successfully as Anathema have done. The last half-decade has seen the band truly shrug off their heavier, more goth-metal roots, becoming trailblazers in the UK prog scene. We sent Cheryl Carter along to the London date of their most recent tour to marvel at Anathema’s enduring appeal.
6 things we learnt while watching Anathema in London:
1) Unfortunately we’ll never know how Mother’s Cake set went down due to being stuck in South London until 6pm and missing their stage time completely. The perils of being a grown up and attending a show at a venue with an outrageously early curfew because of some terrible club night they throw each Friday. But that’s beside the point. Mother’s Cake must be good else they wouldn’t have played….right?
2) Anathema are now a massive band. Both in terms of sound and in terms of being able to sell out the venue for tonight. KOKO is gorgeous and the atmosphere is markedly different this time around compared to the last time the band played here. The anticipation that ripples through the crowd while we await Anathema’s entrance is palpable. It’s genuinely lovely to see so many people this excited about seeing a band, and one that has worked so bloody hard to get where they are today. It almost brings a tear to the eye.
3) The Liverpudlian’s begin their two hours on stage with the heart breaking double of ‘The Lost Song Part 1’and ‘Part 2’, where both frontman Vincent Cavanagh and second vocalist Lee Douglas can show off a little bit. It’s these two-part songs that Anathema really come into their own – the tracks often tell the opposing sides to a story and here you can hear the narrative thrust of the songs take flight. Douglas in particular showcasing that her imperfections actually work beautifully. As we’ve said before, her voice is full of cracks but they only add to the vulnerability of the music – they’re emotional works and as such they deserve a voice that can embrace that helplessness we all feel at times.
4) Tonight’s set list leans very, very heavily on “newer” material – i.e. anything from and after 2010’s We’re Here Because We’re Here. Of course everyone would love to hear more from the pre-2010 records but the last four years have seen Anathema create a lot of incredible music. Uplifting landscapes contrast with desolate sadness but there’s always an inkling of hope to be found and tonight the band play on those elements of their catalogue. ‘Untouchable Part 1’and ‘Part 2’ soar over the venue while ‘Ariel’ bursts with sorrowful guitar leads and ‘The Lost Song Part 3’brings a sense of regret to the fore.
5) It all gets a bit weird when the band introduce the more electronic sounds into the set, and with distant satellites marking a new direction for Anathema it makes sense that they’d want to include those newer elements in their live show. ‘You’re Not Alone’ is probably the biggest misstep of the evening but the title track for the record brings it all together in a much more subtle way, the beats looping effortlessly and Vincent Cavanagh’s voice melting into the song while the live drums give the track a life it would perhaps have lacked if the band left a machine to do all the work.
6) Only two older tracks make it into the set list tonight but they’re two wonderful songs so the band gets a free pass (this time). ‘A Natural Disaster’ is Lee Douglas’ moment and the song takes shape around her distinctive voice before falling away into layered, lush echoes which leads into ‘Take Shelter’ and the finale of ‘Fragile Dreams’which sounds as huge now as it did on 1998s Alternative 4. And then it’s over. We could have stayed for another two hours but all good things must come to an end. Sigh.
distant satellites, the latest album from Anathema, is out now on Kscope.