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This release is certainly a distant satellite to Anathemas earliest work, but kind of a natural continuation in relation to their latest records. I'm an enthusiastic admirer of their long and winding journey which got them to this point. They started out making doom with death metal vocals, went a bit gothic down the road and for each year getting more progressive and softer. The sound has largely been altered since the beginning, and the different eras of Anathema surely have divided the fans. For me, the best era must have been around their albums "Alternative 4" and "Judgement" when they had the perfect balance between heavy distorted riffs and softer parts.
However, even though it's distant, the album still orbits around their past. The core is still deep and dark emotional themes. The doom is still there to some extent, but the metal not so much. So, am I disappointed? Yes and no.
Yes, because of the lack of attack and dynamic twists. Throughout, the songs keep almost the same structure from start to finish, just varying the intensity. In some way, I don't consider all the songs as songs as much as atmospheric soundscapes. The first part of the album melds together. I miss the structural variation from the past. And knowing what they are capable to do with heavy, gloomy guitars makes me a bit sad. That's an untapped resource to say the least.
But also no, I'm not disappointed because of the sheer quality of the music. Probably, as a whole, the most sublime piece of art from them to date. The vocal performance, which this act always delivers greatly, is stunning even compared to their standards. Another important detail for me is that they still use guitars with high-pitched feedback. Controlled feedback melodies are a trademark sound for Anathema for quite some time. I have never seen it been more greatly incorporated in music than by them.
The eponymous song "Anathema" demonstrates how effortless Daniel Cavanagh weaves the vibrations of his strings into a monster of a solo. It brings me back to their earlier work. Check out "Flying In A Blue Dream" by Joe Satriani for even more display of that technique.
Who did what? The band is filled with multi-talents and unfortunately I don't have the answers, so I shouldn't speculate too much. I just wanted to say that the "duties" as described above isn't all that is to it.
A few of the songs do set themselves aside. "You're Not Alone" must have been mixed by Steven Wilson! He has been involved with the mixing for some of the songs, but I don't know which ones. However, this one certainly reeks of him, in the most positive sense of course. The aggressive octave chords and chaotic feel to it brings associations to Porcupine Tree. The title track, with "Firelight" as an intro, is an amazing song but a contrast to the rest.
Actually it significantly resembles the British band Keane in its style. I wouldn't have flinched if I was listening to Keane and this one popped out. This might be repulsive for some of the old fans, who though should have accepted the change long ago. Another one worth mentioning, of course, is the single "The Lost Song Part 3". The structure of the song is similar to "The Beginning And The End" from their album "Weather Systems", in the way that it is very repetitive in its rhythm and chords. They make it work by creating layers of textures on top of it, and the voices of Vincent and Lee unquestionably do help.
I didn't expect anything less than fantastic, and in that sense I didn't get disappointed when I gave this a couple of initial spins. And after even more listening I further realize how much I'm going to appreciate this record. All that being said, I would probably have desired something completely different. A less distant satellite.