Genre: progressive/atmospheric rock
Label: Kscope Music
Anathema has a special place in my heart. I was really happy to discover their art through Alternative 4 several years ago and I knew my dad, as a big fan of progressive rock, would like it. Growing up with his old Pink Floyd records, I was actually quite proud to be able to introduce something new to him. It felt like a circle was closing and he opened up more for the music I listened to. While he still doesn’t appreciate too much grunts or screams he never objects when I place Anathema in the CD player and turn up the volume to 11. In fact, sometimes I have to go look for my Anathema discs in his stash of albums. I had a few listens to their new Distant Satellites before my dad can run off with it.
Anathema songs are known for their slow and lengthy progressions towards monumental climaxes. The first part of the album demonstrates this as “The Lost Song Part 1” delivers a calm serenity until the last 2 minutes break open the song with emotions. John Douglas’ minimalistic drumming gets a little more creative breathing and provides a strong foundation for the rich presence of strings. In the meantime Cavanagh’s voice is pure emotion.
But his voice is not the only one on the album. Lee Douglas fits her role in the band better than ever, as you can hear clearly on “The Lost Song Part 2”. Again in the last 2 minutes the slow build up bursts open with soundscapes of the synths. In the closing tunes the melodic guitar lines get some more attention while they remain more on the background throughout the rest of the album.
Slowly building up to interesting climaxes continues on “Dusk (Dark is Descending)”, “Ariel”, and “The Lost Song Part 3” of which a lyric video was already released earlier. Except for the strong endings I would describe Anathema’s current style so far as sober and modest. There are hints of post-rock, however, the predictable kind. The lyrics of “Ariel” offer a good glimpse in the current atmosphere the band creates. More positive, but with that pinch of melancholy.
“I found you in the dark Don’t leave me…here… Staring at the sun, Love is so strong it hurts”
Making a self-titled song “Anathema” after more than 20 years of existence is quite an interesting move. Personally, one of my favorite tracks on the album and Cavanagh’s solo near the end stands out as one of the highlights of the album.
However, after this blissful moment the album style changes quite dramatically. The drum computer takes over the music too often for my taste. “You’re Not Alone” is a chaotic, experimental track which feels aimlessly until its abrupt ending. “Fireflight” is not really a song, but more of an ambient intro to the title track “Distant Satellites”. However, the long stretched notes do not really build any anticipation but rather feel dragged and boring. With Distant Satellites the drum computer falls in again. The lyrics “Take me away” and “Makes me wanna cry” somehow reflect my feeling but not in a good way. John Douglas’ human touch behind the drum kit starts falling in only near the end of the song, but for me it is already too late. I think this style of Anathema will work out with fans of bands like Radiohead or Coldplay, but it is simply not my cup of tea as the English chaps would say. Also “Take Shelter” uses the drum computer extensively and I can’t seem to reconcile myself with it even after several listens. It builds up to this complex amalgam of beats covered by light synths and strings. While the title of the song suggests otherwise I visualize clouds breaking and sunrays protruding.
Anathema has evolved tremendously from their pitch black doom to a more positive and lighter atmosphere. I never gave Weather Systems (2012) that many plays because I found the new style too light. I would almost say an unbearable lightness. They continue in that style on Distant Satellites and the album leaves me with mixed feelings. The album as a whole does not grasp or captivate me. Only certain moments draw me closer, mainly in the first part of the album. My score for this album is personal. Musicians change and grow. I am not an opponent of evolution and experiment and I congratulate bands who do so. Sometimes I follow along the road on their adventure, but with some bands I need to say “This is where we part ways”. This album might be where I leave Anathema. But I wish them nothing but luck on their way as they are a brilliant band and I am sure many new people will be touched by their current sound.