ANATHEMA: ETERNITY (1996)
1) Sentient; 2) Angelica; 3) The Beloved; 4) Eternity Part I; 5) Eternity Part II; 6) Hope; 7) Suicide Veil; 8) Radiance; 9) Far Away; 10) Eternity Part III; 11) Cries On The Wind; 12) Ascension.
«Inspired» (is this the right word here?) by the illness and death of the Cavanaghs' mother, Eternity is the first Anathema album that is quite hard to technically classify as heavy metal at all, even if I wouldn't go as far as to label it «progressive rock» instead. Rather, they preserve and amplify all the soft elements that may be typical of artistically inclined metal bands — the dark folk atmospheres, the acoustic guitars, the mournful vocals, the quiet gloom — while at the same time downplaying the deep-black distorted rumble of the metal guitars, in the place of which you will here frequently find a guitar sound much closer to grunge and alt-rock. So it's more like «de-metallized metal» than a 180-degree transition to some other genre — and, of course, the one thing that stays completely the same is the band's total commitment to the bleakness and depression of their vision. The mark of Cain is not to be washed off that easy.
This is not necessarily bad — imagine, say, Black Sabbath releasing an entire LP of ʽPlanet Caravansʼ, ʽSolitudesʼ, and ʽLaguna Sunrisesʼ with just a couple of ʽWheels Of Confusionʼ in between — but on their first try, Anathema do not seem to be doing a very good job with it. In terms of pure atmosphere, Eternity is indeed a major step forward, and the lack of growling vocals makes it possible to put it on in the neghbors' presence without excessive blushing. But as far as memorable themes or unique personality is concerned, the album is fairly boring. The textures are easily comprehensible — some minor bass chords, some dark acoustic strum, some overdubs with wailing-weeping electric guitars and some distorted feedback for background canvas — but the songs, subsequently, are largely indistinguishable from each other.
The only exception is ʽHopeʼ, sounding more like a righteous prayer than a depressed lament and having the good sense to arm itself with some cool riffs, including a shrill siren-like four-note electric sequence that provides the song with a stronger, calcium-enriched skeleton. Ironically, this is the only song not written by the band — it's a Roy Harper cover, with Harper himself appearing as a guest star with some spoken narration in the intro, which pretty much tells us all we want to know. And speaking of the Harper / Pink Floyd connection (ʽHopeʼ itself was co-written by Harper with Gilmour), yes, Eternity is the first of many Anathema albums where Floyd influence becomes very clearly visible, but it is one thing to be influenced by your predecessors, and quite another thing to show that you yourself are worthy of being influenced by them. As it is, I have not found any particular musical touches on this record that would even begin to approach the melodic genius of Floyd.
They do have the best of intentions, but neither brother Vince's vocals (too dusky and mid-rangey to compete with a Robert Smith, too autumnal and sentimental to have the grip of a Roger Waters) nor brother Danny's guitars (too often relying on metal / alt-rock / ambient-prog clichés) are stunning on their own, and multiplying one so-so by another in this world violates the laws of math: instead of so-so squared, you get the square root of so-so squared. Except in specific cases like the truly awful ʽSuicide Veilʼ, where you put brother Vince totally upfront, so that for most of the time, he just bleeds out of your speakers on a pallet of hushed symph-synths and minimalistic bass — here we have the square root of so-so, period, and a desire to rush him off to the ER as fast as you can, before his veins run empty due to theatrical overcalculation. Elsewhere, he at least operates under a more respectable musical cover (over-emoting on your guitar, for some reason, is always less of a crime than over-emoting on your vocal pipes), but still, that does not make any of these songs easier to describe and identify as specific meaningful entities. The good news is, they would learn to do better in the future; the bad news is, in between their brief wobble on the stepping stone of Silent Enigma and their landing on the relatively safe coast of Alternative 4, they had to make the plunge, and Eternity is it — thumbs down, unless you just happen to be an instant fan of every song that propagates some form of suicide.
P.S. Oh, and, by the way, the producer on this album was Tony Platt — incidentally, the very same guy who was responsible for producing Cheap Trick's The Doctor back in 1986. Coincidence? Not what I'd like to believe, no.