ANATHEMA: SERENADES (1993)
1) Lovelorn Rhapsody; 2) Sweet Tears; 3) J'Ai Fait Une Promesse; 4) They (Will Always) Die; 5) Sleepless; 6) Sleep In Sanity; 7) Scars Of The Old Stream; 8) Under A Veil (Of Black Lace); 9) Where Shadows Dance; 10) Dreaming: The Romance.
Unless you always take your morning coffee with three new lumps of doom metal, there is not much to praise about the debut album of Anathema. The songs are slow, sluggish, monotonous, and topped off with the growling vocals of lead singer Darren White — who, much too often, sounds like the victim of a really bad throat virus rather than a professional demon from Hell (granted, such is the fate of about 80% of «growlers», but it is possible for a really good growler to send shivers down one's spine: all it takes is make yourself sound genuinely aggressive and pissed-off, which is not something this guy White is capable of).
Nevertheless, brothers Vincent and Danny Cavanagh, handling guitar duties, are already showing some signs of being more interested in a «sensitive», progressive sound rather than simply composing the soundtrack for a routine zombie apocalypse. The most heavily promoted track, ʽSweet Tearsʼ, apart from being driven by a curiously «curved» riff, is accompanied throughout with a melodic lead line that occasionally bursts apart in some psychedelic overdubbed fireworks, not to mention the quiet, bass-driven bridge with clean, prayer-like vocals giving you a break from the growl. None of that makes it a great song, because the growling kills one part of the excitement and the repetitiveness finishes off the other, but it does give a hint that these guys really know how to use their guitars, and that all it takes for them to embark on the road for greatness is to get rid of the most annoying clichés of the genre.
There is one song here among the thick pools of sludge that sounds completely different: ʽSleeplessʼ, strange enough, begins like a genuine early Eighties New Wave track, with Cure-like guitars introducing a cold, melancholic mood (and even the tempo being slightly sped up to shake off any doom metal associations), before true metal guitars and growling enter the picture for stylistic correction (and even then they keep moving in and out to keep things interesting). (There is also a short accappella track, sung in French by a female guest vocalist, that introduces an appropriate «dark folk» overtone, but it is too short and interlude-like to be of any serious interest). Everything else, however, is fairly stereotypical and, after a while, just blurs together in a mess that is neither too threatening nor too emotionally resonant — certainly nowhere near as emotionally resonant as the lyrics, all of which deal with loss, tragedy, death, coffins, mourning, endless dreams, etc., would seem to suggest. Not that you could make any of them out with those vocals.
The biggest surprise comes last: pinned to the end of the record is ʽDreaming: The Romanceʼ, a 23-minute long ambient soundscape that sounds like it grew out of the final chord of ʽA Day In The Lifeʼ — just a minimalistic keyboard melody super-slowly unveiling against an oscillating hum in the background. I have no idea why they wanted to go in that direction and play God, that is, Brian Eno after exhausting their current pool of metal riffs, but that's the way it is. Maybe some people do need 23 minutes of New Age sonic textures to relax after 42 minutes of jarring doom metal, except most of them probably do not know it.
All in all, a rather inauspicious start, but I guess they had to start somewhere: Peaceville Records had just picked them up on the strength of their doom metal demos, and they did have to pander to a stereotypical audience for a while. I'm sure a fan of «classic» Anathema could learn to live with Serenades or even love it, but even in a genre as formula-dominated as doom metal there may be standouts, and this one definitely is not, so a thumbs down it is.