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Friday, November 18, 2016

Anathema: The Silent Enigma

ANATHEMA: THE SILENT ENIGMA (1995)

1) Restless Oblivion; 2) Shroud Of Frost; 3) ...Alone; 4) Sunset Of The Age; 5) Nocturnal Emission; 6) Cerulean Twilight; 7) The Silent Enigma; 8) A Dying Wish; 9) Black Orchid.

And here we have it — a big step forward, as the band gets rid of its lead vocalist and opts for a less clichéd, more ambitious sound. Technically, The Silent Enigma may still be labeled as doom metal, but now it has a significant soft component as well; and guitarist Vincent Cavanagh, taking over the vocal duties, largely dumps the cartoonish guttural growling (possibly just be­cause he was not able to master the technique, but thank God for that anyway) and sings in a vari­ety of tones that range from stone-cold, half-spoken recitals to snarling screaming: still theatrical­ly exaggerated, but at least somewhat relatable, if you make a strong effort to believe that here before you stands a demonically possessed lyrical hero from the Middle Ages.

Not that I am advocating to take this album too seriously: like almost any doom metal, what we have here is an elaborately staged «black mass» performance whose formal aspects (guitar tones, melodic structure, production, overdubbed effects, etc.) are far more alluring than any direct emotional impact. But this particularity only has to be stated once and then discarded as some­thing self-evident — if an album like this truly «rocks your world» and makes you empathize with the protagonist, all I can say is take it easy, brother, we're not quite on the threshold of the Apocalypse yet, and life goes on even after your beautiful long-haired bride, to whom you were going to get married on a lovely, jasmine-scented Sunday morning, expired from bubonic plague while still wearing her wedding dress, and left you forever cursing God's name because that's what everybody does in a situation like this. "My paralysed heart is bleeding", "condemned to misery, restless oblivion forever", "lost deity betrayed my faith", you know the drill.

We'll just push all of that right out of the way and try and concentrate on the music (because, honestly, the album would have worked much better in fully instrumental form). This is where the Cavanaghs begin to develop and exploit some really enticing ideas — ʽRestless Oblivionʼ, for instance, begins with a minute-long soft exposition (a modest and lovely folk-pop guitar melody dominating the waves), then smoothly, but firmly slips into a crushing «ninth-wave-style» metal riff, and then, adopting a weird time signature, begins riding a curious double-tracked guitar sinu­soid that has a certain hypnotic quality to it. With all the interludes and all the alternations be­tween melodic and metallic bits, it's a fairly solid piece of music, with only the silly lyrics and the «possessed» vocals presenting them spoiling the picture (frankly, I'd say that the music on its own does not even properly convey the feeling of bleek despair that the words keep talking about — the melody is disturbing, tempestuous, but not dirge-like, and I'd rather have it left open for free interpretation rather than follow the words directly).

Since the intended mood is quite uniform for all the tracks here, they largely fall into two (and even then, somewhat overlapping) categories — «rowdier» numbers, based on more precisely fleshed-out guitar and bass riffs, and «moodier» numbers, relying more on the atmospherics of multiple sustained notes than on headbanging tricks. Thus, ʽShroud Of Frostʼ is basically just one prolonged guitar wail, with minimal melody and protracted notes that sometimes seem to go on until the amplifier runs out of battery support; unfortunately, since the basic chord sequence is not exactly an emotional rollercoaster, I find the whole thing rather tedious to sit through, and would rather prefer ʽA Dying Wishʼ, which moves along at a higher speed and features a solid chugging riff at its heart (a rather generic one, though, I'm afraid). On the other hand, ʽNocturnal Emissionʼ combines the two aspects well — there's a mournful and menacing bass riff at its core, which is good enough for them to leave it on constant repeat for the last minute of the song as it slowly fades away, but it's not a headbanging riff, more like a hand-of-doom riff.

But on the whole, instrumental and stylistic difference between the various songs is still kept to a minimum, and such little touches of extra color as female dark folk vocals on ʽ...Aloneʼ (the Dear Departed was relieved from post-mortem duty for a bit to make one last phone call to the prota­goinst), or a bass/synth-dominated wordless funeral march on the closing ʽBlack Orchidʼ, do little to change the fact that The Silent Enigma still has tremendous potential to bore you stiff unless you're really really really into the my-dying-bride thing. Consequently, I refrain from giving the record a thumbs up, despite all the good words about certain individual riffs and textures; let us simply agree to call this the band's «teenage» phase, legitimately succeeding its «childhood» phase on Serenades, and then see where it leads to in the future.

P.S. Beautiful album sleeve, though, don't you think?

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