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Friday, December 30, 2016

Anathema: Hindsight


1) Fragile Dreams; 2) Leave No Trace; 3) Inner Silence; 4) One Last Goodbye; 5) Are You There?; 6) Angelica; 7) A Natural Disaster; 8) Temporary Peace; 9) Flying; 10) Unchained (Tales Of The Unexpected).

After the release of A Natural Disaster, Anathema took a long break from releasing new LPs, but this seems to have been largely caused by technical reasons — such as the closing down of their record label, Music For Nations, upon which they found it hard to negotiate another contract, seeing as how their albums had always had only a minor cult following, and even all that gloomy Floyd/Radiohead vibe did not manage to attract a sufficient number of Thom Yorke devotees. (Should have known better than to establish their initial reputation as a death metal band — it's like a porn actor's struggle to start a new life in mainstream cinema). They even had to resort to Internet publishing at one time, recording and promoting occasional songs on a minor basis, but eventually managed to capture the attention of Kscope, a small label originally established by Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree and largely used to promote «neo-prog» artists, a role for which the new weep-and-moan-based Anathema fully qualified.

Their first project for the new label was, however, quite tentative: a compilation of re-recorded older «classics» in de-electrified versions — acoustic guitars, pianos, strings (including heavy participation of the band's friend Dave Wesling on cello). A symbolic move on their part, it was clearly supposed to confirm and strengthen their conversion to symph-prog values, focusing all our attention on the Ethereal Beauty of the world-weary melodies instead of the power roar of the metal guitars — sure it was highly restricted on the past two or three records already, but this is the first time that they have completely eliminated anything that could even vaguely remind us of their metallic past. Here, you are simply expected to sit back, relax, wallow in the sorrow, and appreciate them for the tragic romantic melodicists that they are.

Unfortunately, I cannot say that the elimination of electric distortion has resulted in making their songs better or worse, with one exception — I am fairly certain that I would have thought much less of ʽFragile Dreamsʼ, had I first heard it in this toothless arrangement. Wesling captures the spirit of the original riff just fine on his cello, but it was the power onslaught of guitars and drums that truly made it work, and this pensive, indecisive reimagination of the theme just guts it out: when we begin working in «piano trio» mode or something like that, you expect far more depth and melodic complexity, and that is hardly Anathema's forte.

Everything else, despite all the rearrangement work, is just about as good or bad as its former electric counterparts — I cannot say that Wesling's cello or anything else brings out any particu­larly subtle / hidden nuances in the tracks. Actually, it is puzzling why they decided to concen­trate on relatively recent material from the past two albums, what with its being «soft» in the first place: this version of ʽA Natural Disasterʼ, for instance, is practically indistinguishable from the original, and the fact that ʽAre You There?ʼ now has a prominent acoustic guitar part replacing cloudy synthesizers changes nothing about the basic emotional perception of the ballad. It would have been far more fun if they'd returned all the way back to Serenades, and offered us some recreations of their heaviest melodies — but the earliest reinvented song here is ʽAngelicaʼ from Eternity, which already heralded their transformation.

As is usual in such cases, the album does feature exactly one new song, to give a bit of an incen­tive for veteran fans — ʽUnchainedʼ is another acoustic guitar / piano / cello ballad with an over­all pretty sound, but hardly worth getting particularly excited about. And speaking in general, I am not really disappointed, because everything is executed in Anathema's usual good taste. Clever mixing, giving each instrument its own voice; restrained, pleasant lead vocals with a touch of nobility and no signs of crude emotional manipulation; excellent string parts — all in all, this is yet another high-quality mood soundtrack to that never ending funeral party. It's just that, plugged or unplugged, Anathema have always been and will probably forever be a band that is way too trapped by formula and way too unencumbered by artistic imagination.


  1. Let's see. 3 letters of the alphabet in 6 years. P is the 16th letter. I am fully expecting and looking forward to your Porcupine Tree reviews in 39 years.

    1. You are forgetting all the new releases, anthologies, and new bands from A to ??? that will continuously be released and reviewed. The sun will swallow the Earth before this noble madman ever gets to P.