ANATHEMA: JUDGEMENT (1999)
1) Deep; 2) Pitiless; 3) Forgotten Hopes; 4) Destiny Is Dead; 5) Make It Right (F.F.S.); 6) One Last Goodbye; 7) Parisienne Moonlight; 8) Judgement; 9) Don't Look Too Far; 10) Emotional Winter; 11) Wings Of God; 12) Anyone, Anywhere; 13) 2000 & Gone; 14) Transacoustic*.
Okay, this one's no fun at all. The band's original bass player and one of its chief songwriters, Duncan Patterson, is out of the band to focus on his personal projects (the latest of which, ironically, takes its name from Patterson's finest moment with Anathema — Alternative 4); and his replacement, Dave Pybus, is just a bass player, albeit a pretty good one, with a flair for Gothic vaudevillian lines (the one that drives the short instrumental ʽDestiny Is Deadʼ almost sounds like a tribute to Alice Cooper's ʽWelcome To My Nightmareʼ). This leaves Danny Cavanagh as principal songwriter, and he takes the band into even less metallic territory that they covered on Alternative 4 — if the latter could still be called «heavy progressive rock» with some metal influences, Judgement is more like «dark Goth-folk» with occasional moments of heaviness.
Unfortunately, in the process most of the sharp edges have been smoothed out, and the theatrical suspense that made Alternative 4, at the very least, curious, has all but disappeared. In its place is a hazy, light, stable atmosphere of soft postmortem depression, largely generated by medievalistic folk acoustic guitars, wrapped in thin cloaks of synthesizer textures — and hardly spoiled whenever they decide to pump in a little adrenaline by turning into a more or less generic alt-rock band and churning out those faceless three-chord distorted riffs, because this is just a temporary trick for them now; all these chuggin'-heavy interludes are only there so that the album wouldn't all blur together in one huge cloud of dark-folk.
There's enough good taste retained for none of this to sound too irritating. Brother Vincent, now singing with clean vocals exclusively, prefers to be quiet and mournful rather than try to scale operatic heights. Synthesizers are used sparingly and almost never overshadow the «natural» flow of acoustic and electric guitars (and even when they do, it is only to offer a memorable musical theme — ʽMake It Rightʼ). The Pink Floyd influence continues to grow (ʽWings Of Godʼ), but is never strong enough to push the brothers off their own path. And yet, not even a single one of the tracks manages to come close to the intensity of ʽFragile Dreamsʼ.
One track that does stand out from the rest is ʽParisienne Moonlightʼ, continuing their tradition of inserting a bit of womanly sorrow and gentleness into their sagas of male grief — here, Danny Cavanagh sings a brief piano-backed duet with Lee Douglas that does have a bit of French flair to it, but mostly, you know, since all of their albums are about the living male grieving about the loss of his female companion, they need to hold at least one seance with the participation of the dearly departed female companion, and Lee Douglas makes a cool ghostly apparition for two minutes, really getting into the act. "You cried with me, you would die for me", she soothingly consoles our hero, but he'd not, really, he'd much rather sing for her until the end of the world.
Maybe the title track, which comes right after, should be considered another standout — it begins like almost everything else, another acoustic dirge, but eventually there's a crescendo of sorts, the song picks up a faster tempo and, two minutes into the song, we get a fast, agitated, rocking part with almost punkish energy. Problem, though: it is a mind-numbingly repetitive part, with the same rhythm pattern flogged on and on and on for more than two minutes. Not even a solo! Not even an unpredictable key change! Just on and on and on — and that, perhaps, is what bugs me the most about this music in general: it is far too unadventurous and far too «ambient-oriented» to involve my attention rather than involuntarily shut it off at about one minute into each and every one of these songs.
In the end, Judgement is what it is: a poor man's Pink Floyd as seen through the eyes of a formal doom metal band, just deprived of (possibly) its most inventive creative member. Totally listenable, but the music neither manages to properly daze and confuse me nor shatter my emotions, and I have no choice but to consider it a serious step down after the ear-bitter-candy elements of Alternative 4. But I do admit that, conceptually, it is quite loyally executed and certainly has a lot of appeal for those who take this style really seriously. The very fact that you can record an hour-long album channelling the spirits of all the Gothic pulp novel writers who ever lived and get away with it without too much embarrassment confirms that there just might be something there — it's just not a kind of something that's strong enough to stir anything within me.