ANATHEMA: UNIVERSAL (2013)
1) Untouchable, Part 1; 2) Untouchable, Part 2; 3) Thin Air; 4) Dreaming Light; 5) Lightning Song; 6) The Storm Before The Calm; 7) Everything; 8) A Simple Mistake; 9) The Beginning And The End; 10) Universal; 11) Closer; 12) A Natural Disaster; 13) Deep; 14) One Last Goodbye; 15) Flying; 16) Fragile Dreams; 17) Panic; 18) Emotional Winter / Wings Of God; 19) Internal Landscapes; 20) Fragile Dreams 2.
The title and track listing for Anathema's first live album may be a little confusing. Apparently, it was first released under the title Untouchable, on four sides of vinyl, with 12 tracks in all. Later, the entire concert, recorded at the Theatre of Philippopolis in Plovdiv, Bulgaria (don't ask me why, but I guess it has something to do with traditional Eastern European and Soviet enthusiasm for mass-marketed Crunchy Spiritual Rock), was released on DVD and Blu-ray under the title of Universal — and some of the video editions also featured the entire audio of the concert, which comes up to a whoppin' two hours and sixteen minutes of Anathema bliss. This is the edition I will be talking about: I couldn't bear watch the entire show (spirituality overload!), but I did listen to the entire concert, though, frankly, I'm not sure why.
Because even with the Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra accompanying these guys, their live shows (at this point, at least — I have no idea about the early doom metal days) merely recreate the studio originals, as close as possible, which is still not close enough if you remember that they have no Steven Wilson with them on stage. Some of the trickiest studio overdubs cannot be recreated at all (for instance, the «electric storm» in ʽThe Storm Before The Calmʼ, here pretty much shorn of the electronics that made that instrumental interlude so great), and those that can... well, since this is not about improvisation, or about toughening up the original sound, or about giving the songs additional dimensions, all you can say is, "gee, well, at least here's proof that somebody actually loves Anathema!" Because the audience does go wild.
At the very least, they could have arranged an interesting setlist — seeing as how Anathema's entire career gradually and logically went from «pitch black» to «moody dark» to «light angelic», it would have been a great idea to arrange the whole show in precisely that order: start off with some early metal, then gradually lighten up and land the show with ʽUniversalʼ or any of those other anthemic we-saw-the-light tracks. Instead, they do exactly the opposite: the first half of the show consists of almost nothing but songs from the last two albums, and the second half consists of a bunch of earlier hits, so that you start out with hope and finish with despair — how rational is that, given that the band's current agenda is to give hope rather than take it away? I admit that there are no reasons whatsoever to expect particularly intelligent decisions about musical logistics from a band as naively idealistic as Anathema, but come on guys — do not undermine your own artistic ideology at least.
No comments on individual songs whatsoever, but I am glad that the album is an official acknowledgement of the fact that ʽFragile Dreamsʼ is this band's quintessential signature song for all times: not only do they finish the show with it, but they play two versions of it (first the reworked soft one and then the original hard one). Allegedly the fans were quite happy about it. Everything was nice, the vibes were great, the band members were very polite and friendly, we all went to Heaven and back, and the degree of spiritual enlightenment in the country of Bulgaria temporarily went through the roof, even though the ancient Theatre of Philippopolis probably does not have a roof, which makes things even easier. Bottomline: you probably had to be there to make the experience worthwhile, but then why on Earth should anyone bother going to an Anathema concert? They don't even provide space for a mosh pit or anything.