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Friday, January 6, 2017

Anathema: We're Here Because We're Here

ANATHEMA: WE’RE HERE BECAUSE WE’RE HERE (2010)

1) Thin Air; 2) Summernight Horizon; 3) Dreaming Light; 4) Everything; 5) Angels Walk Among Us; 6) Presence; 7) A Simple Mistake; 8) Get Off, Get Out; 9) Universal; 10) Hindsight.

Seven years, apparently, is what it takes to come back to the light — a spiritual journey under­taken in order to finally find an answer to the question that had been bugging the Cavanaghs ever since they began to think of themselves as artists: «what the hell are we doing here at all?» And now, in 2010, that answer is staring right at you from the front cover. No, they did not exactly find Jesus (although that, too, could be suspected because of the walking-on-water image), but at least they found Steven Wilson, who is a much better mixer than Jesus ever was, and who could steer them in the blessed direction more efficiently than any religious guru.

I gotta say, I can't help admiring these guys for making the transition. Nothing is easier these days than cling to an established formula to the death, and there will always be a market for new and new albums about disillusionment, desperation, and dead brides as long as there remains a market for anything musical at all. But somehow, upon completing A Natural Disaster, the Cavanaghs decided that it was time to break the circle, and begin looking for positive answers, no matter how deeply entrenched they'd become in transcendental misery. The prevailing mood still retains a tinge of sadness, but now it comes mixed with a «glorious» feel that begins with the album's title, song names like ʽAngels Walk Among Usʼ, and music that borrows more from the post-rock idiom of Godspeed You! Black Emperor than the dark musings of Floyd and Radiohead, albeit still very much dependent on vocal work (especially now that drummer John Douglas' sister, Lee Douglas, joins the band as a permanent new member — more often double-tracking or backing up Vincent's vocals for extra angelic effect rather than singing lead).

Steven Wilson, who was already beginning to make headlines as the remixing wonder of the century (producing remixes of classic Caravan, King Crimson, and Jethro Tull albums, among other things), operates in George Martin capacity for this record — his mix ensures that none of the instruments, including plenty of acoustic and electric guitar overdubs as well as grand pianos and electronic strings, merge together in one big sonic glop, which is a fairly common bane for many neo-prog artists. The underlying idea was to make a record that, through sheer sonic bliss, would remind one of the Eternal Bliss, and, technically speaking, that goal was achieved. On the very first track, ʽThin Airʼ, the band presents an impressive cobweb of sound, or, should I rather say, a mighty racetrack of sound, with guitars, keyboards, and vocals all racing parallel to each other, gradually rising in a powerful crescendo — and the song's lyrics complete the rebirth-in-death of the Anathema protagonist, who is now only too happy to join his beloved in death under «a promise of heaven».

So much for the good stuff: We're Here represents a brave new beginning, and its concept is immaculately planned and executed. The problem is that, unfortunately, not even Steven Wilson is capable of turning the Cavanaghs into exciting and/or inspiring songwriters. The keys and moods may have changed, but the basic premise remains the same: each of the songs is built around one (sometimes two, if the track is long enough to allow for a key change midway through) base chord sequence, which is then milked for trance-inducing emotional splendor, usually by having it played by three or four instruments at once. These songs are quite lengthy (5 to 7 minutes on average), and the only dynamic development that one usually gets out of them is the crescendo effect (on about half of the songs, but reaching a proverbial climax on ʽUniversalʼ). Ironically, though, once again they sound in this like a poorboy equivalent of somebody else — for instance, the above-mentioned GY!BE, who must have undoubtedly been one of the crucial influences on the album (even in its purely ambient-atmospheric interludes with spoken philo­sophical overdubs, like ʽPresenceʼ, featuring a metaphysical lesson from Stan Ambrose).

I understand what it is they are trying to do, and, once again, can bring myself to respect it (espe­cially because they do not stoop to, say, generic Christian rock), but not a single one of these songs is capable of actually moving me the way that, say, George Harrison's All Things Must Pass can — in fact, whenever I try to stay focused on any of this stuff, I get proverbially bored, just because each new song becomes fully predictable in a matter of seconds. At least GY!BE had a knack for seeking out truly excellent chord sequences and then giving them the full royal treatment: the Cavanaghs, in comparison, settle for palliatives (that Chopinesque piano riff on ʽUniversalʼ sounds nice, but it never really goes anywhere or resolves itself into anything worthy of attention) and make blissful muzak that never reaches the epic heights of GY!BE and is even less capable of competing with classic prog.

I realize that such is their schtick, and that, having spent all their previous career building up largely static sound panoramas, they have no reason to change that approach to something more dynamic even now that they have seen the light. But that does not mean that we really have to settle for anything less than the best there is, and the only thing that is truly «best» about this new "life is eternal!" approach of theirs is Steven Wilson's mix. It also goes without saying that this whole new metaphysical twist is every bit as unoriginal and clichéd as their «dying bride»-era creations. Last spoken lines of the album: "And if you could love enough, you would be the hap­piest and most powerful person in the world" — excuse me?.. Okay, okay, so they have this «you can never say too much about the need for love» agenda now, but couldn't they at least say it in a slightly more elaborate musical language? 

2 comments:

  1. Am I the only one who looked at the title and thought of the clown from the Twilight Zone episode "Five Characters In Search Of An Exit"?

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    1. I didn't at first -- now I always will. Nice. That's one of my favorite episodes.

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