ANATHEMA: DISTANT SATELLITES (2014)
1) The Lost Song, Pt. 1; 2) The Lost Song, Pt. 2; 3) Dusk (Dark Is Descending); 4) Ariel; 5) The Lost Song, Pt. 3; 6) Anathema; 7) You're Not Alone; 8) Firelight; 9) Distant Satellites; 10) Take Shelter.
From the band's own statement on their latest studio offering: "Distant Satellites is the culmination of everything Anathema has been working up to so far in our musical path. It contains almost every conceivable element of the heartbeat of Anathema music that it is possible to have. There is beauty, intensity, drama, quietude, and extra musical dimensions that the band have previously only hinted at".
Do you smell bullshit? I'm pretty sure I smell bullshit. While I do admit that Anathema's journey from black doom prophets to harbingers of heavenly bliss has its elements of uniqueness, «extra musical dimensions» is really not the kind of phrase that I would ever allow myself to use in order to describe their music. And considering that Weather Systems was, after all, mostly treading the same path that they had already chosen with We're Here, I have very grave prior doubts that they might have seriously expanded on that atmosphere and musical message, unless they'd once again decided upon changing it to something completely different.
They did not, though, and basically, Distant Satellites is just an echo of Weather Systems — and a fairly boring one at that. I mean, how could it not be, if even its title has the same structure and associations (aren't «distant satellites» used to monitor «weather systems»?), and its first song comes in two parts (okay, three, but the third one is far removed), and the first part is all loud and epic and the second part is all romantic and sentimental? The only reason to make a record like this is if, somehow, you were dissatisfied with its predecessor — and wanted to correct its mistakes. But I did not notice much correction going on here; on the contrary, this time they managed to make an album completely devoid of any particularly interesting moments. The whole thing is «mature-Anathema-by-numbers», completely safe and predictable.
There may be a bit more electronic elements here than usual, particularly in the second half of the album (ʽYou're Not Aloneʼ, title track), implying that they are still being spiritually dominated by Radiohead — Kid A and In Rainbows both come strongly to mind. But the digital sounds are neither used in an innovative manner nor do they make any obvious artistic sense, other than to confirm that this band does live in the 21st century and that God has not, as of yet, indicated his opposition to the use of integrated circuits to sing His glory. And the rest is the rest — romantic piano, lush powerful strings, exalted vocals from the Cavanaghs and lyrical vocals from Lee Douglas, and praise of Love Eternal that has no choice but to shine through the darkness, especially if you've been living on Prozac for the past ten years or so.
Now I know that fans of the band could easily accuse me of being unfairly biased here — after all, even if the record lacks innovation, that does not mean that the Cavanaghs have not written a new set of melodies, completed a new set of arrangements for them, and, after all, if I can give high ratings to three same-sounding AC/DC records in a row, or three same-sounding power-pop albums in a row, what is so wrong about Anathema doing the same thing? The answer, my friends, is wobbling in the wind: Anathema is a band that pursues far more lofty ideals and demands for far deeper emotional reactions than AC/DC or Cheap Trick or The Bats — every single Anathema album is supposed to either plunge in you the depths of utmost despair, or to raise you up to the heights of spiritual catharsis and bliss. And when you see lofty goals like these pursued with blatantly lazy, unchanging, predictable means, album after album after album, the result is anything but a series of profound epiphanies — more like having to go to confession and enduring yet another predictable session with your local priest, who keeps asking you the same questions and giving you the same answers. It ain't fun, it ain't useful, all in all, it's just another brick in the wall.
Unfortunately, from the looks of it, this seems like a formula which Anathema have found addictive — with the band already past twenty years of existence, and most of its members way past 40, I would be extremely surprised to see them turn away and explore a genuinely new direction any time soon (especially considering that, in all fairness, they have already come a very long way from where they started). Those who have honestly admired and loved this new style will have plenty more delightful fruits to reap in the coming years, but I give the album a thumbs down and will give any following album that sounds like this a thumbs down as well — I sort of see the two opposing musical poles of religious ectasy as represented by St Matthew Passion and All Things Must Pass, respectively, and records that try to sound like a hybrid between the two usually end up compromising and embarrassing the ideals of either, so no more, thank you.