Album Review: Anathema – distant satellites

imageProg-metal: the mainstay of nerdy sixth-formers for whom Mike Portnoy’s drum solos bring out cold sweats and frantic discussion is had over which is Opeth’s best record? Well, yes, but don’t let that put you off Anathema’s latest effort ‘distant satellites’, a soaring, coruscating magnum opus that sets its scope far beyond beyond the fret-wanking hallmarks of its genre. The Liverpudlian sextet, composing of three brothers Cavanagh (Vincent, Jamie and Daniel), the Douglas siblings John and Lee and drummer Daniel Cardoso have emerged from their beginnings as doom-metal pioneers to their creative zenith on their tenth record, marrying post-Floydian soundscapes to a stirring movie soundtrack along the lines of Aereogramme’s underrated masterpiece ‘My Heart Has A Wish You Would Not Go’.

While the musical elements of this record are formidable, the band’s greatest calling card is the powerful dual vocal approach of Vincent Cavanagh and Lee Douglas, the male-female dynamic intertwining in perfect harmony. The first two parts of ‘The Lost Song’ begin this record; swelling strings, the soft patter of drums and an insistent piano riff create a rousing atmosphere on ‘Part One’, and the aforementioned vocals synchronise perfectly as guitars crash in, Vincent Cavanagh’s vocal reaching sublimity as he belts out “The fear is just an illusion” – a sentiment far away from their sombre beginnings. Lee Johnson takes centre stage on ‘Part Two’, proving beyond doubt that a lady need not devolve into over-the-top histrionics to sound fantastic in this arena. ‘Dusk (Dark Is Descending)’ completes an astonishing opening trio, introducing darker elements of gothic grandeur into their sound and an element of desperation to Cavanagh’s vocal delivery, culminating in a crescendo based around a melodious piano riff, which increasingly becomes apparent to be the central instrument of choice for this record rather than the guitar, to its benefit.

The third and final part of ‘The Lost Song’ is the trilogy’s finest contribution yet, bringing an emphatic close to the first half of ‘distant satellites’ – majestic in its limitless scope, the end may be ripped straight from the final track of Sigur Ros’ ’( )’ album, but in this case, it’s a forgivable homage. Writing an eponymously-titled track in what is approaching their 25th anniversary as a band (they formed in 1990 as Pagan Angel) may seem odd, but makes sense in the surrounds of a career-defining record. Daniel Cavanagh’s guitar solo is titanic over a backdrop of strings arranged by none other than Eurhythmics’ Dave Stewart, providing yet another peak on this wondrous journey of a record.

On occasion, the band’s willingness to experiment jeopardises the more human side of progressive rock Anathema bring to this record, such as the EDM-based oddness of ‘You’re Not Alone’, but after brief interlude track ‘Firelight’, the titular track brings the curtain down on this awesome record in typically anthemic fashion – whilst it never reaches the post-rock-esque climaxes previous tracks have, the evolution from reflective beginnings into its life-affirming emotional resonance is just as enthralling. The emphatic crescendo and stringed coda of ‘Take Shelter’ closes proceedings on a record that richly deserves to transcend a traditional “metal” audience. This is progressive metal for grown-ups and even if, like me, the words “Dream Theater” bring up a little bit of vomit in your mouth, don’t be put off by the deep space telescope-cum-Dune cover art; ‘distant satellites’ is one to ignore at your peril.


‘distant satellites’ by Anathema is out now on Kscope.

Anathema links: Website|Facebook|Twitter

Words by Ollie Connors (@olliexcore)


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