Review by Scott Kelly
To describe briefly the legacy and musical stylings of a band like Anathema is a seemingly impossible task. With a collection of work that spans over 20 years, the resulting musical growth is both visceral and profound. Many average music fans would be hard pressed to experience such creative growth while following the life of some of their favorite bands. We often find ourselves criticizing a band’s second or third release with a quick-to-the-trigger attitude, dismissing the underlying personal and artistic change because this new piece of work is not the album we were expecting. “It wasn’t the album that defined my youth,” or, “It wasn’t the album I lost my virginity to.” But here and now, are you the same person you were when that album touched your life? Have you not since grown and matured, nor felt the stings and sorrows of life’s complexities? To so readily dismiss the artist expression of a group is to depreciate the value of growth and change alike. And yet here we are with Anathema’s 15th release. Listening to an album like Distant Satellites is to hear fully how 20 years of musical and personal growth culminates, and the result is both complex and intense.
Reigning from Liverpool, England, the group initially formed in 1990 with a sound much heavier and aggressive, but with an emotional fingerprint that has not since been forgotten. Over the years their progression as a doom metal band began to mature. Symphonic elements were added, and as members filtered in and out the group continued to experiment with musical elements both personal and complex. It was in 2010 with the release of their 8th studio album We’re Here Because We’re Here, that Anathema defined themselves as one of the world’s prominent progressive metal bands. To even describe them as metal feels awkward, but with the overdriven driving power of both drums as guitars, performed by the Cavanagh brothers, Vincent and Danny, and Daniel Cardosa, the description holds relevance. Recorded in Oslo, Norway with friend and producer Christer-André Cederberg, Distant Satellites is the follow up to their 2012 release, Weather Systems, an equally powerful record. Where Distant Satellites stands apart is in its emotional quality. The musicianship and songwriting continues to demand attention, but the melancholic depth resonates with sorrow and longing, while lifting the album to joyous heights as well.
“Lost in Song part 1” and “Lost in Song part 2” are a great beginning to the record. The thematic development is moody and hypnotic -- almost haunting. As the drums kick in, I’m engaged and impressed with the virtuosity of Cardosa, as well as his ability to not distract from the piece as a whole. The vocal strength of both Vincent Cavanagh and female vocalist Lee Douglass is evident, and their harmonies intertwine wonderfully to create an ethereal atmosphere. The lyrics themselves hold weight as well, capturing the beautiful melancholy with the repeated phrase “This feeling is just an illusion…”, lasting with the listener, even as the track fades.
“Dusk (dark is ascending)” is a perfect example of the mature guitar work that can be found throughout the album, showcasing talent both learned and exploratory. Its dark and ambient vibe driven to the heart with a bold and aggressive bass line, and the main climax of the song opens up into an ending that contrasts strikingly with the dark beginnings of the song. “Anathema” is another track that exemplifies the growth of the band itself, embracing their doom metal roots with a brilliant guitar solo to cap off the song that only helps to enhance the aesthetic as a whole.
Songs such as “You’re Not Alone,” and the title track “Distant Satellites” show the listener a side of the band that helps to set this album apart from all their others. Their experimentation with acoustic and electronic percussion, surely the work of John Douglass, provides an eclectic and almost Nine Inch Nails-like vibe to the album; a welcomed and exciting change. As a personal favorite, “Distant Satellites” combines electronic elements with chordal motifs that many progressive ambient bands long to achieve. The vocal work and lyrical composition add greatly to the minimalistic song, and provide it with depth and emotion. The work of vocalist Lee Douglass is not to be overlooked, as well. Though mentioned earlier with her work as a backup vocalist, she shines bright and powerful with songs such as “Ariel,” and “Lost Song part 2.”
When listening to an album like Distant Satellites, it is best to appreciate the album in its entirety. The development that takes place over minutes at a time can be slow and drawn out, but with intent and purpose each theme takes on a life of its own. Emotions are elicited that the listener may not have expected. From quiet sorrow and longing to powerful and driving elation, the entire spectrum of emotion is here. If you’re a fan of tech metal, death metal, or thrash metal, Anathema may not be your cup of tea, but if you’re a music lover above all else then you will surely enjoy Distant Satellites. For fans of Katatonia, Porcupine Tree, and even the heavier and more experimental elements of bands like Sigur Ros, Anathema’s new album will provide you with a soundtrack that will take you to the depths of personal expression.
Listen to "Distant Satellites"