Four Anathema Albums

Although the band Anathema has since gone down a much more atmospheric and melodic route with their music, it’s important to note that the group began as one of the pioneers of death doom metal, a style of music similar in its melancholic feeling to what Anathema has done more recently, but much heavier and darker in the one it is executed. With a few demos and this debut ‘Serenades’, Anathema would be setting the groundwork for a style that has since become much more popular by the likes of bands like Swallow the Sun. Although ‘Serenades’ is a classic work for its development in that doom metal sound, it is an incredibly hit-or-miss ordeal throughout, and may be better appreciated for its place in history than as a listening experience of its own.

Fronted by growler Darren White, the sound of Anathema at this time is generally very heavy, downtempo and foreboding, using equal mesaures of the doom metal style innovated by Black Sabbath, and the newer death metal sound to create something that is dark, solemn and full of sadness. The album unfortunately however falls into a weak standing for its lack of cohesion and flow as an album; although Anathema is making some great steps forward with music here, they fail to create a piece of work that is bound together tightly. Instead, what we have here is a collection of tracks that range from excellence to somewhat boring exercises in distorted heaviness. The album’s opener ‘Lovelorn Rhapsody’ has since become a classic song for death doom; a piece of music that cycles through darkness and beauty very powerfully. The real hit here however is ‘Sleepless’, a much more melodic and concise track than most on ‘Serenades’, featuring a post-punk mentalitty that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Cure album. Besides that, the songs here so consistent, although moments arise where the more melodic beauty overpowers the raw heaviness. ‘They Die’ features a symphonic end that is a really nice breath of fresh air for the sound, and ‘Under A Veil’ has some beautiful guitar harmonies to work with.

Another issue is the weak production of the album here, which at times works quite well, but the heavier sections generally suffer as a result . Darren White’s vocals are also quite inconsistent as a vocalist; at times his voice can make some really great growls that only add to the vibe of the music, and at others sound like nothing more than an adolescent whisper.

A disappointing album considering its great importance to the development of doom metal as it is heard today, but it is not without a few gems.

There have been few bands that have moved me on an emotional level to the extent that Anathema have with their music. Their gorgeous blend of art/alternative rock with the anguishing atmosphere of doom metal works very well, and consistently works as a vessel to help the listener feel some of the most sad, beautiful feelings around.

The album is very good in it’s composition and performance. While I wouldn’t necessarily call this music prog, theres more than enough intelligence in it to keep things interesting and not feel like a guilty-pleasure of sorts. While many prog bands feel the obligation to resort to the lowest common denominator and relingquish songwriting excellence with mindless soloing and wankery, Anathema manages to refrain, and keep the extent of their playing within the context of the song. This alone is a pretty refreshing change.

If I was to describe the music here, there’s a strong influence of Pink Floyd here, mixed with a gothic/doom metal sensibility, with strong overtones of depression, loss and anguish. This is definately not music that would play at a dance club (although there was ever a spin of ‘Inner Silence’ at a club, I would be pleasantly suprised!) This is music to listen to while in reflection. While the recurring theme here is definately one of anguish, there are hints of hope and wavering optimism in some of the melodies (‘Destiny’ or ‘Inner Silence,’ for example.) While all but one (the weak point being the overdrawn ‘Feel’) song here are excellent, the two highlights would most likely be ‘Re-Connect’ and ‘Inner Silence,’ the latter of which being quite possibly the most moving song I’ve ever heard that’s three minutes long.

The only issue with ‘Alternative 4′ is that at times it can get overly morose and angsty. Compared to later works such as the magnificent ‘A Natural Disaster,’ it seems a bit immature. At first, I rated this album five stars, but after a few months (and after buying their later material as well) I realized that ‘Alternative 4′ was, in fact flawed. The first impression was one of total awe though.

‘Alternative 4′ is a testament of proof that music is still alive, even in this gloomy age. A bit morose and immature at times, but beautiful.

This is without a doubt, the perfect example of Anathema’s musical style and strength as a band. Despite the high amount of acclaim that ‘Alternative 4′ receives, I don’t find it to be a very strong album despite a few excellent tracks, but ‘Judgement’ really shows the band maturing and chanelling their depressive tendencies in a way that’s not juvenile or irritating, but instead veyr beautiful and moving.

This is certainly a far cry from the band’s doom metal origins, but the same sense of dread is still here in full. Having reached the pinnacle (thus far) of their career, there’s the perfect balance of Anathema’s traits here. There’s a bit of a metal, experimental sound; but filled with gorgeous melodic hooks and rhythms.

‘Judgement’ is filled to the brim with great, soulful tracks; although the second half of the album starts to lack the same stunning flow the first half did. If I had to choose some great songs that uninitiated listeners could sample out; the songs ‘Deep,’ ‘Forgotten Hopes’ and ‘One Last Goodbye’ are all incredibly emotional and powerful, especially the last one mentioned…

‘One Last Goodbye’ certainly stands as being one of the very few songs I’ve ever heard that was perfect. Despite it only being 6 minutes long, it has such a haunting melody, and each note; each subtle nuance the song has it’s place. The only other song I could really call ‘perfect’ is ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen, but that’s another story…

When one says ‘progressive metal,’ this definately does not fit the traditional bill. It’s a much different brand of music than your typical Dream Theater or Symphony X. There are metallic elements, but there’s no space left for mindless fills; only pure and emotionally charged songwriting.

Realms ahead of most music out there in terms of emotion and effect. Absolutely superb.

In releasing another album, another evolution occurs. This can be said for almost every Anathema release, but ‘A Fine Day To Exit’ signifies the end of the doom phase for Anathema, a phase that (to this point) encompasses much of the band’s history. ‘Eternity’ showed the band beginning to adopt ‘post metal’ into their mix; and this fine album shows yet another development in the bands sound; losing the metal for a more mellow and down-to-earth approach.

What used to be the band that innovated one of the most grim genres on the planet has now changed into something that I’m sure even the ‘indie’ kids could now appreciate. ‘A Fine Day To Exit’ is by no means a commercial album; but it does have alot more of an accesible sound than even the predecessor ‘Judgement’ had. What we have here are songs that resonate a warm but haunting art-rock sound.

As far as the songs themselves go, many of the songs are fantastic, with there being only a few moments of exception (‘Panic’ and ‘Looking Outside Inside’ both do very little for me.) Still, the band has seen better days. ‘A Fine Day To Exit’ has not the paralyzing moments of inspiration that ‘Judgement’ had, nor the overall album cohesion of ‘A Natural Disaster’ but it’s a fine album for those looking for a good, melancholic art-rock album to get into, and a fitting gateway for one of the most emotive bands out there.

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