Anathema – Distant Satellites

8 Production
9 Harmony
8 Mood
8 Guitars
7 Bass
9 Drums
9 Strings
7 Keyboards
8 Electronics
9 Vocals

DISTANT SATELLITES is an album that evokes so many feelings for me. The moment it came out I was still being haunted by 2012’s masterpiece Weather Systems. I was reading everything that was to be found about them on the web and I was slowly treading their back catalogue. Of course I ripped that sucker right from Soundcloud the moment it came out, and I played it, wrongly expecting another Weather Systems.

Anathema have set the bar high, especially with the press release that accompanied the album saying that it would be “the culmination of everything ANATHEMA been working up to so far in our musical path”, and that “It contains almost every conceivable element of the heartbeat of Anathema music that it is possible to have”. If you’re familiar with the emotional power of Anathema’s music, you know that this is a huge statement.

Of course I didn’t get a second ‘Weather Systems’ as Anathema have created many more fine pieces of music before 2012. In 1990, they started out in Liverpool as a death/doom-outfit and already in this period, their music was highly emotional and melancholic. However, with the end of the millennium drawing near, the band shifted towards an alternative metal sound, while the advent of singer Lee Douglas in 2003 would see the band develop the ethereal new prog that they produce today.

RELEASE DATE: 09 June 2014  LABEL: Kscope
Purchase at Official Webstore

‘Distant Satellites’ starts off with two parts of the prog-triptych ‘The Lost Song’, which seems to be modeled after the two songs that open up ‘Weather Systems’ (it seems they really are looking for me to compare the two albums). Part one is a powerful entrance into the world of ‘Distant Satellites’ with strings leading the way for a 5/8 drum pattern, a sweeping piano lead and voice carrying a meaningful lyric: “tonight, I’m free / for the first time, I’ve seen a new life / start to breath”; where ‘Weather Systems’ spoke of dying and about coming to terms with someone passing away, ‘Distant Satellites’ seems to be wanting to move on.

Further on ‘The Lost Song Pt. 1’ culminates into a metallic, grand finale where it is drummer John Douglas and lead singer Vincent Cavanagh who shine through. John has definitely gotten a more prominent feature on ‘Distant Satellites’, not only behind the kit, but also behind the knobs of the drum computer that enters the album later on.

‘The Lost Song Pt. 2’ is quieter, featuring an excellent Lee Douglas whom, with her characteristic vibrato plays the role of a heartbroken lover. Generally speaking both Vincent and Lee have stepped up their singing game and throughout the album their voices continue to carry the songs, each playing distinct parts that sometimes interweave beautifully.

At the first listen ‘Distant Satellites’ doesn’t quite stick with you. At the second or third time you spin the album your mind starts to reach out, emotions connect and fragments of lyrics start to carry distinct and personal meanings. Part of what makes Anathema is the sentiment-laden content of their work, and even though ‘Distant Satellites’ is less emotionally focused than ‘Weather Systems’, the music definitely has the ability to move the listener.

A song that directly touched me was ‘Ariel’. Its opening lines “I found you in the dark / don’t leave me here” immediately make me think of the suicide of Sylvia Plath. Her last collection of poems, which I recently bought, was also called Ariel and the simple wording in which the song continues really touch me on a personal level.

After reaching back to the beginning of the album with ‘The Lost Song Pt. 3’ another emotional anthem hits the listener; ‘Anathema’. A title that radiates both irony and gravity. Irony because the word anathema is used by the Catholic church as a formal term for excommunication, yet the song’s lyrics speak of undying love in spite of failing relationships. Gravity, because dedicating the band’s name to a song gives it a certain status. It indicates that that same song is the definition of everything the band stands for.

‘Anathema’ starts with a simple piano lick with layers of instruments adding until the song culminates in an majestic guitar solo. Stylistically, it reaches back to Anathema’s early years as a death/doom band yet at the same time it seems to reach into untapped resources of emotional power that are yet to be employed. Before the song fades away into a wall of space reverb, Daniel’s guitar cries out, making my heart wonder off to a Peter Gabriel track called ‘Mercy Street’. At the end of the track Gabriel wails his heart out, grieving the suicide of Anne Sexton, another confessional poet whom I genuinely admire.

The middle part of the album is ended by ‘You’re Not Alone’, a song with a seemingly positive message after two songs filled with personal thoughts of grief and suicide. The song title is sung like a mantra, and the repetitive lyrics at first conceal the advent of intense electronic beats. Then the guitar kicks in and the song grows into a cacophony of chaos, making me feel even more hope-depraved. Then the last three songs of the album come in and end the album like a sedated dream where the electronic beats and airy vocals guide the listener on a path to rest.

Listening to ‘Distant Satellites’ was an intense journey, starting out as a weak reflection of ‘Weather Systems’, the album grew better and better with each listen. The question is however, when will it stop getting better?

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