Album Review: Anathema – Distant Satellites (2014)

“And it makes me wanna cry

We’re just distant satellites”

I am only a very recent addition to Anathema’s fanbase. My brother told me to listen to ‘Untouchable Part 1’ from Weather Systems and I was instantly hooked. Although it could easily be argued that they are formulaic, what a formula! I’ve never listened to a band who could move me so quickly and so often with their music. The crescendos, the amazing vocal powers of Vincent Cavanagh and Lee Douglas, and the lyrics often dealing with dreams, light, love and loss all combine to create a near perfect combination.

Their most recent album, Distant Satellites, begins in a similar way to the previous one: with a two part song. This time it’s ‘The Lost Song’, a song that seems to be structurally very similar to ‘Untouchable’ in that the first part crescendos into an epic finale and is then followed by a softer, mellower second part. This may cause a problem for some people, diehard fans expecting something new, perhaps, but ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ I say. It’s a great opener to the album and ‘Dusk (Dark Is Descending)’ follows it sublimely with great vocal harmonies and a typical Anathema crescendo (I have a feeling this word will be used a lot…), although I do find it harder to get into. Some Anathema songs are favourites after one listen, but others do take their time before I can fully enjoy them. This is no bad thing, merely a (probably quite inane) observation.

‘Ariel’ is my favourite song from the album, and one I can’t wait to see live. I love the opening piano melody and the softly sung vocals, “I found you in the dark”, which will later be majestically shouted (during that crescendo, believe it or not), a point in the song in which I always have to stop what I’m doing, clench my fist and join in. This is what good music is all about, who cares if structurally it’s similar to many other songs, I can lose myself in the moment and feel the power of the music. The call and response between Cavanagh and Douglas towards the end of the song is truly the high point of the album.

‘The Lost Song’ is then concluded in part three, which is the weakest part. Snugly fit between the superior ‘Ariel’ and Prog Awards’ Anthem of the Year ‘Anathema’ it often passes by almost unnoticed on the album. ‘Anathema’ is a terrifically moving song, Cavanagh’s heart-wrenching cries of “I loved you” tell a story of a broken relationship. Simple yet incredibly powerful lyrics and dark, melancholic music combine to make what can only be described as an emotional powerhouse of a song.

“But we laughed
And we cried
And we fought
And we tried
And we failed”

Unfortunately here the album takes a downwards turn. ‘You’re Not Alone’ has never rubbed me up the right way and I often find myself skipping it. It is slightly discordant and very fast paced, which makes it seem a lot longer than 3 minutes 27 seconds. It doesn’t go anywhere and adds little to the album as a whole. ‘Firelight’ is another short track, and this time an instrumental. It serves more of a segue and introduction to ‘Distant Satellites’ and after the cacophony that is ‘You’re Not Alone’, it’s a nice respite and even conjures up imagery when you listen to it with ‘firelight’ in mind. It flows into the title track which begins with an electronic drum beat. I think, in moderation, electronic drums can be very effective. Marillion infrequently use them to great effect, and even Dream Theater in their last couple of albums have started to utilise them. It’s a good song and the drums that bring in the second half are another highlight of the album for me. As a drummer I enjoy a good syncopated rhythm and it’s refreshing as up until this point, drummer Daniel Cardoso’s playing has been fairly vanilla. I understand there’s a time and a place for mad drumming, but the odd crazy fill here and there doesn’t detract from the music (I’m looking at you too, Ian Mosley).

‘Take Shelter’ is a really beautiful song and a fitting album closer. Musically it is very subtle at the beginning and in true Anathema style it builds and builds and leaves the album on a joyful, optimistic high. Lyrically however, it is quite dark.

“Golden summer skies
Shadows form and dance and die”

A soaring, orchestral melody ends the song not leaving the listener wanting more, but leaving them completely fulfilled. ‘Soaring’ is the right word to describe this album, and Anathema’s music. The musicians play their respective roles perfectly, much like Marillion; they play what is necessary and can step into the background if they know it fits the music, but are all very talented, above all the singers. Filled with emotional ups and downs, Distant Satellites is a very well constructed album, and despite not being perfect, one feels satisfied after listening to it through. I’m seeing Anathema in Manchester this Tuesday and expect to be well and truly emotionally drained afterwards. If they can move me the way they do on record, I can only begin to imagine what they can do live, in a room surrounded by people feeling the same.

Stand-out Tracks: Ariel, Anathema, Take Shelter



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