With the current vinyl renaissance in full swing and Peaceville taking full advantage of the opportunity to offer some wonderful collector’s items, the double vinyl edition of Anathema’s latest opus is a thing of beauty both to look at and to listen to. Packaged in a gatefold sleeve which shows off the band’s art (excellently rendered by long-time Porcupine Tree collaborator Lasse Hoile) in all its glory and pressed on to heavy-weight 180gm Vinyl, this is the best way to experience this magnificent set.
It is a long time since Anathema could be called ‘metal’, these days the band exist in a kind of progressive bubble, shielded from the rigours of fashion and producing some of the most timelessly stunning music since Pink Floyd quietly disbanded. Opening with the slow-building ‘thin air’ which builds into a stunning, swirling, psychedelic climax, Anathema’s music is still ‘heavy’ but in an entirely different way to the youthful rumble of ‘Serenades’. ‘Summernight horizon’ is a beautiful track. Based around a scintillating piano lead and some of the finest vocal harmonies this band have ever produced, the pay-off is the furious, guitar-solo laden climax which is both life-affirming and epic in vision. ‘Dreaming light’ is next and it is a testament to the time and care that the band have put into this marvellous record that it continues to the high standard set by the first two tracks. A far quieter track, it is closely allied to the stark beauty of the ‘hindsight’ album released almost two years ago although with a greater emphasis on orchestral moments which perfectly highlight the tune without swamping it entirely.
Side two of the vinyl opens with ‘everything’, a bold, piano-led track that swells into a magnificent, light-filled thing of wonder that in the hands of a lesser band might run the risk of sounding trite, but here sounds as pure as a first glimpse of a new world. It’s beautiful, energizing music that is so caught up in its own sense of awe that you can’t help but be carried along on the wave of euphoria that it provides. The stunning ‘Angels walk amongst us’ utilises the keening guitar sound that the band perfected over the last few albums and harks back to the wonderful ‘Alternative 4’ set. Segueing into a moment of pure pink Floyd which sees a downbeat meditation upon life offset by some gloriously Gilmour-esque guitar work, the track and Side 2 draws to a close with ‘presence’ which is listed as a separate track but which is, in truth, rather a continuation of ‘Angels…’ and which leaves you yearning for more.
Side three offers up the closest Anathema have ever come to sounding like Peaceville label-mates Katetonia, with a rhythmically delivered vocal over the most ephemeral of backdrops, with fleeting hints of melody and guitar atmospherics only coming sharply into focus on the chorus before the whole thing takes a sharp left turn into a Tool-esque break down that sees the guitar drift off into a minor-key exercise in tension building dynamics. It’s a fabulous song that links the metal band of yore with the melodic behemoth they have become. ‘Get off get out’, however, sounds rather like Radiohead, with the title repeated as a mantra over the opening bars of the song before it transforms into a song that is almost sunny pop music if one can imagine such a thing being played by Seattle slow-core merchants Low. The Radiohead comparisons persist with the moments of guitar bluster that sit underneath the distorted vocal lines and oddly-timed drumming.
Side four rounds out the album with two lengthy works – ‘Universal’ and ‘hindsight’ both of which are mini-masterpieces in their own right and are worth the price of the record alone. ‘Universal’ is a dark, orchestral work of exceptional beauty that is possibly the most wondrous track the band have ever done and which builds into a truly colossal progressive work that sees guitars battling for supremacy over the lush backdrop and which could be considered the band’s very own ‘comfortably numb’ – it’s that good. ‘Hindsight’ opens with a collage of sound – snippets of conversation set to an ambient soundtrack before switching tack to become an instrumental coda that is all the more effective for not trying to outdo the stunning ‘Universal’ but which blazes with its own inner light.
Anathema have always been a band capable of drawing upon strong emotions and using them to influence their work, but on this set they have excelled themselves. Far from being a depressing listen, the sound is life affirming and quite, quite brilliant. Rendered with a clarity that is astonishing, Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree has done an amazing job in bringing the record to life with clear, crisp drumming, powerful guitars and the singing reproduced so perfectly it’s as if the band is in the room with you. This is an astonishing record that is without doubt the best work this phenomenal band have produced and which ranks as one of the greatest records to have been produced on this island ever. Subtle, beautiful, simply perfect in every detail, this is Anathema’s masterpiece and to have it on vinyl is the icing on the cake. A gem that will stand the tests of time and be hailed a as classic, you must own this, oh and be warned, it’s a limited edition of 2000 so hurry up!