The tangential development of Anathema, the much loved British doom-turned-progressive rock act, has been an unequivocal joy to behold. From the very early days when the band were most easily identified with fellow British doomsters paradise Lost and My Dying Bride, the band evolved at an alarming rate shedding the metallic elements of their music and replacing them with an aching melancholy and fragile tunefulness that arguably reached its peak on most recent album ‘we’re here because we’re here’, the long-awaited epic set that saw the band working with famed producer/musician Steven Wilson to produce an album of stunning and often heartbreaking beauty.
The journey towards that album saw Anathema unleash ‘Hindsight’, an album of semi-acoustic interpretations of old works. The album was a beautiful work that highlighted the awe-inspiring melodies at the heart of most Anathema compositions and here the band delve further back, to their very earliest days, and rework some of their heaviest material into huge, flowing orchestral compositions that sear the soul with their lush melodies and lyrical depth. Available on both CD and 180grm vinyl (which we are reviewing here), this is a wonderful album that will appeal both to latter-day fans of the band who have, perhaps, avoided the band’s earlier works as well as to long-time fans of the band who appreciate their ability to draw the melodies out of their work and bring them, shining, to the fore.
Opening with a track from their debut EP – ‘Crestfallen’, the album opens with a lone piano before more familiar elements appear in the form of the lush harmonies Anathema perfected on their last studio outing alongside rippling guitar lines and the grandeur of a full string section. It’s a brave, beautiful re-interpretation of a familiar track, yet as the band themselves assert in the thoughtful liner-notes they are doing nothing more than stripping away the layers of heavy guitars to build upon extant melodies within the song, and the result is nothing short of mesmerising. Moving on to their debut full-length (‘Seranades’), the band unveil an epic ‘sleep in sanity’ which segues directly from the opening track (blink and you’ll miss it) so that the music ebbs and flows through the various moods of the songs. ‘Kingdom’ (from ‘Pentecost III’) is next and it is a dark, stark interpretation of the track that we are presented with. There is a haunting slowness, with kettle drums and mournful orchestrations lending it a funereal edge although, even here, with the music at its darkest, the music is still imbued with a subtle sense of hope amidst the despair. It’s hypnotic, stunning, almost overwhelming; and, as with every Anathema release, brimming over with emotion. A much shorter track, ‘they die’ returns to ‘Serenades’ for its inspiration and it proves to be a lush, rich orchestral instrumental that leads to ‘everwake’, the highlight of the first side that features an outstanding contribution from former The Gathering singer Anneke Van Giersbergen. Slightly extended from its original incarnation, ‘Everwake’ is the track that has changed the least, with Anneke recreating the original vocal almost to the note, although she’s much higher in the mix, and the orchestration merely echoing the original synth part although having real instruments playing the parts lends greater depth to the track. It provides a grandiose end to the first side and like the band’s ‘resonance’ compilation, you’re once again struck by the simple beauty that Anathema have always seemed capable of finding even in the depths of misery and torment.
Opening side two is another track from ‘Serenades’ that has not changed over much from its original format in terms of the music although it has nearly doubled in length and the vocals have been removed; ‘Jai fait une promesse’ is now a heart-breakingly beautiful work where before it was simply pretty, and the haunting violins are enough to bring tears to even the most stoic of eyes while the decision to remove the vocals has merely emphasised the beauty of the original melody. Far more epic is the seven-minute rendition of ‘alone’, one of two lengthy tracks from ‘the silent enigma’ here, which sees phased vocals, backwards effects and imaginative percussion used to create a wonderfully creepy sense of atmosphere amidst one of the band’s most progressive tracks. A softer track, ‘we the Gods’ (from ‘Pentecost III’) is an instrumental with a strong soundtrack feel before the band round things out with another seven-minute epic – the stark, heart-rending ‘sunset of age’ (also from ‘the silent enigma’) which succeeds in sounding heavy even without the metallic weight of the guitars deployed. It’s a wonderful finish to an album that is without exception quite outstanding over the course of its thirty-nine minute run time.
It has been many years since Anathema have been a metal band, although they are still most readily accepted by that community, and this release stands as a brave, imaginative and beautiful bridge between the youthful band that recorded the well-written yet stylistically very different songs and the more mature, reflective band that still yearn to play them now, albeit in a vastly altered form. Anathema demonstrate once more that they are not only a band of vision now, but that they have always been so and the music featured here stands as a wonderful counterpart to the much-loved originals. This is a remarkable, elegiac release from a band who consistently confound expectations. Quite simply wonderful.