Album Review: Anathema – Distant Satellites

Originally a doom metal band, Anathema have undergone two transformations, the first into an alternative rock band and the second into a fully fledged progressive rock act. Since the second rebirth of Anathema in 2010, the British band have been on a upward trajectory with their ethereal brand of progressive rock. We’re Here Because We’re Here found the band playing around with ethereal elements, before 2012’s Weather Systems fully embraced the post-rock and orchestral ideology.

Distant Satellites, Anathema’s tenth album, once again sees the band evolve their sound further. Like Weather Systems it is an album of beauty, but with more dark corners and creeping shadows than its predecessor. Another similarity to 2012’s release is the inclusion of a multi-parted track to introduce the record. The Lost Song is this record’s Untouchable, with aural crescendo’s, an uplifting atmosphere and the beautiful marriage of the voices of Lee Douglas and Vincent Cavanagh. However, the third segment of The Lost Song, which is separate from the other two, feels isolated and lost within the record. It is more rock-orientated than its sister tracks, with chugging guitars, a prominent bass line and a driving drum beat, but the track feels tired as it reaches its climax and sadly exhausts the Lost Song theme.

Thankfully, Dusk and Ariel keep Anathema’s sprawling imagination in a tight package. Dusk is a song of two halves; the first harder hitting, with Cavanagh’s frantic vocals in the chorus contrasting perfectly with the piano-led beauty of the second half. The piano foundation continues on with Ariel, which takes a simple motif and moulds it into an epic piece topped with Douglas’ gorgeous vocals.

As the record progresses into its second half, the darker aspects of Anathema’s sound began to creep in. Anathema has a dark and brooding atmosphere underneath a repeating and haunting piano arpeggio, which is mirrored by a clever drum beat that begins with a tom roll. Naming a track after the band is a risky decision, but on this instance it paid off, as Anathema perfectly defines the band. Cavanagh’s vocals in the verse are superb and the track is concluded with a striking string riff and a signature sustain-dripped guitar solo from Daniel Cavanagh.

This darkness is carried through onto You’re not Alone, which besides the heavy distorted guitar riff that concludes the track, also features Cavanagh’s faster whispered vocals, which haven’t appeared on record for over a decade (since Panic and Pulled Under at 2000 Metres A Second from A Fine Day To Exit and A Natural Disaster). This track also expands upon the electronic aspects that appeared on The Storm Before The Calm, by successfully weaving electronic drum beats into Anathema’s atmospheric sound.

This almost-Radiohead dynamic continues on with Distant Satellites, which is preceded by Firelight, an atmospheric instrumental introduction comprised of sustained swells. Distant Satellites is the highlight of the album and is almost unrecognisable from the Anathema heard on Weather Systems. The track is heavily based in trance, utilising repetitive structures and a bass groove to make the longest track onto the album seem half its length. A similar theme is evident on the final track Take Shelter; a Sigur Ros post-rock sound evolves into an orchestral haze accompanied by more electronic beats.

Although Distant Satellites begins with an almost identical sound to Weather Systems, Anathema quickly begin to incorporate a darker musical tone, made up of sinister atmospheres, haunting vocals, the inclusion of electronic beats and a greater reliance on some of the elements from their alternative rock days. Distant Satellites is the most comprehensive album they have produced since A Natural Disaster, but manages to stay focused by gradually evolving their sound throughout the record, resulting in yet another sonic masterpiece.

Overall: 8/10

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