Anathema’s career over their twenty four year existence has taken them through several stylistic shifts. From their gloomy death/doom metal beginnings, through the angsty emotional rock of their middle albums, they’ve arrived at a style seeing them combine progressive rock with a dense uplifting atmosphere in this decade starting with 2010’s brilliant We’re Here Because We’re Here and 2012’s Weather Systems. After two decades, they seem to have found the style which really suits them best, and they’ve been making the best music of their career to date. And their ninth full length, the new album Distant Satellites sees them expand on this sound, and they’ve followed up with yet another stunning album.
The band’s penchant for gorgeous atmospheres is apparent from the start of The Lost Song pt.1, with both Vincent and Lee singing at their best in their careers on this track, and indeed throughout the album. Vincent’s voice is soulful, powerful and charged with unparalleled levels of emotion, and Lee’s backing vocals are just as powerful, lush and beautiful. But it’s the chemistry between the two singers that make’s it so great, their voices sound made for each other, Lee more soft and gentle, Vincent more strong and dynamic, but both with a great deal of passion. With the band having previously utilized strings on Universal from We’re Here Because We’re Here, making it one of the most beautiful tracks from that album, they’re used in a more lead role on this album, giving it a cinematic sound with each note drawing out an emotional response from the music. And with soft piano melodies in the background accompanied by a great catchy drumming performance, their sound is great. The guitars are often low in the mix, or played sparingly, but when that extra crunch does come in it adds that extra power that really completes that opening track. Moving straight into The Lost Song Pt.2, mellow piano lines and soft strings create a lovely background for Lee’s gentle cooing serving as a fantastic intro, before those drums come in along side her fantastic vocals – it’s her best performance with the band, and the emotional performance is up there with any of those great female singers in contemporary rock and metal. The lovely catchy melodies and the simply stunning vocal performance really resonate emotionally, and send a chill down your spine. Like Lightning Song from their previous album, Lee simply owns it.
Danny’s usual finger picked arpeggios are present again for the next track Dusk (Dark is Descending), and it’s another good rock song with a great strong vocal performance from Vincent. The second half gives way to piano and softer vocals, and while it’s a decent song, the rest of the album’s so good it’s one of the weaker ones, not quite reaching the emotional heights of the others. It picks back up well with Ariel with more fantastic piano melodies and vocals from Lee with a catchy chorus. Building fantastically, with a guitar crunch, strings, and the introduction of Vincent’s more powerful voice the climax makes it an atmospheric great. Returning back to The Lost Song, part 3 is a great rock song with fantastic piano and guitar melodies gelling fantastically with simple punchy drums and a fantastic duet from the two singers. The eponymous Anathema creates a thick atmosphere with dark strings, bright piano, expressive lead guitar and rich vocals from Vincent, as well as powerful, stirring lyrics. A great song to take the name of the band, providing all their trademarks in atmosphere, emotion and soulful lyrics.
There’s some electronic experiments on the second half of the album which at first listen sound a little odd, but really fit into the band’s sound well. Two shorter tracks come in the form of You’re Not Alone and Firelight. The former is the most experimental on the album, with the vocals having electronic effects on them alongside an upbeat electronic drumbeat, building up with dual vocal lines before it all collapses into a dark, mad electronic experiment with high pitched screeching guitar melodies repeated over the top. Different for the band, but very impressive. The is a short instrumental with soft organ drones fading in and out over each, providing some catharsis while dripping with emotion, minimalist yet brilliant, it’s a great piece of ambience to break up the album.
The electronic elements fit even better on the longest track Distant Satellites. A soft, tasteful electronic beat provides the backdrop to one of the best tracks in the Anathema catalog, while the organs carry through into the track, mixed with more gorgeous piano lines. The IDM beats throughout the song work really well, and fit in perfectly with the band’s trademark moody atmosphere. Vincent manages to excel even himself in his emotional delivery, with really memorable vocal lines and haunting lyrics that stay with you long after the album fades out, even carrying through into the closer Take Shelter, a song in a similar vein. More gorgeous vocals, piano and strings create a soft atmosphere, only accentuated by the gentle electronics, before building up into another emotional rock piece with a great balance between all the elements.
While there have been many great albums released this year already, there hasn’t been any quite as beautiful as Distant Satellites, and certainly none that gives you goosebumps quite like this. The band have always been known for their ability to craft an atmosphere, but between those haunting strings, gorgeous melodies and beautiful vocals from both Lee and Vincent, they’ve improved on this even further, and the atmosphere and moods created by Anathema on this release are really a thing to behold- they’re so thick they’re almost tangible to the touch. The electronic experiments show the ever evolving nature of the great band too, combining well with their usual style. The album might not be without it’s minor flaws, but even those are endearing on an album that’s so incredibly emotional, soulful and relatable on a very human level. Highly impressive and highly recommended.