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A Natural Disaster

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Anathema started out in the mid-90s as straight Doom-Metal band, sounding like a slowed-down Black Sabbath with tortured, grunting vocals. However, after original vocalist Darren White left and rhythm guitarist Vincent Cavanagh stepped up to the mike, the band began to change. Clean vocals replaced the grunting, and over the next few albums their sound acquired an atmospheric, Floydian edge, although with a strong Goth flavour. Their evolution culminated in the superb albums “Alternative 4” and “Judgement”, the latter of which completely blew me away when I first heard it. Unlike many bands they’ve never been content to find a successful formula which they repeated album after album, each has been a progression on what’s gone before.

However, with their last album, “A Fine Day to Exit”, I felt they’d taken a wrong turn, and the indie-flavoured album sounded too much like a poor man’s Radiohead (admittedly it was still vastly better than Radiohead’s post-“OK Computer” self-indulgent noodlings). While it did improve on repeated listenings, for me at least, it didn’t reach the peaks of it’s two predecessors. Therefore I approached this new disk with trepidation. Was “A Fine Day” a temporary blip, or did it represent the point when the band “Jumped the Shark”?

The opener, “Harmonium” begins with simple synth chords and a murmured, repeated vocal figure, making me fear the worst. Was this to be their “Kid A”? But no, two and half minutes into the song twin metal guitars come crashing in, the heaviest thing they’ve played for several albums. The metal crunch which was largely missing from the last release is back.

After repeated listens, this album is up there with “Alternative 4” and “Judgement”, with it’s blend of metal, goth, and progressive rock. It’s not a clone of those albums, though, retaining some of the Radioheadesque bits of “A Fine Day”. A step sideways, perhaps, rather than a step backwards.

Like many great albums, it’s hugely varied, from the heaviness of the opener, “Harmonium”, “Are you there”, with it’s big synth chords and gently chiming guitar, to the very punky “Pulled Under at 2000 metres a second”, with it’s vocal line recalling Pink Floyd’s “Sheep”. My favourite is probably the ballad “Flying” featuring the albums only real guitar solo. Finally there’s the ten-minute instrumental closing track, “Violence”, which begins with a gentle classical style piano figure before giving way to thrashing guitars, playing the same chords as the initial piano figure. After the guitars build to a crescendo and fade out, we’re left gentle and emotional solo piano again.

Anathema are one of those bands that deserve far greater success than they’ve so far achieved. Will this be their breakthrough album?

Update: See also Marty Dodge’s review. We seem to disagree about it’s predecessor!

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About Tim Hall