This band is completely different from when I first heard them. I know it is a well made point, but from their early gothic/doom metal beginnings Liverpool breed Anathema have been on a journey which has lead them to be more akin to Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree. It has been an interesting journey and their last album - 'Weather Systems' - was a tour de force. Honestly it was one of the best prog albums of the last 20 years, if not longer - it is that good. So when I say I am apprehensive about this new album, you might question why? Well, because the last album was so good, I am worried that it may have been their peak and it is downhill from here. But the band has sounded very confident when coming to the press, claiming this is what they have spent their career working towards. With production work by Christer-André Cederberg who has worked with them on their previous two releases, also including some mixing work by Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), there is a lot riding on this one in terms of creditability and making what they are essentially stating is their ultimate statement. Well, the proof is in the delivery and now it is time to see if they are right.
Starting the album is "The Lost Song Part One", with slow and mournful strings, drummer Daniel Cardoso drops in a slightly off time drum beat that pivots the whole song; then with the keyboards matching the drums and Vincent Cavanagh mournful vocals mixing with Lee Douglas's delivery as well it is all build until just after the three minute mark where the band let rip with the riff that makes brings the whole song together. But this is only part one, "The Lost Song Part Two" follows and is a piano lead mirror to the original with Lee Douglas taking over as the main vocalist. Again, it builds up towards a symphonic crescendo that feels very familiar. The third track is "Dusk (Dark Is Descending)" again, I am feeling a great sense of familiarity that whilst it is slightly off putting, it does not take away from the songs or the craftsmanship on show here.
"Ariel" is next and we are in the more subtle territory that has that familiar pattern of quiet and build. Out of all the tracks on show on the album, it is the one that pulled on my heart strings the most. It feels like this song has always been around, but whilst still being shinning and new. Following on is "The Lost Song Part Three", this is obvious that the band wants to build an ongoing theme through the album and that is an idea that has been done to great effect on other album by different artists. However, whilst I love each part of this song - why not make it one big prog fifteen minute anthem that would have taken the listener to a different plain? But this is just my own opinion, the band wanted it this way, so more power to them for keeping with their convictions there. However, "Anathema" - the song, not the band - is not something that works for me. I can see what they are doing here, it is the story about the band and their various ups and downs; but something about it does not quite work again. It feels too force, like when you see all those officials at a big sporting event who are there to be seen and have little to no interest in the actual event. It might be heartfelt to some people, especially the band who still play the song well - but it does not translate well to the audience.
"You're Not Alone" is next and it signals the change in the actual album. It is a strange piano and drum driven piece with an electronic drum and bass type of break down in the middle, mixing in with minimal guitar. It is almost industrial in form and a welcome change again from a band that is always evolving along the way. "Firelight" is an organ solo that bridges the album to the final two songs. It really should have just been kept as part of the following track "Distant Satellites" as it merges into the song - but the band seems to be afraid of breaching the 10 minute mark with a song. Again, the song has lost of electronic moments that will be taking the band further away from that original doom metal band of old and this will be to the horror of a few of my friends. Personally I find it to be a brilliant, brave and very engaging moment on the album. They are doing something different again and it works, by the deity does it work. Ending the album is "Take Shelter", which is not exactly one of the most exciting of moments on the album, but it makes for a brilliant and gentle ending. It takes all the elements of the album and builds in into a possible image of Anathema in the future.
I don't think this is the peak of Anathema as the band have stated, I personally think that they reached the height of their current form on 'Weather System'. This album is the next stage for the band; it gives nods to their recent past and hints towards the future as well with the end tracks. There are a few issues on the album, more to do with just releasing their tunes in three separate parts instead of just one colossus number which would rule all, such as the three parts of "The Lost Song" would have been amazing as one number, instead it is three good numbers that are missing parts of themselves. But this is not saying the writing was poor, just a strange decision. Apart from one number, this is a strong album and I hope that it is a sign of the future and not a full stop.
7.5 out of ten - This is good and well worth a check
Top track - Distant Satellites