DVD Review: ANATHEMA – Universal

KScope [Release date 23.09.13]

Success is a strange thing: the more you chase it, the more it eludes you and then, just as you are about to give up trying, lady luck gives you the most impassioned of embraces and simply refuses to let go!

I am pretty sure that I am not the only person to believe that Anathema, the best band to come out of Liverpool since The Beatles, deserved to be at the top of Rock’s pecking order long before the release of “Weather Systems” but strange things are known to have happened before in our musical universe.

So, how does a band that has overwhelmingly swept up all known music awards over these last couple of years celebrate such a great achievement? Simple, really – they book an amazing venue (ancient Roman theatre of Phillippoplis) and a full orchestra (Plovdip Philarmonic Orchestra) and, with the help of some of their most loyal fans, record a top quality DVD/Blu-ray release. Ecce: “Universal”!

Anathema are one of those bands that I have seen live more times than I can remember and one thing I can say about them is that they never disappoint when on stage. I don’t know if it was the beautiful surroundings of the magnificent Roman theatre, the clever and very appropriate lighting arrangements or that magical energy that kept bouncing between the band and its fans throughout this show, but “Universal” presents Anathema as a band at the very top of their game.

Any pre-show nerves the band may have been experiencing seem to evaporate the moment Lee Douglas and her fine colleagues step on stage, with the opening track “Untouchable Part 1” full of confidence and raw energy.

I admit that the Plovdip Philarmonic Orchestra was previously totally unknown to me, but I was totally impressed by the way they embraced the band’s material and how cleverly they supported and enhanced key moments in songs like “Dreaming Light” and “The Storm Before The Calm” – the tunes of the latter so infectious that they are ‘forcing’ many of its members to move their heads rhythmically to the main tune.

Trying to choose a top moment is more difficult than finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The three Cavanaghs, singing along to the tunes of “A Simple Mistake”, is, of course, priceless, but so is the explosive refrain on “Closer”, Lee’s ethereal vocals in “A Natural Disaster”, Danny’s amazing solo in “Flying” or the firework display which accompanies the last orchestra-supported composition of the night, the all-time classic “Fragile Dreams”.

It is at this point that the male members of the band take off their suit jackets and return for a thirty minute adrenaline-infused encore which includes, amongst others, killer renditions of “Panic”, “Internal Landscapes” and what Danny accurately described as “the version of Fragile Dreams that you really want to hear” – the perfect song to close an amazing performance.

There are really no words to describe what an amazing release “Universal” really is and what it is capable of offering in terms of emotional fulfilment. The best proof lies in the footage itself: couples passionately holding hands throughout the show, people of all ages and social status singing along to the band’s tunes with eyes wide shut and the band members themselves who, at times, seem to be struggling to hold back the tears in reaction to the crowd’s emotional response.

If you choose to invest in “Universal”, which I strongly recommend you do, better opt for the Blu-ray version, as it features footage of an acoustic set that members of the band performed at the Union Chapel in London – something that heightens the overall experience. One of the best filmed and best live performances I have seen in years!

John Stefanis

Rating: ***** (5.0/5.0)  

Interview with Daniel Cavanagh (July 2013)


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Power Plays w/c 11 November (Mon-Fri)

MILES NIELSEN AND THE RUSTED HEARTS Hands Up (indie)
THE FARGO RAILROAD COMPANY Something In The Water (indie)
THE DARK ELEMENT If I Had A Heart (Frontiers)
LIBERTY LIES A Thousand People (indie)
DIRTY SHIRLEY Here Comes The King (Frontiers)
CARRY THE CROWN Runaway (indie)

Featured Albums w/c 11 November (Mon-Fri)

09:00-12:00 WORK OF ART Exhibits (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 SIGN X Like A Fire (Pride & Joy Music)
14:00-16:00 JACK BROADBENT Moonshine Blue (Creature Records)

Albums That Time Forgot (Mon-Fri)

MAGNUM Sleepwalking (1992)



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