Album Review: ANATHEMA – Distant Satellites

Anathema - Distant Satellites

Kscope  [Release Date: 09.06.14]

Following on from the brilliantly anthemic ‘Weather Systems’ from 2012 and the dreamily divine live album ‘Universal’ from 2013, Anathema have unleashed ‘Distant Satellites’ on their passionately devout following – a devout following that I fear is going to be split right down the middle when it comes to the love it/hate it vote.

Ever since Anathema set their face against their heavy rock/metal beginnings and turned towards the sun with the exceptional ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’, their star has very much been in the ascendancy as a new audience turned onto their brand of uplifting and at times beautiful ‘progressive pop’.

They have carried this template forward with ‘Distant Satellites’ and it certainly has all the components that made their previous work so life-affirming.

However, there are definite signs of a shift in direction here that will cause consternation among certain sections of their fan base – but that will doubtless be embraced by others.

Anathema are at their best when the music is progressive and shifting between acoustic and piano-led balladry to more forceful, pounding and anthemic (Anathemaic?) passages. 

Truth be told, this is the Anathema template – soft lilting beginnings, noisy crescendos.

And there is plenty of that template to be heard here – on tracks such as ‘The Lost Song Part 2’, ‘Ariel’ and closer ‘Take Shelter’.

What will worry fans garnered in the last few years is the occasional return of some really heavy rifferama, especially on opener ‘The Lost Song Part 1’ and ‘You’re Not Alone’, the latter being particularly bad as an intensely irritating repetitive vocal and a Muse-like breakdown conspire to really put the boot in. What were they thinking of?

Allied to this is the appearance of somewhat irksome electronic drum ‘beats’ and ‘clicks’ which, had the songs not been so good, would have ruined both the title track and, in particular, the exquisite ‘Take Shelter’.

Notwithstanding all this negativity, ‘Distant Satellites’ is still an exceptional piece of work with plenty of breathtaking moments.

Highlights include the wonderful shifting rhythms of ‘Dusk (Dark Is Descending)’, the progression from delicate piano to stirring crescendo of ‘Ariel’, the church organ instrumental hymnal of ‘Firelight’ and the unfathomable riff of the autobiographical ‘Anathema’.

In summary, whilst not as accessible as much of Anathema’s more recent work and despite the odd aberration, ‘Distant Satellites’ is still a remarkable album with the ‘wow’ count well up there with their finest work.

But for a band who like to push boundaries, the clicks, beats, heavy riffing and occasional vocoder nonsense, for some fans anyway, may be a push too far.  ****

Review by Alan Jones 

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