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There have been few bands that have moved me on an emotional level to the extent that Anathema have with their music. Their gorgeous blend of art/alternative rock with the anguishing atmosphere of doom metal works very well, and consistently works as a vessel to help the listener feel some of the most sad, beautiful feelings around.
The album is very good in it's composition and performance. While I wouldn't necessarily call this music prog, theres more than enough intelligence in it to keep things interesting and not feel like a guilty-pleasure of sorts. While many prog bands feel the obligation to resort to the lowest common denominator and relingquish songwriting excellence with mindless soloing and wankery, Anathema manages to refrain, and keep the extent of their playing within the context of the song. This alone is a pretty refreshing change.
If I was to describe the music here, there's a strong influence of Pink Floyd here, mixed with a gothic/doom metal sensibility, with strong overtones of depression, loss and anguish. This is definately not music that would play at a dance club (although there was ever a spin of 'Inner Silence' at a club, I would be pleasantly suprised!) This is music to listen to while in reflection. While the recurring theme here is definately one of anguish, there are hints of hope and wavering optimism in some of the melodies ('Destiny' or 'Inner Silence,' for example.) While all but one (the weak point being the overdrawn 'Feel') song here are excellent, the two highlights would most likely be 'Re-Connect' and 'Inner Silence,' the latter of which being quite possibly the most moving song I've ever heard that's three minutes long.
The only issue with 'Alternative 4' is that at times it can get overly morose and angsty. Compared to later works such as the magnificent 'A Natural Disaster,' it seems a bit immature. At first, I rated this album five stars, but after a few months (and after buying their later material as well) I realized that 'Alternative 4' was, in fact flawed. The first impression was one of total awe though.
'Alternative 4' is a testament of proof that music is still alive, even in this gloomy age. A bit morose and immature at times, but beautiful.