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“Alternative 4” is, as you might guess from the title, Anathema’s fourth full-length release. The most understated of their albums, with a significant lack of guitar solos, it continues with “Eternity” ’s transition from the death-doom genre to clean vocals and an atmospheric rock sound.
The intro, ‘Shroud of False’, sets the minimalist theme of the album with its piano and whispered voice, then we’re pitched immediately into ‘Fragile Dreams’, whose catchy, almost folky riff belies the pain of broken trust evident in the lyrics.
‘Empty’ is one of the more accessible tracks of this release, the heavier sound perhaps appealing to fans of the band’s earlier work. From the initial slow-paced, ominous introduction to the aggressive singing about the futility of life, this song emanates bitter passion. ‘Lost Control’ then sees this defiant emotion defeated, and we’re left not fighting, but resigned to our fate, wondering when and not if the end will come.
‘Re-Connect’ is frontman Vincent Cavanagh’s first completely solo songwriting attempt, and for a debut effort it’s not half bad. After the troubled searching of ‘Lost Control’, we are once again defiant, almost violent, the guitars and synth having a dizzying effect on the already slightly crazed singing.
‘Inner Silence’, however, immediately calms the mood with its melodic piano intro and soft violins throughout, underpinned by the lingering heartbeat from the bass drum. It’s a wonderfully tender, thought-provoking expression of grief and regret concerning the death of the Cavanagh brothers’ mother, and the emotion in Vincent’s voice is evident through the entire vocal part.
The album’s title track is slower again and altogether more menacing than any of its fellow songs. It’s a somewhat experimental track, and the solo vocal section and echoing drums always makes me feel uneasy – not exactly music to fall asleep to.
The lyrics of ‘Regret’ reveal a deep sadness, with the vocals reflecting the apathy that comes with despair. Musically, it is a skilled piece of work – the acoustic guitars at the beginning communicate the hollow feeling of despondency, however the electric guitars at the end of the track seem a bit too overwhelming for such a miserable song.
‘Feel’ seems to lack some of the vocal passion expressed in other tracks on the album, and although an attempt is made, it’s not as effortless as the rest of the album.
Finally, after all the grief, regret and loneliness through the album, the closing line of ‘Destiny’ offers a glimmer of hope:
“Angel, my destiny, can you feel me?”
A tranquil lullaby despite the disturbed lyrics, it is the perfect epilogue for “Alternative 4”.
From the gentle whisper in the first track to “Re-Connect’s anguished howl, Vincent’s vocals across the entire album are confident and compelling, a significant improvement on his work on previous albums.
Despite all the negative emotion conveyed, the songs have a strangely calming effect. A soundtrack for anyone who’s ever experienced loss, it provides a sense of solace during moments of despair. This album was my introduction to doom metal and I haven’t looked back since. Enjoy it - but not too much. It is a doom album, after all.