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Anathema has been one of my favorite bands ever since I got into metal music early on. Their blend of melancholy, progressive experiments and doom in a rock format equals an addictive atmosphere similar to Katatonia in feeling, but not in aesthetics. "Alternative 4" evokes an experimental 70's rock feeling instrumentally, while still mostly remaining fairly standard in terms of songwriting. The album is filled with emotion displayed through memorable clean guitar passages and the occasional piano theme.
"Shroud of False" serves as an intro to "Fragile Dreams", one of the bands biggest fan favorites. Its dreamy atmosphere and whispering vocal delivery is a perfect buildup. "Fragile Dreams" is driven by a rather sentimental, folky guitar melody that still avoids being cheesy. The vocal delivery alternates between rather calm vocal on the verses and a soaring, sorrowful chorus. "Empty" is another strong number. It's more aggressive in nature, with almost cleanly screamed vocals in places. Anathema also deliver some excellent dynamics in this song with a piano section as emotional as ever. My favorite song on this album.
Lyrically, this album is firmly rooted in negativity. The songs are about failed dreams, mental illness and despair. The vocal delivery follows suit but remains quite varied. "Inner Silence" rides on a wave of melodic piano and string arrangements, with a polished, almost pop-like vocal performance. The more unpolished parts of the other songs almost recalls the tortured screams on "The Silent Enigma"; the absolute opposite in terms of the aesthetic quality.
Towards the ending the album gets more gloomy and unorganized. The songs aren't as precisely written, but the aforementioned feeling remains. "Regret" and "Feel" are almost dreadfully depressive in their gloomy expression of sorrow, which doesn't make them as appropriate for every day listening as the catchier pieces in the beginning, if your every day isn't dreadfully depressive of course. "Destiny" finishes it off Anathema style, with some light clean guitars and slow vocals.
This is my favorite Anathema disc along with "Judgement". The only minor complaint I have is that the first, more focused part of the disc encompasses the second, more disorganized part by far. I suppose it's an equation though. What it removes in quality, it adds in variation. Overall, "Alternative 4" is a very good album and a mandatory one for the metal fan with a taste for the depressive.