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It is hard not to admire the progressionist nature of Liverpool’s Anathema. There are occasions where the experimental, or avant-gardé styling of this British act can become a bit infuriating. For example, the ’Eternity’ era of Anathema. Whilst one does accept the ’Anathema way’ of chopping and changing, one doesn’t believe that the talents of the band were harnessed well enough throughout that record and it seems like a grey spot on what has been a mostly successful career, especially after the death/doom era that started it all. The potential is certainly there, but it is not portrayed in the correct manner. So, ‘Judgement’ signifies the next step in the long career of the Liverpudlian’s. It’s the fifth full-length and one that is received well on the whole by audiences around the world. To me, whilst this record does differ in terms of the musical content, the appeal of Anathema is much the same as it has always been, even stretching back to the early days of the bands career when those crushing guitars laid down a superb doom metal sound. ‘Judgement’ is certainly a classy addition to the atmospheric pieces of Anathema, but in the grand scheme of things, it won’t be classed as the ultimate Anathema record, though it does come very close. The one to really showcase what Anathema’s music is all about. Although I do like this record, like I said, it isn’t the best available. However, do not let that take away from the experience.
One thing Anathema has always provided me with is a lyrical connection. I could always relate to the lyrics the band provided with their music. That made Anathema special to me. I loved the way in which the music and the vocals could speak volumes to me, but in distinctly different ways. Since Vincent Cavanagh took over the vocal duties in 1995, he has grown into one of the best vocalists the rock genre in the modern era of rock music. His lush voice sings with a tremendous amount of passion, power and precipitates the underlying emotive nature incredibly well. Songs like ‘Deep’ and ‘Emotional Winter’ explain the very nature of the songs in their titles. Both songs portray deep emotions. It is one thing to be able to state that the music is intensely brilliant, but to be able to suggest that there is a perfection in terms of lyrics is usually unheard of. Anathema’s talents aren’t all centred in one direction. Some examples of the divine lyrics:
“A fettered heart, waking
A tainted youth, fading
Leave it all behind
Mesmerise my senses
Souls entwine one more time.”
“How fast time passed by
The transience of life
Those wasted moments won't return
And we will never feel again.”
Whilst the music itself is undoubtedly filled to the brim with emotion, the vocals are slightly different in their emotional approach. I’ve always enjoyed the way Anathema incorporate backing vocals, whether that be through an additional male vocalist, or a female vocalist, which tends to add a certain amount of depth to the music. The beauty is enhanced by female vocals more so than through male vocals and that leads me to believe that Anathema are deceptively brilliant at manipulating the perception of their music. Whilst there is an overriding sense of simplicity in terms of the instrumental parts, the soundscapes push all simplicity aside to leave nothing but complex human emotions on show for us all to see. Anathema’s inviting style is incredible. Not only do they aptly portray the lyrical themes, but the music also breaks down the complexity of life’s hardest emotions and showcases to the audience a revealing and bluntly truthful look at the ways in which we work. The production is perfect as well, which allows the creativity to flow without anything stopping it in it’s tracks. The creativity of Anathema’s musicians is something that will never come into question. The musicians behind the music are experienced and know what it takes to perform for a wide ranging audience at a very high level. Their song writing has gone from strength to strength and doesn’t ever seem to fade. The well certainly isn’t running dry. The creative juices, at this stage in Anathema’s career, has only gotten running. Especially since Anathema have such talents at their disposal. The ability to be able to bring in female vocals, or splice up a song with a mesmerising acoustic isn’t something every band can achieve.
Anathema are by no means one dimensional. The use of acoustics, varied vocalists, pianos, keyboards and the rest make this a very intricate piece of work in terms of layers. Although the music is indeed layered on top of one another, it doesn’t ever seem clustered in it’s approach. In terms of originality, Anathema’s ‘Judgement’ is very original in an odd way. Although the positives remain the same, they’re created and enhanced in various ways. Each album differs from one another, whilst remaining the same in certain ways. In terms of negatives, well, they’re hard to point out. There are no real outstanding negatives. The vocals are godly, in all forms, the guitar work is immense, the production is perfect, the bass displays individuality at it’s best, the drums are perfectly adapted to the sound of Anathema. This is a subtle emotive journey with some harder and harsher sections that allow the audience to take away many different positives.
Well, I'll try to go straight to the point: this folks, is trully a masterpiece of the late 90's, maybe one of the few. It may be not be as good as its predecessor "Alternative 4", but keeps up the good wook, musicianship and songwriting. While "Alternative" was a very experimental release (almost piano-driven), "Judgement" is a bit heavier and manages to come back with the spirit contained in albums such as "Eternity", but incorporated in their new atmospheric rock sound.
The opener "Deep" has Anathema written all over it and I can't think of a better song to open this cage of broken hopes, promises and loss. Yes, the lyrics are still traditional Anathema, although more emotional when it comes to love affairs. The guitar work provided by the the Cavanagh brothers is stunning, and will surely grow on you as you listen to it again and again. They are one of those few bands whose lyrics can speak for YOU, as if they were written by your own trembling and desperate hands. I should mention Vincent's vocals either. Here, he reaches the top of his performance. His singing is full of grief as we can see in songs like "One Last Goodbye", an absolute anthem for the broken hearts and one of their most known classics to date.
The highlights include: Deep, Forgotten Hopes, One Last Goodbye, Parisienne Moonlight, Judgement and Wings Of God.
If you're new to doom/atmospheric rock, "Judgement" is a good album to start, but I suggest you to listen to it in the mood, not on a 'happy hour'. Put it on the CD Player, call your girlfriend and enjoy the soundtrack.
If I'd make a guess list of my most played albums through my lifetime, "Judgement" would be one of my top guesses. For about ten years this album has been a constant in my playlist, and still feels fairly fresh. Compared to "Alternative 4", its predecessor, "Judgement" represents a wider spectrum of feeling. Where "Alternative 4" was a ride through pure depression both lyrically and musically, this album represents a big change in sound and a slight change in lyricism in the band's future direction.
Opening track "Deep" is a good representation of the overall feeling. Detailed, textured layers of clean and semi distorted guitars portray a deep feeling of despair presented in a fine tuned progressive rock environment. One of the great things about "Judgement" is how the tracks seem to flow together flawlessly. During the first three songs the mood shifts from ethereal, almost willingly indulgent despair ("Deep") through angst filled sadness ("Pitiless") and finally into the alcoholic, defeated atmosphere of "Forgotten Hopes".
Despite the major changes, the individual songs flow like running water. Anathema make good use of interludes as well. "Destiny Is Dead" and "Parisienne Moonlight" serve as less intense pauses between the rather bombastic songs. I'm not a big fan of instrumentals or interludes, but on "Judgement" they are used in a perfect context.
Aesthetically, this album is much cleaner than earlier Anathema, both in terms of vocals and instruments. Vocally, all traces of screams and raw sound has been removed for a pure clean vocal approach. This is not a bad thing since "Judgement" features excellent vocals in terms of both technical performance and feeling. The gloomy, progressive song structures have also been trashed in favor of songs mostly based within a verse/chorus format with some slight variations. Once again not a bad thing, because Anathema never were about pure musical exploration for me, rather emotional expression.
Song structuring aside, the pure flow of the music has also improved, probably yet another effect of the more standardized song writing. Call me a pop loving bastard, but in this case it really works. As for standout songs in the second half of the album, I find it hard to find any since they're all about equally good. Expect what you hear when you hear "Deep", emotional bombast with instrumental precision in a progressive rock format.
I really fail to find anything negative to say about the album despite my best attempts. That probably means that it's damn good.
Being a fan of many different musical genres outside of extreme metal, I came to greatly appreciate the direction that Anathema has taken with their later work. Mixing Doom Metal tendencies with acoustic interludes, and even a touch of Prog-Rock here and there, Judgment succeeds in maintaining my interest on a majority of the listens. I was quite surprised at this, as Anathema's earlier albums seemed to lack originality, or even variation, for that matter, but these concerns don't apply here. Vincent Cavanaugh's voice is above average during the length of the 13 tracks offered here, which can only add to its greatness.
However, don't expect to be jumping around or even thinking about happy things when listening to this album. Some of the moments can be very depressing, and the lyrics accomplish just what they set out to do: purvey a sense of remorse and tragedy. This is what emotional music should sound like, not some manufactured teen angst number that uses the same recycled concept over and over again.
I must concede, though. Nothing is perfect, and this album falls victim to that trend. While the outstanding songs are dispersed throughout the album to great effect, such as "One Last Goodbye" and "Forgotten Hopes", there are a few repetitive tracks that I just feel the need to skip over once in a while. Don't let this deter you, however, as you won't be disappointed by the aspects of the album that really matter: the effective instruments, the appropriate additions of keyboards, and even an appearance by a female vocalist. My Dying Bride, you can kiss Anathema's ass for all I care.