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Stunning And Atmospheric - 88%

beardovdoom, May 23rd, 2014

Universal is the latest DVD from Anathema-Liverpool's finest band (fuck The Beatles!). This show was filmed in an ancient Roman amphitheater in Bulgaria. What may seem like an odd choice of location at first soon becomes clear as a stroke of genius. The venue is simply stunning, lending an even greater sense of atmosphere to this already moving music. On top of that the band are accompanied by an orchestra which adds even more depth to the sound. So far, so good.

The setlist is very much dominated by modern Anathema. Old school fans expecting crushing death/doom or even the melodic rock of late 90's Anathema will be disappointed, with pretty much just the encore consisting of (relatively) older material. The more recent output of Anathema has been backed by orchestral arrangements and thus this set is catered towards that style. Songs from 'Weather Systems' and 'We're Here...' make up the bulk of this but a nice scattering of other songs from the previous 4 albums give this a nice balance. There's undoubtedly a lot more people into Anathema since the clean vocal era began so the really old songs aren't missed here in my opinion. They've been playing floaty, atmosphere-driven rock in various forms for years now so the set choices make total sense.

As for the performance, the whole band is on top form. Vince Cavanagh sings with so much passion and emotion, ably backed up by the haunting, ethereal vocals of Lee Douglas. She really has improved the band's overall sound by adding variety and her voice is immense on 'A Natural Disaster'. Danny Cavanagh really shines here in every capacity, his amazing guitar work coming to the fore during ''The Beginning and the End' in particular along with his subtle backing vocals and witty banter. As the main songwriter in the band this set clearly shows his supreme talent. The rest of the band (Jamie-bass, Daniel-keyboards and long term drummer John) all perform to a top standard, keenly backed up by the sweeping orchestra which is never overblown nor overbearing. After the main set the band tease with a brief orchestral version of 'Fragile Dreams' only to follow up with a proper rock encore and a full on version of the aforementioned classic song to end with.

The only negatives I can think of are a lack of extras and for fans of the band's older material, no really old songs. A documentary would've been a nice addition but never mind.

The 2 hour+ set is astonishing, with only one song that I dislike. 'Everything' is an overly syrupy pop song with annoying lyrics. Luckily all is forgiven when they follow it up with 'A Simple Mistake', their finest song to date and one of my favourite songs by any band. The added layer from the orchestra takes this astounding song to new heights, the open air setting allows Vince's vocals to reach a truly amazing level of emotion as his voice soars on top of the twinkling guitars.

Fans of modern Anathema will love this. A brilliant set, tight performance, incredible atmosphere as well as fantastic sound and film quality. Essential Purchase.

Recommended viewing: The Storm Before the Calm, A Simple Mistake, The Beginning and the End, Deep, Fragile Dreams.