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Nearly seven years since their last full-length studio album, Anathema return with the unfortunately titled We’re Here Because We’re Here, a work sharing much in common stylistically with the band’s last two efforts, 2003’s A Natural Disaster and 2001’s A Fine Day to Exit, but expanding that format by way of an increased sense of atmospheric vastness and a more cohesive quality of thematic development. The style has essentially remained an atmospheric form of lushly melodic and emotive rock music with elements of post-progressive rock and symphonic rock, but expressive tone and mood is brighter and far more positive than anything they’ve produced before, easily the furthest they have moved from the romantic sorrow of their doom-death metal origins or even the brooding melancholy of the Pink Floyd-inspired post-doom of Alternative 4.
Lead vocals and instruments are all in a higher key than what is familiar to longtime listeners of the band, which may be initially disagreeable until proper immersion and subsequent reflection on the relation between concept and sound. The sound is incredibly uplifting, delivered in an inspired, life-affirming tone, with nary a mournful moment to be heard in what is essentially an expansive development of the sound that defined the past two albums. It is a very layered and vibrant sounding album, and may be the most accessible approach of their career, but without compromising their trademark emotional depth and sincerity. The album is overflowing with pure sounds of beautiful experience, enhanced by a warm and clear production emphasizing the ethereal without forsaking the organic.
“We’ve come too far to turn back
This is where we stand
And face it
This is who we are”
True to form, each brilliantly melodic song is a strongly distinct expressive project of chasing an emotion to its essence, an objective of discovery of the purest moment of emotional awareness as if there is no other way to validate this life (“feeling is being”). This has been their compositional agenda from the start, and though the kind of emotions and their respective realizations have changed over time, the method of grasping them through powerful rises in intensity towards the ultimate revelation in climactic moments of self-apparent truths and their subsequent gradual reflections in a dream of tranquility has only become stronger. Nothing else exists but the song as its own idea, an expression of what it means to be alive and feel, never losing sight of the greater scheme of eternal connection, but always digging deeper into the heart and soul for new meaning. Lengthy instrumental passages in “A Simple Mistake”, “Universal”, and closing instrumental “Hindsight” stretch the perception of experience in vast harmonic space beyond its fragmented moment of individual orientation to the timeless realms of eternal reality, that which has held true in human experience for all times and will for all time to come. Structural variety allows Anathema to initiate and maintain expressive identity in the context of songwriting without becoming formulaic, a quality consistent through this band’s entire catalogue. Masters of constructing albums as reflections of unified experience in the context of a particular conceptual framework, they sequence everything brilliantly and with great attention to momentum, establishing natural flow of emotional fluctuation intuitive to the human perspective of self-awareness. The music is rich and vibrant, but its beauty and power is enhanced by the lucidity of elegant simplicity, a delicate equilibrium not realized this effectively since 1999’s Judgement.
All sound components blend very nicely, and the sound as a whole emits a sort of airy, dreamlike quality, very detailed and textured with a fantastic mixing job by Steven Wilson. Particularly impressive is the way in which vocals coalesce with the music in both tone and melody, with very rich, inventive vocal harmonies often delivered by both Vincent Cavanagh and Lee Douglas in unison, or with Douglas complimenting Vincent with subtle accents. These are quite beautiful and floating, and always emotively charged. Almost all singing is in a higher register than before to keep consistency between expressive tone and the more uplifting and positive concept, but what is most remarkable about the vocalizations is the aspiration towards an eternal sense of harmony, removing the structural paradigm of individuality and replacing this common character of rock music expression with the personification of the song as an idea. Because of this harmonious quality, there are fewer instances of dynamic vocal changes, but what variety is maintained is only so for the good of the song as a representation of its concept, such as Vincent’s soft, tender singing in the heartfelt ballad “Dreaming Light”, his desperate mid-song pleadings in “Angels Walk Among Us”, and his distant echoed cries of “It’s never too late” in the final moments of “A Simple Mistake”. Lee Douglas, now an official member after serving as guest vocalist for the past decade, has surprisingly fewer stand-alone moments than before, but has never been more complimentary to the band’s sound. Her shining moment arrives in “Presence”, which follows “Angels Walk Among Us” as a brief spoken-word reflection on that song’s theme of making peace with mortality, in which Lee brings closure with the soothing refrain “Only you can heal your life” over an exquisite arrangement of strings, guitar, keyboard, bass and soft percussion.
The guitarwork is as emotional and atmospheric as always, but the playing has never been so subtle and elegant as it is here, particularly Danny Cavanagh's leads, which are always in direct harmony with established rhythm and vocal melody, and act more as lucid enhancement than isolated embellishment. The frantic and restless “Summernight Horizon” boasts the most charged guitar playing on the album, but, along with the vibrant “Everything”, also some of the disc’s most tasteful lead flourishes. Among the delicate acoustics and resonant clean guitars, highlights include the cosmic riff ushering “A Simple Mistake” into its epic and sublime instrumental resolution, the classic Anathema sorrowful lead melody introducing “Angels Walk Among Us”, the cycling, spiraling riff in opener “Thin Air”, the soulful lead work during the climactic event of “Universal”, and the gentle chords and shimmering leads in instrumental finale “Hindsight”. More than anything, it is the simplicity and grace of the guitars reverberating with pure feeling and a correlating ambiance that works toward an embracing sound of universal harmony. Bassist Jamie Cavanagh has never been more harmonically supportive of both rhythm and melody, providing excellent accents to guitar and vocal throughout, particularly impressive in “A Simple Mistake” as his subtle basslines nicely shadow Vincent’s vocal melody during the verse sections.
Most of the music is performed with a slow tempo, with a few uptempo bursts of manic energy, most notably “Summernight Horizon”, a quick-paced song that moves with a charged, emphatic rush fueled by the anxiety of existential urgency, and steered by the excellent rapid drumming of John Douglas, perfectly matching the swift piano melody introducing the song. The drumming is powerful and tasteful, never obtrusive, but fluid and inventive, with well-placed fills and percussive shifts, often responsible for some of the album’s most sonically intense moments, as in the pulsing beat that, like the insistent rhythm of life, stresses the urgent, enthusiastic movement and electric, inspirational energy of “Thin Air”, the crashing, stomping beat during the cosmic instrumental finale of “A Simple Mistake”, and the relentless transfusion of percussive energy during the transcendent climax of “Universal”.
Piano has never played as important a role in the sound of Anathema as it does on this album, forming defining melodic and rhythmic patterns throughout the album, specifically crucial to the developments of “Summernight Horizon”, “Dreaming Light”, “Everything”, and “Universal”. The usual abundance of subtle atmospheric keyboards is here, but shares space with lush orchestral sections, particularly gorgeous in “Dreaming Light” and “Universal”, both of which benefit tremendously from beautiful string arrangements. The symphonic element advances Anathema’s sound into the realms of a more elegantly orchestrated approach, and significantly enhances the power and reach of their music.
Thematically this is much more positive than what longtime fans are accustomed to. Once mourning the tragedy and sorrow of despair-ridden existence, Anathema now affirm life with as much conviction as they once cursed it. Though the music remains intensely emotional, its outlook is completely different from the morose and depressive disposition of the past. Essentially, the band have taken to a philosophy of love as the answer to the riddle of happiness; not love in the hippie sense of passive tolerance and naïve togetherness, but rather a deep affection for life rooted in a reverence for the interconnected eternal reality coursing through all of nature. No better evidence of this can be provided than the statement in “A Simple Mistake” that “We are not just a moment in time”, a reversal of their own sentiment as expressed in Alternative 4’s “Shroud of False” : “We are just a moment in time”. This reversal in perspective recognizes the individual as an extension of eternity, not burdened, but blessed, with the gift of life, meant to be embraced in the present moment with full awareness of it as the only reality known to us immediately, and it is an eternal moment “free from the constraints of time”. There are no politics, no moral preaching, and no glorification of personal agenda in this music, only genuine awareness and affection for the eternal essence of life and what this means to human experience. Anathema once wrote soundtracks for suicide; now they urge the listener at every step to live life with passion and perseverance, and it runs through every song with verve and determination.
We’re Here Because We’re Here has more unity and better production than A Natural Disaster and is not as emotionally restrained as A Fine Day to Exit, which makes it Anathema’s best work since Judgement. It is not quite the masterpiece that Judgement is, but only because it ultimately cannot equal that album’s consistency of emotional intensity combined with compelling composition, and falls short of that effort’s masterful sequence of dynamic variety. “Get Off, Get Out” is an odd track in the context of this album’s style and sequence, with an offbeat rhythm and repetitive structure that lacks the dynamic intrigue and discernible spirit of the other songs, leaving it with no real sense of presence other than a disruption to the natural flow the album established through the first seven tracks. It is interesting in its own right, but is low on desire and thematic purpose. The only other real issue is with the female spoken voice in “Hindsight”, which might have been more effective if reduced in text, but as it is distracts from the otherwise engaging instrumental’s origination and fading reflection of its expression of beautiful awakening in the course of its fantastic rise and fall dynamics. Aside from these complaints, some of Anathema’s best music is on this album, with “Universal” being one of their most accomplished compositions in their catalog, and the album’s best-composed track, a powerful presentation of their amazing ability to gradually increase tonal intensity until they reach an ascending, enveloping sound of transcendent awareness. On a more conventional note, “Dreaming Light”, an emotionally overflowing, beautifully orchestrated ballad in the vein of “One Last Goodbye” or “Inner Silence”, but considerably more positive in tone and disposition, is one of their most uplifting demonstrations of surging melodic ascension towards a serene resolution. This is in many ways a rebirth of sorts for Anathema, and any preconceptions will serve only as an obstacle to appreciating the pure beauty and power of this music. On the surface, this album seems like too far a move for accessibility, but, as has always been the case with this band, their honesty and emotional depth will keep it from mass acceptance the likes of which their influences enjoy. It is redundant to point out how the band’s approach is no longer relevant to metal, as this has been the case in truth since 1996’s Eternity. Even the Pink Floyd influence is less on this album than in the past, as the band’s sound has more in common with modern experimental rock from the progressive, post-rock, and ambient rock styles. Some have named Radiohead and Sigur Rós as reference points, but Anathema’s music rejects the millennial paranoia associated with these bands for a more direct and genuine expression of a purer emotional observation, with a passion and sincerity that transcends pretensions to specific styles and their dictates. No matter how many old-time fans deny this band as a sell-out because of the change in direction, this is music of expression as reflection of perception and experience, with no dubious advancements of particular aspects of style and the associated appeal.
“Feel the truth in life
This album is not an immediate revelation. It takes time to blossom and reveal the full capacity of its entirety, and for that it gets better with repeated listens. It’s interesting to note that while Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride, who together with Anathema formed the British triumvirate of gothic doom/death metal in the early 1990s, stagnate and wallow in redundant functionary process disguised as relevant and profound musical creation, Anathema soar with pure inspiration and continuous regeneration of creative motivation with a fresh and immersive sound. I will eternally affirm this band’s existence for their artistic bravery to treat the experience of life seriously and directly, with unflinching honesty, expressive passion, and profound perceptual insight, no matter what style they’ve chosen to present their ideas.
Originally published at http://suite101.com
Few bands have evolved as drastically as Anathema has over the course of their career. Originally pioneering the death/doom metal genre alongside fellow Englishmen Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride, they have since abandoned the style and gradually moved towards to a more alternative/progressive sound.
This particular album's release has been hyped by the bands and fans since 2007 and features the band's first album of new studio material since A Natural Disaster came out in 2003. The album is also the band's first to be produced and mixed by Steven Wilson, perhaps better known as the mastermind behind the great Porcupine Tree.
Like A Natural Disaster and A Fine Day To Exit before it, We're Here Because We're Here features a sound that is entirely removed from the oppressively dark goth metal of their past. But as expected by the band's history and choice of producer, the album's sound seems to have more in common with bands such as the previously mentioned Porcupine Tree and Pink Floyd.
There are some louder moments on tracks such as Thin Air and Summer Night Horizon, but a majority of the songs on this album build around spacey atmospheres and melancholic textures. The focus is mostly placed on the guitars and vocals, but there is strong piano playing to be found on many of the songs.
The band's individual performances are all solid though the vocals are what truly stand out in the end. In addition to the gentle croons of guitarist/vocalist Vincent Cavanagh and Lee Douglas, the album also features Ville Valo of H.I.M. fame guesting on Angels Walk Among Us and some neat spoken vocals on Presence.
Fortunately, Valo's performance is done with good taste and is largely devoid of the over dramatic aesthetics that come with his day job. It blends in very well with the other songs on the album and shows that the singer can be subtle whenever a situation calls for it.
While the songs on the album's second side do have a tendency to run together at times, it can be still said that the album itself showcases some pretty good songs and a decent amount of variety to boot. While there are no blatant hooks, Everything and Angels Walk Among Us are the most memorable songs on here due to their beautiful vocal performances.
Of course, there are several other songs worth noting. Thin Air and A Simple Mistake feature some cool swirling vocals and building atmospheres while Summer Night Horizon and Get Off, Get Out are driven by heavy rhythms and frantic themes. In addition, Presence is made memorable by its insightful spoken lyrics and Hindsight makes for a trippy instrumental.
Speaking of lyrics, the album is also made interesting thanks to its intriguing song themes. While previous albums and songs such as Anyone, Anywhere were driven by depression and often romantic longing, the themes on this album are much more positive in spite of the melancholic atmosphere.
Love is still an important theme on this release though it seems to feel more accomplished than before. The lyrics are also filled with encouragement and seem to speak directly to the listener, often stating to "think for yourself" and other such sentiments. Definitely an intriguing move for such a morose genre...
All in all, this is a fantastic album that should prove to be another one of 2010's top releases. Longtime fans of the band will not be disappointed while the pleasant songwriting will hopefully appeal to a legion of newer listeners.
Highly recommended for fans of alternative and progressive rock though open-minded metal fans should be able to latch onto this album with great enthusiasm. Definitely an album for a rainy day...
Thin Air, Summer Night Horizon, Everything, Angels Walk Among Us, and Get Off Get Out
I suppose that whenever we try to criticize a new album by Anathema, it's necessary to start off with a disclaimer: I don't hate this "new" Anathema (that isn't actually that new, but whatever) and I have no beef with Alternative 4, A Natural Disaster or A Fine Day to Exit. I even prefer them to most of the unpolished, raw mess that constitutes half of Serenades.
Their last effort is, however, unbearable. It makes Alternative 4 sound like grindcore by comparison, for crying out loud. Take all generic rock 'n' roll ballads you've ever heard with light guitars, "moving" film soundtrack synths, pianos, and emotional singing, mash it all together and you have We're Here Because We're Here (hands down, the winner for the 2010 stupidest title award). And it's a tricky little beast too. Its opener, "Thin air", tries to lure you into thinking this is just another Anathema album with a clean guitar melody reminiscent of A Natural Disaster, though the vocals are higher and more annoying than normal. Then the guitars get almost heavy in the chorus and you think that maybe this album may not be too bad. It still reminds you of stuff like Coldplay or U2, which I can't say is a good thing.
But before you realize it, you're hearing "Dreaming light" and wondering what the fuck is going on. Sure, it's been years they have stopped playing metal anymore, but this leaves the "atmospheric rock" terrain and dives straight into pure easy-listening pop music. The same goes for the horribly-titled "Angels Walk Among Us". You know that comedian called Jon Lajoie, the dude responsible for "Show Me Your Genitals"? Yeah, well, he has a parody song called "Radio Friendly Song" and it sounds pretty much like these two tracks, except it's funny because it mocks exactly this type of music.
The remainder of this album can't manage to be as awful as those two songs, but they proceed to rehash Anathema's older stuff, except diluted and stretched in songs that pass the 7-minute mark. It all kind of mashes together in my mind after "Presence", the filler spoken word song. There's a cool little moment in "A Simple Mistake", past the 4th minute when a few things actually happen while the vocals shut up, but that too is stretched. And the same happens in "Hindsight". But, hey, at least they aren't piano-driven.
Then, there's the lyrics. To be brief, they're simple, kitschy, maudlin pap. A lot of doom metal focuses on kitschy "woe is me" stuff, but this reaches "Powerpoint presentations with 'cute' phrases and sunset pictures your aunt emails you" levels. Here, I selected a few gems from 3 different tracks:
"Love is free
In time, in peace
And now is here
This life, this dream..."
"I... chose... love...
'cos everything is energy and energy is you
'cos everything is energy and energy is you and me"
"Only you can heal your life,
can heal inside"
This is the stuff that middle-aged women with Thomas Kinkade paintings hanging in their living rooms who cry watching Titanic and read romance novels with Fabio on their covers find beautiful, emotional, and inspiring. And it's, needless to say, completely unacceptable for a band that's been on the road for 20 years already.
So, in the end, what do we have here? Something that sounds like self-plagiarizing, U2, Coldplay and a parody of radio-friendly songs with insipid lyrics to boot. It's like Anathema's slowly unlearning how to make music. Some call this progression, but how can sounding like what's been in the radio for decades be progression?
Each year, there is always a small handful of albums that I really anticipate, and count down the days until they are released. 2009 had me with the new Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree albums that came out, and 2010 presented me with months of eager excitement for the moment I would finally get my hands on a copy of this latest Anathema record. Hearing a few stunning samples from the album beforehand only intensified the hype for me, and all I could do is wait until the day 'We're Here Because We're Here' arrived in the mail.
'We're Here Because We're Here' (previously named 'Horizons' until a few months before release) might seem like a redundant, even stupid name for an album, but looking deeper into the title alone shows a level of deepness which reflects the rest of the album. Despite being silly at first glance, the title suggests a nihilistic (or possibly humanistic) point of view; that we exist simply for the sake of existing, and that there is no underlying meaning to life. To this extent, it is a very fitting title for an album that enjoys a recurring theme of mortality and life itself.
After having listened to it, I really found myself torn in terms of what to think of it. On one hand, it certainly did not live up to my expectations of being 'the instant classic' I sought it out to be, but there really was some beautiful music here that made it completely worth the purchase. The songs I had sampled were still as moving as ever, and there was some great fresh material to delve into as well. However, the second half of the record seemed to start taking a bit of a dive in quality as the album reached the last two or three tracks. This fact is almost tragic, because had the last fifteen or so minutes of the album been occupied with something as engaging and moving as the rest of it, 'We're Here Because We're Here' would be Anathema's definitive, even 'perfect' work of art they were meant to make.
Starting out with the atmospheric track 'Thin Air,' things take a little while to heat up but the track nails down it's sense of atmosphere very well. Although using repetition alot, things still feel fresh by the end of the song and it's a good, lucid track to bring things into the mix, although definitely not my favourite.
Things start really getting going with the second track 'Summerlight Horizon,' which is arguably the heaviest track on the album, despite being piano driven. Opening up with a dark, heavy piano motif, some metal-styled drumming erupts and a song in the typically dark style of Anathema is in full swing. This song really shines though for it's heavy use of vocal harmonies, which are of real highlight in the album. Although the songwriting itself is enough to carry most of the album along beautifully, producer Steven Wilson has really actualized Anathema's vocal potential, and made the music ring out even more as a result.
Next up is possibly my favourite song off of the album, and possibly even my favourite tune ever written by the band, 'Dreaming Light.' Despite sounding a little bit in the vein of Coldplay, the song shows a side of Anathema that has rarely been shown until this album; a sense of optimism. While 'happy-sounding' tunes have a bad reputation with me for seeming superficial and emotionally hollow, 'Dreaming Light' takes the typical melancholic feel of the band's music and spices it up with the all-so elusive motif of hope. Reaching a climax of tremolo-plucked guitar beauty, atmosphere and harmony all around, my heart almost dropped when I first heard this. This is definitely not the sort of track you would expect coming from a metal band, but it's stunning in any context.
The next two songs were the ones I heard even a year before the album was released. Strangely enough, the versions of 'Everything' and 'Angels Walk Among Us' that I heard without Wilson's production, I enjoyed more. The musicianship seemed more organic and vibrant, even though things are still beautiful as ever here. 'Everything' takes Anathema's newfound spirit of hope to new heights creating a song that has almost no sense of despair whatsoever; only forward thinking cheer. Don't let the description turn you off however, it's executed brilliantly and the vocal harmonies shine through once again. Ville Valo of the alternative rock band HIM does guest vocals for the song 'Angels Walk Among Us.' While red flags definitely poked up a bit when I heard this, his voice does fit the music well, and even bears a stunning resemblance to Vincent Cavanagh's tenor voice itself.
After the beautiful crescendos and melodic peaks of 'Angels Walk Among Us,' the album begins to take a bit of an unsettling slip from the 'absolutely stunning' to 'above average' to relative mediocrity. 'Presence' is an extension of the previous track, and has some bluesy soloing and organ work while a voiceover speaks on top. While the dialogue helps tie the recurring subject of mortality less abstractly into the music, I sort of wish I could turn off the dialogue after listening to it once or twice, so I could enjoy the calming ambience without the annoyance.
'A Simple Mistake' is a good song, but it certainly takes it's time to get to the good part, and the melodies aren't as moving as they were earlier on. Using alot of the same textures as were used on 'Thin Air' except with a much more sombre feel. Despite being less engaging and satisfying than the better tracks on the album, it works itself up to a really powerful climax, giving one last section of aural perfection before 'We're Here' falls into a state of complacent mediocrity.
'Get Off, Get Out' is a decent song, but it really doesn't match up to anything previously played on the album. It reminds me alot of 'Panic' from the album 'A Fine Day To Exit.' While variety is nice, it's very fast-paced compared to the two songs it sits betweens, so it fits in a bit awkwardly. It doesn't sit quite right with me, but it's more or less a good track.
The last two songs are where I started to really get disappointed. 'Universal' is the most down- tempo song on the record, and while it has some very nice string section work going on (reminiscent of some of the stuff that Muse has done) and builds up rather well, some of that 'hopefulness' from the earlier tracks would do well to rub off on this one. While the first few minutes aren't much to talk about, 'Universal' builds up once a classically influenced piano melody starts playing and a buildup in the post-rock vein starts off. Before you know it, the orchestral string section is in full blast, making the music sound like something out of an epic film score. In fact, had this been the last song on the album, it would have been all the more powerful and intense to behold. However, the band made the problem of throwing an extra track in, robbing the effective climax of 'Universal' of it's rightful place as the finale.
'Hindsight' is pleasant enough, but it feels more like a wandering afterthought that the grand conclusion that an album of this calibre seems to warrant. It feels like Anathema wanted to recreate the brilliant conclusion of their previous album, 'A Natural Disaster' with this closer. However, 'Hindsight' proves to be alot less effective and makes for a bit of a sour note to what was otherwise a brilliant album.
'We're Here Because We're Here' was an album that disappoints in sections, but is phenomenal in others. A mixed bag of sorts, things range from being 'mediocre' to being some of the best music my ears have ever been graced with. While I am really tempted to call this a masterpiece, the few things that went wrong with the album seem to hurt what could have otherwise been a classic in the art rock scene for years to come. Despite it's flaws however, Anathema still stand as being one of the most emotive bands out there in the music scene, and with 'We're Here Because We're Here,' they have established yet another chapter of beautiful music that will get under your skin if you let it do so.
In this day, Anathema have so far removed themselves from the epic doom of their waking years that any comparison of the two poles will come up empty. However, they've been painting the trace colors of their current formula for a great many strokes, since The Silent Enigma and Eternity in the mid 90s. Alongside a handful of other acts (Katatonia and Tiamat come to mind) their numerous evolutionary lunges have been largely successful, first courting Gothic metal and now this atmospheric rock era. While some neanderthal within me hangs on to its club and wishes to bludgeon the damn band every time they issue another of these lush, artsy, emotional excursions, I simply cannot bring the bludgeon to bear, because they're just too qualified to ignore.
The vapidly named We're Here Because We're Here does not do much to argue their case, but then, this is the sort of emotionally uplifting piece of work to which such a title is rightfully affixed. Channels of soft and progressive rock fuse through these compositions, almost like a dreamier, unreal alternative to Denmark's fabulous Mew in the escalating "Thin Air" and "A Simple Mistake", the latter trampling somewhat close to the heavier mystique of their past. The delicious mix of Cavanagh and Douglas vocals are so well managed, so evenly distributed that they mesh straight into the instrumentation as if they were a pair of flitting moths across the strings, drum skins and piano keys. It's nearly impossible to find "Angels Walk Among Us" or "Dreaming" anything but soothing, despite the fact that they're the same melodic stock that you'd hear polluting the closing credits of The Hills. Naturally, I'm more predisposed to the measured power of "Everything" or the epic Floydian rhythms of "Universal" and "Hindsight", but there are few tracks that trail below the margin of effectiveness.
Anathema have long been masters of their own destiny, and thus this 8th album benefits from top notch production values that do nothing but honor the compositions, both in their plentiful calms and occasional surges into busier bliss. There's a guest spot on "Angels Walk Among Us" courtesy of Gothic rock crooner Ville Valo (H.I.M.), but thankfully he's reserved here, so don't expect any blathering about fishnets and heartagrams. Of the full hour of music here, there were certainly a few null moments where the momentum of the writing did nothing more than support the framework of tranquil light permeating the album, but I felt more affected by this than the previous albums A Natural Disaster or A Fine Day to Exit, and that's saying something. The doom emigrants might not yet have what it takes to craft truly catchy bits that will thrust them into the mainstream rock portfolio of a Muse or Oasis, but their decidedly subtle approach should win them accolades in the appropriate press. I'll probably forget this album in a short period of time, but I can't deny that it's breathtaking in the interim.
Six years in the making, Anathema' latest album is finally finished and released. The songs 'Everything', 'A Simple Mistake' and 'Angels Walk Among Us' must have been available to download from their website in various forms for the past four years. It was initially intended to be titled Everything, then changed to Paradigm Shift, then Horizons and finally named after a WWII trench song called We're Here Because We're Here.
With the aforementioned trilogy of songs having been online since God knows when, and drawing logical conclusions from the last two studio releases and compilation Hindsight, the sound on this album is already largely familiar. Anathema have now well and truly abandoned pretensions to Floyd and any suggestion of metal or progressive, manifesting as soft and atmospheric rock with not a heavy or depressive moment in sight. They might more sensibly be compared to Portishead, or Bjork. The songs are about love, freedom and inspiration, ditching the angst that characterized A Natural Disaster.
That's not to say the band outside of Vincent Cavanagh and newly recruited vocalist Lee Douglas. There is even a guitar solo on 'Summernight Horizon', a pretty, propulsive song that grows from a simple piano riff into a driving alternative rock piece caked in Vincent's harmonized vocals and Douglas' sweet if slightly monochromatic backing vocals. She gets a chance to shine briefly on 'Presence', and perhaps if she had more lead bits (it was her who sang lead on A Natural Disaster's title track, for example) then she would have left more of an impression. In other news, 'Everything' is still the best song on here - I heard at least two versions previously and this is the best yet, the peak of Anathema's soft, catchy latter day brilliance. It builds gently but firmly with guitars growing organically from the piano melody to augment the truly uplifting chorus.
The piano plays a big role on this album, from the unforgettable opening strains of 'Everything' to the reflective and romantic 'Dreaming Light' the latter a classic Anathema ballad in the vein of 'Flying' or 'Are You There?' just with all suggestion of separation or uncertainty removed in favour of uplifting lyrics about transcendent love. It's all pretty wimpy in terms of theme, but Anathema are veterans at reimagining themselves and pull this off with panache. They sound like they mean it, is what I'm trying to say.
The spacey, whining guitar sound from moments of Eternity and Judgment is resurrected to pine across 'Angels Walk Among Us', also originally heard in 2006. This one has more a feeling of loss or confusion than other songs, but is resolved in the mellow finale. Anathema establish a mood of apparent sorrow with the lead melody before adapting it to the reassuring lyrics of the ending, reinforcing Vincent's promise that the album would be about positivity and healing. The last "old" track here, 'A Simple Mistake', almost reaches 'Everything' in terms of relaxing every muscle in your body and chilling you the fuck out. The big, stargazing chorus and minimalist instrumentation growing into a slow-rocking finish are another moment that glances at the natural evolution of the band's style over the past ten years. Sumptuous.
The first half of the album is easily the best (with the last three tracks not quite so compelling as those before), but once you're in the mood, sitting there with a glass of red and a book or maybe getting your freak on (good luck, wait until the English fellow starts rambling philosophically about life and death on 'Presence') all is well. It doesn't hit the heights of Eternity or Judgment, but it's better than I expected. It's a mellow, chilled album that doesn't even recall worn-thin comparisons between this and their original incarnation in the early '90s, its simply a sophisticated rebirth that I hope will lead to at least a handful more albums of this quality.
Anathema have progressed so much since their primitive first release, Serenades, from the straightforward Alternative 4 to the moody progressive structures in Judgement to the beautiful atmospheres of A Natural Disaster. And now, 7 years (!) after A Natural Disaster's initial release comes their latest effort, We're Here Because We're Here.
We're Here Because We're Here is a natural progression from A Natural Disaster, maintaining the atmospheres of the latter while de-emphasizing the guitars quite a bit. A lot of the songs here are mainly presented with a piano accompaniment and lush strings in the background, replacing the distorted guitar crescendos of previous endeavors such as "Balance" and "Closer" from the previous album. This doesn't mean that guitars are completely gone, however. Clean and acoustic guitar is heard throughout the album, and distortion also makes its way into the opener "Thin Air" and second track "Summernight Horizon."
The best thing about We're Here Because We're Here is that Anathema pretty much do everything right here. The songs are very well written and structured, and reward repeated listens as you spot little nuances that subtly improve the songs. Another great thing about this album is how different it is from their previous work. This album has a very different feel. It's much more positive than anything they've released previously. For example, a passage from one of the highlights of the album, Dreaming Light:
Life has new meaning
Feeling is being
And you shine inside
And love stills my mind
Like the sunrise
Dreaming light of the sunrise"
And yet, it is no less beautiful than anything they've released before. Anathema took a great risk with this album, and not only does it pay off for them, it also opens much more doors for their future progression.
More specifically, another fantastic thing they've done is the rearrangement of Angels Walk Among Us. The demo was very good, however, with the spoken word passage at the end, I felt that the song was longer than it needed to be. So what Anathema does here is cut the spoken word passage out of Angels Walk Among Us and give it its own track in Presence, and it's all the stronger for it, no longer feeling like an afterthought.
The addition of a new member also makes the band sound more inspired. Lee Douglas, who has worked with the band before, (check out Parisienne Moonlight and Don't Look Too Far on Judgement and the title track on A Natural Disaster) is now a full time member of Anathema. And it works so well. I personally don't believe tracks like "Everything", "Summernight Horizon" and the aforementioned "Angels Walk Among Us" would have even worked without her harmonies in the mix. Another good move.
I only have one very minor complaint about the album and that is, in casual listening, songs such as "Thin Air" and "Hindsight" tend to drag on for a little bit, but when taken in context with the rest of the album, they fit right in. Either way, these songs are best taken as one cohesive unit.
I know that this is going to be a rather divisive album in the Anathema fan community, but, this album is extremely necessary in the band's future progression. Comparing this to previous works is going to be very difficult, because there's a rather big difference. Nonetheless, they've done a fantastic job in creating a beautiful, flowing, emotional work that is surely going to be a classic in later years. We're Here Because We're Here is a wonderful album that you will probably be listening to constantly for weeks, maybe months, (I know that's going to be the case for me.) and it would do any open-minded metalhead good to listen to this album.
Angels Walk Among Us