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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.