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They've finally spun out of orbit - 20%

Absinthe1979, April 6th, 2020
Written based on this version: 2014, 2CD, Kscope Music (Digibook)

The evolution of Anathema is a phenomenon that has generally been pleasing.

Perhaps due to discovering the band just after the release of ‘Eternity’ in 1996 and eventually getting the back catalogue, it was clear that they were a band on the move. As far as I was concerned, they were heading in the right direction. ‘Alternative 4’ is one of the all-time great albums; even ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ has an impressive and emotional side A when the mood strikes me.

Unfortunately, it was clear from the moment that ‘Distant Satellites’ hit my CD player that the camel’s back was well and truly broken by the straw of banal sentimentality. This album is so overburdened with saccharine attempts at generating emotion that they have essentially forgotten to write songs. The repetition here is actually quite bizarre, as each song seems to focus around one or two central… well, riffs isn’t the right word… motifs that are then built upon with layers of Barbara Streisand strings and nursing home singalongs.

Listen to ‘Ariel’, which seems like it’s going to be a great song, but that damned keyboard tinkle goes on and on interminably. The drum loops in opening track ‘The Lost Song (Part 1)’ are simply awful to listen to in their endlessness. The drum loop is back for ‘The Lost Song (Part 3)’ and on and on it goes. They should have called this album ‘Eternity’ hahaha. I wish these songs had remained lost. Sorry…

There’s nothing inherently wrong with repetition, or even drum loops, but it’s just so uninspiring here, and it makes the plaintive vocals from both Vincent Cavanagh and Lee Douglas seem embarrassing and out of place. Everything’s “I’m alive” and “Tonight I’m free, so free” sung like a bad Coldplay cover band. When people emote to this extent it can work really well under certain circumstances, but if the music underneath it is off, the whole thing topples over like a bad Hallmark card on Valentine’s Day.

There’s even a song called ‘Anathema’. Naming a song or album after the band when that band has long been established and has its own identity is always risky business – just ask Satyricon – and what this one serves up is more piano tinkle repetition and Vincent singing about how he “loved you”, which I presume is directed at the ex-members of the band? It’s all pretty off. ‘You’re Not Alone’ has a terrible mumble vocal before an appalling electronic beat comes in over the top. This would have to be the worst Anathema song I’ve ever heard. Listen to the start of the title track with its techno beat and daytime TV vocal as Vincent sings, “It makes me wanna cry, just another distant satellite”. On second thoughts, don’t. And why does that weird drum loop turn up in the middle of 'Take Shelter', which until that point wasn't entirely terrible? Why? It's so out of place and jarring. These problems just go on and on.

Ultimately, the failures on this album are manifold: the overreaching sentiment, the uninspiring beats and repeated motifs, the strange self-help lyrics that are just so insistent. And all of this is tied together by an overwhelming sense that the Cavanaghs believe that they are creating a timeless classic. You can just feel the hubris in every note and vocal wail.

This isn’t a metal album, of course, but Anathema have until now more or less managed to retain some of that haunting atmosphere that made them great. With ‘Distant Satellites’, it’s finally spun out of orbit and has disappeared into the aether.

Refreshing and cathartic as ever - 75%

bkuettel, November 21st, 2015

Anathema began as a death/doom metal band, and the melancholic atmospheres of Distant Satellites is one of the few vague remnants of their past. Recent progressive rock has seemed to follow a trend of sadness and mourning, despite many of the psychedelic and poppy origins in the 1960s and 70s. Anathema’s recent releases follow this trend, and having started as a doom metal band, one would expect their sound to be the most depressing of them all. Instead, they have surprisingly upheld themes of love and spirituality, compared to their more cynical contemporaries. Synth experimentation and uplifting, but dense walls of guitars are the new style for Anathema. Despite peaking that sound with their 2010 comeback, Distant Satellites is a satisfying continuation of that sound, and this new era for the band would be a perfect time for them to play it safe. While to the cynical listener Distant Satellites could appear to suffer from a lack of risk taking, a number of subtle changes found throughout make it clear that they are not going by-the-numbers at all.

Many elements of this latest release sound much more stripped back, particularly due to the inclusion of more electronic elements. Overall though Distant Satellites caps off a trilogy of sorts for Anathema, and manages to correct a few of their mistakes while rounding out the threesome. Progressive rock epics are nowhere to be found, stubbornly holding the listener’s attention throughout the shortened, more immediate effects. “Dusk (Dark Is Descending)” displays one of the best instances of streamlined songwriting and risk taking on the album. After a typical sounding first half for the band, it descends into a quiet interlude before building and building and building until… nothing. The song just ends. Moments like this make the seasoned listener wonder what just happened. Where is the explosion of synths and pounding drums? The heartfelt, emotional singing about inspiration and love? It happened, but was simply a straight continuation of the more subtle build-ups, and is one of the most successful and subtle examples of how great Anathema are at playing with listener expectations. Songs like “Ariel” and “Anathema” also follow the structure of what might be considered a typical Anathema ballad, uplifting piano and synths over beautiful vocals gradually building in intensity, but not necessarily with the explosion of sound their prog epics display. These tracks instead treat the listener to a chiming guitar lead over a wall of sound that sounds strangely original and wholly satisfying, even in the context of listener expectations.

Vocalist Lee Douglas (sister of drummer John Douglas) has had a sporadic role in Anathema’s past. Her voice would sometimes carry whole songs, but might never appear again on the album, or she would randomly pop up in the background of certain songs to be just another instrument against the dense musical backdrop. Her role has always seemed to be one of a casual guest singer, but here is finally integrated into the music and used appropriately, as well as consistently. She is at times the perfect element for a song to reach its full potential. Her harmonizing vocals with Cavanagh in “The Lost Song Part 1” is a powerful display, and an album highlight.

Tremendous crescendos have been Anathema’s strength in recent years. Despite once again being the highlights here, they are surprisingly restrained, making for a more digestible and enjoyable listen. The expected epic and title track of the album are where the electronica elements appear, surprisingly feeling completely in place with the rest of the musical styles. The pulsing rhythms and melodies of the closing track lead right into album highlight “Take Shelter,” showcasing soaring synths over crisp electronic drums, closing out Distant Satellites with a fantastic streak of ending songs with a welcome change of sound. This latest release might not have the same emotional weight and instrumental complexity the band has achieved in the past, but it doesn’t need to. Anathema’s latest streamlines their comeback sound, and proves that going through multiple genre changes over twenty five years can still result in impactful, refreshing releases well worth experiencing.

Where is this going? - 25%

Orange Sunshine, July 12th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2014, CD, Kscope Music (Slipcase)

In short, the one word to describe Distant Satellites is underwhelming. By my standards for this band (which admittedly are quite high) I can honestly say this album was a huge disappointment to a loyal and persistent Anathema fan. They can, and have done, way better than this. The first half of the album is a lot stronger than the second, with the best song off the album The Lost Song Part 2. That was really the only song which resonated with me throughout this 57 minute record.

The rest of the album was a complete lackluster. From Eternity and on, they have always had a good mix of slow, mid, and fast paced songs with mild filler in between. The songwriting has always been exceptional with a good ratio to keep things interesting. But when I listened to Distant Satellites I felt the *whole* album was leading up to a climax that NEVER happened. Every song, except for TLSP2, left me wanting them to reach a moment where it took off, where it climaxed, where something fucking happened other than that same fucking drum beat that leads absolutely nowhere. The whole album coasted in dullness with very little variation.

The production was decent. I feel it focused on anything but the guitar work which made their repetitive drum beats sound really redundant. However, the vocal work was clear and precise but had nothing memorable to back it. I mean, I love Vince and Lee's voices both separately and together. Their harmonies were also spot on, but musically nothing grabbed me and in turn left everything feeling completely dull, uninspired and incomplete.

Towards the end of the album, they switched their drum sound to a annoying electronic sound which by this point was an actual chore to sit through and listen to. Its like I was 4 years old again being told to eat my vegetables. For example, with the song Distant Satellites, it has potential to be a great song, Vince's voice and lyrics are beautiful, catchy and makes me want to sing a long, but is ruined by a annoying, repetitive, dull drum beat, and nothing musically interesting to back it. Even so, my love for this band gave me hope that they would turn it around and make something memorable and enjoyable happen, but at the end I was just sad for I knew they've lost the magic they once had but at the same time I was happy that I was no longer listening to them constantly fall short of what I know they're capable of.

Before I continue to spout off any further I'll sum up and say I'm extremely let down with Distant Satellites. I did not read anything about this album before listening to it because I wanted it to be a surprise, and surprised I was, but for all the wrong reasons. To call these songs even B sides of Weather Systems or Were Here Cause Were Here would be a compliment for this atrocity.

The Fear Is Just An Illusion - 93%

Iamthesawyer, July 5th, 2014

Through different and original variations on doom/death metal and alternative rock, Anathema have evolved, changed, and developed their style drastically throughout their long career, but they have finally reached their destination. Anathema’s 10th studio album, Distant Satellites, is very hard to describe with words, as there are not enough positive adjectives for such an outstanding release.

With a beautiful quality, rich in tone, and captivating melodies, this is hands down the best vocal performance of Vincent Cavanagh and Lee Douglas’s career. They deliver a great amount of passion with every note of every line. Lee takes the role of performing lead vocals much more frequently on this album than any other release, and weaves in and out of Vincent’s lines flawlessly. Both vocalists also present a range that is wider than that of previous albums. The guitar parts are barely noticeable, and that is not a bad thing. They are used mainly to highlight the orchestral arrangements, and to help the drums push the song forward during heavier moments. True riffs are used sparingly, but every riff is not only memorable, but melodic, heavy, and timed perfectly, solidifying Anathema’s “less is more” approach. The drums have a very punk feel, which helps to drive the aggressive sections along. Daniel Cardoso makes excellent use of the kit by knowing exactly what sound and rhythm works best and where, in order to provide the most emotional delivery possible. The bass work is jazzy, yet also has a punk style that compliments the drumming when things get heavy, but also provides a perfect foundation for the greatest emotional impact during the softer parts. Distant Satellites is very orchestral, adding a necessary element to the album. The parts are well arranged and layered nicely to provide a majestic, powerful, full, yet not heavy, soundscape to the album. The atmosphere takes the listener to another world. Utilizing electronic drums adds an interesting, and possibly unexpected twist to the recording. The instrumental parts as a whole are quite layered and sometimes repetitive, but not boring. Production on Distant Satellites is remarkable. It is crisp, clean, and brings out each nuance and captures every ounce of feeling that pours out of each instrument.

The songwriting on this album is a bit different than earlier albums. Anathema exercise a more approachable, and even slightly pop-rock style without being overly happy, as some moments of their previous studio album, Weather Systems, were; there is a more thoughtful take on writing this time around. Each song starts soft and increasingly builds until the climax explodes with passion, and then quickly fades to nothing- a well-executed and effective contrast. The album is a true album, rather than a collection of songs, as it progresses almost perfectly from one track to the next, and all the songs flow into each other and connect. Lyrically, Distant Satellites is not overly deep, symbolic, or difficult to absorb, but the lyrics are meaningful nonetheless, and the vocal delivery on each song exemplifies that. The lyrics take the listener on a journey through the darkest and brightest sides of love, the concept or overall theme of the album being a love story of sorts. It celebrates the good times, reflects on the bad, and is dark, sad, yet upbeat, hopeful, and nostalgic- elements that exist in everyday life, but are very hard to successfully bring together in music, not to mention on one album. All of this can be represented perfectly by the beautiful album cover art.

The only thing negative I have to say about the album is that there is a break in the flow of the songs with “You’re Not Alone”, the first song on the record to feature electronic drums. This song flows into the rest of the album well, but is a little too different than the first half of the album, and distracts the listener from their journey. The short vocal part of this otherwise instrumental song I find annoying, as well as the guitar riff, both of which I feel are too repetitive. Once the riff builds though, it becomes a little more interesting. The album then calms down with “Firelight” and continues on fluidly through the rest of the album, now including more synthesized drums, but with no more hiccups in smooth transitions.

This is a great album, to say the least. In Anathema’s long and ever changing career, this is them at their very best, and this album could very easily be my pick for album of the year.


Highlight tracks: The Lost Song Part 1, The Lost Song Part 2, Ariel, Anathema

http://metalmayhemunderground.jimdo.com/

Timeless we are. - 82%

ConorFynes, June 21st, 2014

I think Anathema are the sort of band you need to see live to really understand the kind of emotional effect they have on people. Within the first song, they had people dancing. By the time they played "Dreaming Light", I even saw people crying; believe me, it takes a certain kind of band to turn a grown man in a Cannibal Corpse hoodie into a blubbering wreck overwhelmed with emotions. It's that intensity of feeling in Anathema's music that's made them one of my favourite bands. Although I've had mixed feelings surrounding the somewhat recent adoption of New Age-y optimism into their sound, I've nonetheless come to expect a moving experience from Anathema each time a new album comes out. In this regard, Distant Satellites does not disappoint; those who enjoyed the uplifting atmosphere and soaring arrangements of their last two albums will find more to love here. In some ways it feels less bold and adventurous than 2012's Weather Systems, but there is love, passion and beauty woven throughout Anathema's latest hour of music; once again, they have proven that they're the best at what they do.

Distant Satellites isn't so much an evolution of Anathema's sound so much as it is a new spin on the formula from their last album. Whereas Weather Systems was busy and dynamic, Distant Satellites honours a more static approach. I don't even mean 'static' as a bad thing either, only that Anathema choose to stick with musical ideas once they're started with them. The songwriting is certainly accessible, but the tried, true and done to death verse-chorus format is often eschewed for a minimalist build-up of an idea throughout a composition. Anathema have shown their ties to post-rock proudly with this one. Whatever dynamic changes in song structure Anathema do offer here always feel natural; from a purely compositional perspective, the songwriting on Distant Satellites feels downright predictable. Of course, the way Anathema make such moving music doesn't come so much from the writing itself; rather, it's the beautiful way they perform it.

Though I've been a little disappointed that Anathema's songwriting on Distant Satellites isn't particularly dynamic, the way they've arranged and executed the music is virtually without comparison. String orchestration, vocal harmonies and electronic infusions are all among the ingredients built upon the foundation; for everything it's worth, Anathema know how to make their music soar. Vincent Cavanagh's voice is in top form; Lee Douglas reprises her role as the beautiful female counterpoint voice, and Danny gets a nice word in as well. While I remember Weather Systems for some particularly excellent guitarwork, the instrumentation is generally toned down for this one; the instruments are merely vessels for the atmosphere and composition, rather than a demonstration of skill foremost. A golden exception to this is the drumwork of Daniel Cardoso, who offers the most exciting, cinematic drum performance of Anathema's career here.

Like the past two albums from the emotionally rejuvenated Anathema, the atmosphere here is often one of hope and positive energies. The melancholy is here still, but in far shorter supply than most of their earlier work. It's not until the second half of the album where Anathema start to take the music down a darker path; the atmosphere is still the same, but the more nuanced portrayal of feeling is more complex, more engaging. While parts 1 and 2 of "The Lost Song" don't do a great lot for me, the motifs are reprised in the third part, where light electronic timbres and a moodier tone are introduced; it changes the context of the original ideas and rewards listening to the album's opening again through a different light. I would say the song "Anathema" could constitute a fourth part of "The Lost Song"; it continues the introduced ideas down an even more sombre path. The album's certainly been written with a mind for rewarding repeated listens.

"You're Not Alone" is probably the only song on the album that hasn't grown much on me. I know it's meant as an echo of the vocal-density and urgency of "The Gathering of the Clouds" off of Weather Systems, but it ends up feeling too cluttered for it's own good. "Firelight" is the other shorter song on the album, though it's less a song and more an extended ambient intro to the title track to Distant Satellites. This amazing song (as well as the closer "Take Shelter") finally accomplish what We're Here Because We're Here and Weather Systems fell short of: a satisfying climactic finish to the album. The past two resorted on underwhelming drawn-out tracks as their closers, but these last two songs are incredible. The title track is brilliantly driven by a rolling electronic beat and vocals that earn the 'haunting' descriptor as much as any others out there. "Take Shelter" is a more predictable track from the band, but once again Vincent's vocals steal the show and provoke chills. Distant Satellites started off a bit slowly, but by the end it's reached the levels of mastery I've come to expect from the band.

Honestly, the thing I've had the most trouble embracing since their change of heart on We're Here Because We're Here are the lyrics, the 'message' itself. Attitudes shift naturally with age, and Anathema's 'glass half full' worldview no doubt reflects their maturity as people. Sadly the way they've meant to convey this optimism has always felt overbearing and sanctimonious; the lyrics on their latest three albums often feel like they've been drawn out of a New Age self-love handbook. They were often just as lyrically heavy-handed during their Alternative 4 depressive era mind you, but given the 180 degree progression from darkness to light, it's felt like Anathema have been a little too assertive with their change of heart. The New Ageisms aren't quite as pronounced this time around but it does feel like a reprise of the pseudo-spiritual love and peace Anathema have been preaching since 2010. The minimalistic song structures and focus on atmosphere don't leave much room for the vocals or lyrics to tread off the beaten path. The lyrics are generally painted in broad strokes, covering ideas of love, tranquility, the 'inner child' and stuff of that ilk. It doesn't feel like Anathema are trying to say something profound or specific with the lyrics; instead, the lyrics offer a broad context to the music itself. As always, Anathema have stored the uplifting profundity away in the music, waiting for the engaged listener to find it and come to the same conclusions themselves.

If I can step away from Distant Satellites for just a moment, I'd like to say that Anathema's career and progression is quite beautiful when taken as a whole. In their youths they were clearly plagued with some venomous feelings, and while that resulted in gorgeous art, severe depression has the potential to tear a life apart, to rob it of meaning and make it seem like there's no way out. Comparing that now to the place Anathema now find themselves in, and it honestly sounds like they've found the happiness in themselves that probably seemed impossible years back. Though I might not embrace the way Anathema convey this new found peace, that shift from dark to light is rather beautiful, and serves to give hope to any of us who may be fighting with demons of their own. The press release I've received for Distant Satellites declares that it "will surely be recognised as their finest album to date." Although there's always a pressure in early reviews of eagerly anticipated albums to agree with the press pitch and sing nothing but the most lavish of praises, I can't call it the best thing they've ever done. It doesn't match the feeling of paralyzing awe I feel hearing Judgement or "A Natural Disaster". It feel more static and predictable than the monumental Weather Systems. Even so, Distant Satellites has dared to open my heart up again in the way only Anathema seem capable of doing; whatever its faults, it has made those feelings feel fresh again.

Distant Satellites - 90%

Twin_guitar_attack, June 10th, 2014

Anathema’s career over their twenty four year existence has taken them through several stylistic shifts. From their gloomy death/doom metal beginnings, through the angsty emotional rock of their middle albums, they’ve arrived at a style seeing them combine progressive rock with a dense uplifting atmosphere in this decade starting with 2010′s brilliant We’re Here Because We’re Here and 2012′s Weather Systems. After two decades, they seem to have found the style which really suits them best, and they’ve been making the best music of their career to date. And their ninth full length, the new album Distant Satellites sees them expand on this sound, and they’ve followed up with yet another stunning album.

The band’s penchant for gorgeous atmospheres is apparent from the start of The Lost Song pt.1, with both Vincent and Lee singing at their best in their careers on this track, and indeed throughout the album. Vincent’s voice is soulful, powerful and charged with unparalleled levels of emotion, and Lee’s backing vocals are just as powerful, lush and beautiful. But it’s the chemistry between the two singers that make’s it so great, their voices sound made for each other, Lee more soft and gentle, Vincent more strong and dynamic, but both with a great deal of passion. With the band having previously utilized strings on Universal from We’re Here Because We’re Here, making it one of the most beautiful tracks from that album, they’re used in a more lead role on this album, giving it a cinematic sound with each note drawing out an emotional response from the music. And with soft piano melodies in the background accompanied by a great catchy drumming performance, their sound is great. The guitars are often low in the mix, or played sparingly, but when that extra crunch does come in it adds that extra power that really completes that opening track. Moving straight into The Lost Song Pt.2, mellow piano lines and soft strings create a lovely background for Lee’s gentle cooing serving as a fantastic intro, before those drums come in along side her fantastic vocals – it’s her best performance with the band, and the emotional performance is up there with any of those great female singers in contemporary rock and metal. The lovely catchy melodies and the simply stunning vocal performance really resonate emotionally, and send a chill down your spine. Like Lightning Song from their previous album, Lee simply owns it.

Danny’s usual finger picked arpeggios are present again for the next track Dusk (Dark is Descending), and it’s another good rock song with a great strong vocal performance from Vincent. The second half gives way to piano and softer vocals, and while it’s a decent song, the rest of the album’s so good it’s one of the weaker ones, not quite reaching the emotional heights of the others. It picks back up well with Ariel with more fantastic piano melodies and vocals from Lee with a catchy chorus. Building fantastically, with a guitar crunch, strings, and the introduction of Vincent’s more powerful voice the climax makes it an atmospheric great. Returning back to The Lost Song, part 3 is a great rock song with fantastic piano and guitar melodies gelling fantastically with simple punchy drums and a fantastic duet from the two singers. The eponymous Anathema creates a thick atmosphere with dark strings, bright piano, expressive lead guitar and rich vocals from Vincent, as well as powerful, stirring lyrics. A great song to take the name of the band, providing all their trademarks in atmosphere, emotion and soulful lyrics.

There’s some electronic experiments on the second half of the album which at first listen sound a little odd, but really fit into the band’s sound well. Two shorter tracks come in the form of You’re Not Alone and Firelight. The former is the most experimental on the album, with the vocals having electronic effects on them alongside an upbeat electronic drumbeat, building up with dual vocal lines before it all collapses into a dark, mad electronic experiment with high pitched screeching guitar melodies repeated over the top. Different for the band, but very impressive. The is a short instrumental with soft organ drones fading in and out over each, providing some catharsis while dripping with emotion, minimalist yet brilliant, it’s a great piece of ambiance to break up the album.

The electronic elements fit even better on the longest track Distant Satellites. A soft, tasteful electronic beat provides the backdrop to one of the best tracks in the Anathema catalog, while the organs carry through into the track, mixed with more gorgeous piano lines. The IDM beats throughout the song work really well, and fit in perfectly with the band’s trademark moody atmosphere. Vincent manages to excel even himself in his emotional delivery, with really memorable vocal lines and haunting lyrics that stay with you long after the album fades out, even carrying through into the closer Take Shelter, a song in a similar vein. More gorgeous vocals, piano and strings create a soft atmosphere, only accentuated by the gentle electronics, before building up into another emotional rock piece with a great balance between all the elements.

While there have been many great albums released this year already, there hasn’t been any quite as beautiful as Distant Satellites, and certainly none that gives you goosebumps quite like this. The band have always been known for their ability to craft an atmosphere, but between those haunting strings, gorgeous melodies and beautiful vocals from both Lee and Vincent, they’ve improved on this even further, and the atmosphere and moods created by Anathema on this release are really a thing to behold- they’re so thick they’re almost tangible to the touch. The electronic experiments show the ever evolving nature of the great band too, combining well with their usual style. The album might not be without it’s minor flaws, but even those are endearing on an album that’s so incredibly emotional, soulful and relatable on a very human level. Highly impressive and highly recommended.

Originally written for swirlsofnoise.com