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To scream or to speak - 70%

colin040, September 10th, 2019

It’s clearly debatable when some of the original doom/death metal bands started to lose their death ’n doom elements and what they started to sound like instead – which is if you’ve heard plenty of these 90’s kind of albums sometimes hard to describe. In Anathema’s case, you'll still find plenty of ingredients the style would be made of (woe is me kind of lyrics, dramatic clean/harsh vocals and moving guitar leads). As you might see, I’ve excluded the rhythm section because this one differences quite a bit compared to the band’s earlier works. Pentecost III still relied on notes that made one feel doomed, but here Anathema lack the physical weight I often associate with any form of doom metal. Only ‘’Restless Oblivion’’ feels like a slightly exception, with a bulldozer-of-a-riff opening and its brute chorus, but to call The Silent Enigma a proper doom/death metal album might be far-fetched.

It's tricky to describe what Anathema have ended up with instead. We're not dealing with the melodic guitars on autopilot approach that Katatonia was responsible for with their second album, nor does The Silent Enigma resemble any familiar sounding transitional gothic metal efforts. Aggression is more so caused by the vocals and not so much by the guitar work itself - as ''The Sunset of Age'' clearly demonstrates; slowly working towards that emotional climax through juggernaut chords, enigmatic acoustic passages and and an apocalyptic solo that might end up rather frustrating for those seeking approachable or gruff doom metal variants.

Having taken over in the vocal department, Vincent Cavanagh sounds like a man who goes on a lonesome journey in search for happiness but ends up spiraling into depression instead. ‘’Shroud of Frost’’ feels like a cry for help where the throaty roars become almost too much to handle (literally perhaps, you can almost hear his voice break in there!) while the introspective ‘’A Dying Wish’’ unfolds itself as an acceptance of an unfortunate fate. While certainly emotionally provoking, The Silent Enigma does also have its clumsy moments that prevents it from falling into the classic category though. Sometimes the guitars aren’t engaging much and the spoken passages become too prominent, which causes certain songs to become somewhat powerless. Take the title track for example, where Cavanagh sounds like a whining tenor who thought Tom Warrior didn’t whine enough in the late 80’s and decided to imitate him. ‘’Cerulean Twilight’’ hints the direction Anathema would take with Eternity; sounding more like autumnal rock than self-pity metal (which includes the majority of these tunes in case you wondered), but with a whispered vocal approach feels like a missed opportunity while ‘’Nocturnal Emission’’ features some distorted spoken notes and someone grasping for air in between (?!) - It’s hard to find any real value in it.

Saved by its highlights, Anathema still manages to deliver the goods, not to mention opening and closing the album with their best tunes is a solid trick. ‘’Restless Oblivion’’ shows the band at their heaviest and most instant; a spiteful vocal performance howls between the hypnotic verse and shattering chorus. The aforementioned ''Sunset of Age'' has some of the better vocal effects used to lead the verse, while the final verse emerges with enormous emotional power. The gloomy preface of ‘’A Dying Wish’’ is somewhat misleading, as it quickly becomes clear the tune has some real fire to it: an energetic closer with an interesting contrast between the adventurous guitar acrobatics and the vocals that express nothing but regret. It’s the fastest tune on the album and no wonder the band still play this song live (well, sometimes at least).

Anathema would soon lose most of their rough edges, as Eternity showed a new direction of the band. Now I like that album as well, but a part of me wonders what the band could have ended up with, had they worked on the strengths that they demonstrated here. The verdict is rather simple - The Silent Enigma doesn’t fall in the classic category, but occasionally it's rather great.