Tag Archives: alternative rock

Anathema – The Optimist – Album Review

KSCOPE351-COVER-20cm-1024x1024

Artist: Anathema

Album Title: The Optimist

Label: Kscope

Date of Release: 9 June 2017

Anathema is one of my top 5 bands of all time. As such, their new full-length release, ‘The Optimist’ is easily my most highly anticipated album release of 2017.

Put simply, Anathema are a band that speaks to me. They are a band that seem to know instinctively how to press my buttons and touch me whatever my mood. From euphoric and uplifting, to fragile and poignant, they cover the gamut of emotions, leaving me exhilarated one minute and sombre the next, frequently with tears as my constant and ubiquitous silent companion.

I have always liked Anathema, discovering the Liverpudlians via the magnificent ‘Eternity’, back in 1996 as a teenager. However, it was with 2010’s ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ and 2012’s ‘Weather Systems’ that my admiration grew into a full-blown love affair, further cemented by ‘Distant Satellites’ in 2014.

To some extent, timing was everything. ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ was born less than two years after the heartbreaking passing of my younger brother. And so, when the song ‘Presence’ delivers the spoken word lines of ‘Life is not the opposite of death. Death is the opposite of birth. Life is eternal’ atop a gorgeously ethereal soundscape, I was floored. I know it sounds nonsensical but I felt like Anathema knew me and had put this into the album just for me to help ease my own inner turmoil.

‘Weather Systems’ was released just two years later. Stronger human beings might have moved on from personal tragedy better than I but truth be told, I was still struggling. As such, when I heard ‘Internal Landscapes’ with another powerful spoken word intro delivered by a man who had suffered a near-death experience, I was hit once again. Was this written for me? Of course not, but the conflicting emotions that it stirred in me made me think so. From despair at my loss to the comfort of gaining a little insight into what my brother might have felt as he slipped from us, this masterpiece within Anathema’s undeniable tour-de-force continues to have a huge and lasting impact.

And then, if that wasn’t enough, along came ‘Distant Satellites’ in 2014. I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Daniel and Vincent prior to its release. The guys graciously listened to my babblings as I tried to ineloquently describe the importance of their music to me. To my eternal gratitude, the brothers then gave me the gift of a whole new perspective on ‘The Lost Song, Part 2’. Already an achingly gorgeous song, their words made this composition even more important, further cementing the bond between Anathema, my brother and me.

Given all this history, it is very difficult for me to remain entirely objective where Anathema is concerned. And naturally my expectations will be massive ahead of the release of any new material.

And, to begin with, I struggled with ‘The Optimist’, the eleventh album of the Liverpudlian’s career. Never ones to shy away from experimentation, ‘The Optimist’ is yet another shift in Anathema’s own personal evolution. Whilst the core ingredients of atmosphere, emotional depth and lyrical eloquence are present and correct here, the output framed loosely by alternative/prog rock, has a much darker feel to it in general. There is also a more pronounced use of loops, electronic sounds and percussion that were hinted at within the title track on ‘Distant Satellites’. If I’m honest, whilst I love that specific track, I had my doubts and concerns should Anathema venture further down this musical avenue.

The fact that they have done just that perhaps explains why my initial thoughts on ‘The Optimist’ were not overly favourable. The selfish side of me wanted ten more close variations of ‘The Lost Song Part 2’ or ‘Internal Landscapes’ and I felt disappointed that together, Vincent Cavanagh (vocals, guitars, keys), Daniel Cavanagh (guitars, keys, vocals), John Douglas (acoustic/electronic percussion), Lee Douglas (vocals), Jamie Cavanagh (bass) and Daniel Cardoso (drums/keyboards) hadn’t indulged me.

Anathema-promo-2017-1-1024x683 Caroline Traitler

Credit: Caroline Traitler – http://www.carolinetraitler.net

With the benefit of time and perseverance though, I can now admit that it is not the music on ‘The Optimist’ that was at fault, but my own issues, my own limitations and my selfishness. ‘The Optimist’ is not an instant fix, an immediate score of your favourite musical drug. What it is instead, is a multi-layered, multi-faceted record that demands time and effort on behalf of the listener to unlock its true potential. And when it unlocks…wow!

Interestingly the band have married this latest step forward sonically with a thematic step backwards. In 2001, Anathema released an album called ‘A Fine Day To Exit’ which told the story of a man who wanted to escape his life and the modern world. ‘The Optimist’ reprises this story and in so doing, provides closure to a story that was left unfinished. In typical Anathema style however, the conclusion remains deliberately ambiguous, inviting personal interpretation by the listener.

This thematic decision explains the somewhat strange title of the opening track on ‘The Optimist’, namely ’32.63N 117.14W’. These are in fact the co-ordinates for the beach in San Diego where ‘A Fine Day to Exit’ concludes and which, I assume, adorns the cover of that album, a cover that becomes quite emotional with closer scrutiny. I’ll admit that this is in no way my favourite album in the Anathema back catalogue but I had often thought about that cover and the family photo that sits on the dashboard of the empty car wondering how this story ultimately played out. And now I can.

This opener very much has the feel of a concept album introduction. The sound of waves lapping on the shore, footsteps crunching on the beach, a car engine starting and then station-hopping on the car radio. It is more a scene-setter than a piece of music per se but it then segues rather seamlessly into ‘Leaving It Behind’ and we’re off. And we’re off at some pace, because this is a massively up-tempo, loud and abrasive piece of rock music. The electronic aspect is present from the beginning but with a bit of listening, it really enhances the track, adding an interesting slant to the composition, particularly in the brief atmospheric mid-song break down. As the song develops, the intensity increases as guitars begin to build up into walls of jangly sound whilst the drumming from Cardoso is relentless, ably assisted by bassist Jamie Cavanagh. To my mind, it is the perfect way to introduce an album that has deliberately and consciously been recorded ‘live’ in the studio, because the resulting energy is palpable and thoroughly infectious, pulling the listener along for the heady ride immediately.

As ‘Endless Ways’ begins quietly with just a lone piano and plaintive melody, I’m still catching my breath a little. But as Lee Douglas enters the fray for the first time, accented by some lush orchestration, my attention is well and truly undivided. The melodies and angelic vocals are more reminiscent of the last couple of albums, even if Douglas has parked the vibrato which characterised previous performances. Here, as the song majestically builds from humble beginnings into a powerful and heartfelt outpouring of emotions, Lee demonstrates that she is one of the shining lights in rock music today, whilst Anathema demonstrate that they haven’t lost their mercurial spark, whatever I might have first thought. And yes, you guessed it, the tears flow as I find myself being emotionally nourished by the incredibly important rock in my life that is Anathema.

“Hold on, hold on for dear life
And run, and run all night
For you are loved in endless ways
Stay with me, please believe
I can be your memory

My world will never be the same
And my heart is never going to regret
For you are loved in endless ways
Are loved in endless ways”

This wasn’t written for me, just as previous lyrics weren’t. But they could have been. These words resound with me, they touch me and they comfort me.

More piano introduces the title track, but it is Vincent that initially joins in vocally, joined by Lee at times but only fleetingly. Delicate melodies that are pure Anathema begin to work their charm after a few listens and further orchestration embellishments help to propel the song to a new level of sophistication. The track ebbs and flows, toying with the listener’s moods, but as with its predecessor, there is a subtle build-up towards a crescendo where there’s a hint of a wailing guitar in the vein of songs like ‘Anathema’.

‘San Francisco’ is a bit of an odd one. It is an instrumental that is dominated by a rather repetitive yet strangely beguiling melody, a reprise of sorts of ‘Endless Ways’ if I’m not mistaken. It is then accented by atmospheric synths and electronic sounds which help to set a completely different tone, one that I warm to more and more as time goes by.

In keeping with the concept vibe, the sounds of a train in full flight acts as a pause before ‘Springfield’ is introduced, almost shyly and reluctantly via a quiet and delicate guitar melody which is quickly taken up by the piano. Electronic sounds make a subtle return but it is the insistent rhythmic beat that makes the biggest impression in the early stages, driving the song towards what ultimately becomes an imposing wall of post rock-inspired sound led by urgent guitars and topped off by Lee’s serene voice almost pleading to the heavens. The track then falls away to conclude in a minimalist manner accompanied by the sounds of waves, distant sirens and the whispers of a male voice.

Anathema-portrait-1-MEDIA-640x967

Credit: Caroline Traitler – http://www.carolinetraitler.net

‘Ghosts’ then offers one of the most poignant and immediate melodies on the album which is enhanced by a beautiful string arrangement and a beat that together suggests something reminiscent of a film soundtrack. By contrast, ‘Can’t Let Go’ ups the pace and features arguably Vincent’s strongest performance on the entire record. Once again, drummer Cardoso provides the drive to a track that begins in bold fashion but which builds sublimely through a clever injection of rich and vibrant aural textures.

We return to another snippet of action from the central character before we delve into the murky world of ‘Close Your Eyes’, which evokes images in my mind of a dark and smoky backstreet jazz club. I can appreciate the composition and I don’t dislike it but it is by far and away my least favourite track on the album. The fact that a trumpet plays a significant role no doubt feeds my apathy as I continue to fail to warm to brass of any kind in my music.

Any lingering misgivings are short-lived however as ‘The Optimist’ ends in genuinely commanding fashion courtesy of ‘Wildfires’ and the fittingly-titled epic closer, ‘Back To The Start’.

The former has a dark, eerie tone created by the haunting, echoed vocals of Vincent atop the ubiquitous piano which for large portions of the track delivers something monotone, incessant and deliberately uncomfortable. But it works, as does the controlled explosion of sound before another swift descent into a minimalist, thought-provoking abyss.

The album is then brought to a close by the near 12-minute ‘Back To The Start’ and it is nothing short of magical, the perfect way to round out this impressive body of work. The sound of waves gently lapping onto the beach ushers in an aching and gorgeous melody that, when coupled by some devastatingly honest lyrics, threatens to reduce this grown man to tears yet again. I’m not normally someone who likes choral vocals, especially when they have a vague gospel ‘happy’ feel to them, but here, it just sounds right. Perfect in fact. The combination of voices, orchestration and lyrics as the song builds and ultimately reaches its climax is truly epic and a feeling of barely contained euphoria washes over me, bathing me in a warm glow. It’s all too much, so when the final act of the central character follows, I get tingles, chills and all manner of conflicting emotions.

Once again, Anathema have delivered an album that is more to me than just a collection of beautifully and lovingly-crafted songs. It is an album that lives and breathes. It has a vibrancy, an intense raw honesty and a human depth that many strive to deliver but that very few succeed in achieving. Whether or not it ultimately surpasses the last couple of records in terms of my overall enjoyment, only time will tell. For now though, I am content to lose myself in ‘The Optimist’ via its aural magnificence and the emotional succour that it provides to this fragile and damaged soul.

The Score of Much Metal: 9.5

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Isurus – Logocharya – Album Review

Isurus cover

Artist: Isurus

Album Title: Logocharya

Label: Independent Release

Year Of Release: 2015

One of the biggest buzzes I get through writing this blog and writing about music in general is from the discovery of new music. I’m not one to sit still and rest on my laurels; I’m always on the look-out for the next band or artist to impress me and offer another fresh and exciting listening experience. The fact that I get bands coming to me on a daily basis asking for me to take a listen to this or that, is a bonus that I welcome. Some of it is not to my taste at all or is not of a great standard but occasionally, just occasionally, one artist will rise out of the flood of mediocrity and make a big impact upon me. One such band is Isurus.

Isurus are a London-based band that has been in existence since 2007 and are comprised of vocalist Braun Amore, guitarist David Bonney, drummer Thomas Drew and bassist Daniele Gravina. I believe I’m right in saying that the band began their existence as an all-out thrash metal band but, over time, have developed and morphed into an entirely different beast. Whilst I’m loathe to ever pigeon-hole bands into any one definitive genre, for the sake of brevity and to give an initial idea to readers, I’d refer to Isurus as progressive metal. However, other influences and ideas are at play within the band’s sound that make the music of Isurus as strong as it is.

Courtesy of Isurus

Courtesy of Isurus

‘Logocharya’ represents Isarus’ sophomore album release, which sees the light of day some four full years since their debut, ‘Telos’. At the time of writing, I remain unfamiliar with the content of the debut and so am unable to comment upon it. Suffice to say that based on the strength of its successor, I intend to rectify this in the very near future. For the time being though, it allows me to focus on this new material without being coloured or distracted by what went before, something which can be as helpful as being familiar with every note and nuance of a band’s career. I am free of any bias and unhindered by any emotional attachment to the artist.

The question then begs itself: what do I think about ‘Logocharya’ then? In short, I think it is rather great. But allow me to elaborate.

I’m not a fan of Tool. I have tried on many occasions to fall under the spell of this cult US band, whose compositional nous and playing skills are without question, superlative. They are just not for me somehow. The relevance of this becomes clear within the first minute or two of opening track ‘Logos’, which wastes little time in hitting the listener with a groovy, heavy and powerful riff courtesy of Bonney that delights with its power and the clever time signature that it employs, transcending from the ordinary to the special in my opinion. It is further enhanced thanks to some really brilliant drumming from Drew and Gravina’s clever bass lines that together are much more than just a metronomic backbone of the music. The track eventually opens up into a killer melodic crescendo and I’m reminded fairly quickly of tracks like ‘Schism’ by Tool, one of the few tracks by them that resonates with me.

Initially flummoxed by my enjoyment of Isurus in spite of the overt Tool references, I listened again and again until it dawned on me that the Isurus sound is much more multi-dimensional than that. They might be subtle or not immediately apparent, but there are other ingredients within the Isurus sound that offer demonstrable originality and prevent the dreaded ‘clone’ description. Elements of both classic-era and more modern progressive rock, Bay Area thrash (particularly within some of the heavier, more straight-up riffs), alt-rock and tech/math metal are fused into the overall sound making for a very ambitious final product. Crucially, it all comes together to enhance the compositions rather than detract from them; the songs remain at the forefront of the quartet’s collective minds and so, however technical things become and however many polyrhythms are experimented with, there’s something for the listener to latch on to, thereby creating a certain addictive quality to the music.

‘Orbis’ has a big thrash feel initially but then moves back and forth into more modern metal territory that nods its head in the direction of Slipknot and others of their ilk, albeit toned down and not as brutal. There’s plenty more by way of instrumental dexterity but equally, there’s enough mid-tempo groove to get the head nodding. ‘Gaea’ offers more in the way of the modern alt-prog movement, bands like Karnivool for example. The bass rumbles under a subtle clean guitar line and the vocals of Braun Amore echo the aforementioned’s Ian Kenny when delivering a more restrained lead vocal. ‘Hospes’ introduces some lovely double-pedal drumming within a more extreme metal framework that also features some big synth embellishments and plenty of dramatic light and shade. ‘Arca’ takes the foot off the pedal and introduces a strong, simple melody that sticks in the mind nicely but which then morphs cleverly into a chugging thrash-influenced track. And then there’s the instrumental track, ‘Yama (part 1)’, which is quite beautiful.

Courtesy of Isurus

Courtesy of Isurus

The most pleasing thing is that ‘Logocharya’ is a very consistent beast and so I could reference something positive within most of the tracks for one reason or another if I’m honest. That said, there’s a nagging feeling that, just occasionally within this 11-track album, it would be nice if Isurus opened up and let rip as witnessed in the final minute or two of the opening track. However, that’s arguably just me being very picky indeed.

In a previous paragraph, I made reference, amongst other things, to the vocals; this is definitely one of the big strengths of Isurus. Too often I find that technically gifted musicians are let down by their choice of lead singer; it irks me more frequently than it should. That’s not the case with Isurus because in Braun Amore, they are blessed with a vocalist who not only has a great range but has a kind of effortless power which actually conveys quite a bit of emotion. And whilst I wish that he’d mix things up a little more than he does and deviate more from the higher-pitched full-power approach that sounds somehow Australian (I can’t quite put my finger on why this is), you can’t really fault the end product.

If all this wasn’t enough, the album has been self-produced but mixed by the heavyweight Daniel Bergstrand (Meshuggah, In Flames) at Dugout Productions, meaning that ‘Logocharya’ is blessed with a really punchy sound that does the music real justice.

If you’re looking for an album that’s big on technicality and complexity but that doesn’t forget the importance of real songs that groove and properly rock out, you could do an awful lot worse than check out Isusus’ ‘Logocharya’. This is most definitely one of the finds of 2015 so far for me, that’s for sure.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.0

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:

Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

The Best Live Releases of 2013 – Number 1

This is my last post in this mini series, taking a loom at those live releases that have had the most significant impact upon me during 2013.

If you’re interested, the previous two posts can be viewed here:
Number 3
Number 2

In addition, if you missed my Album of the Year 2013 countdown, where I look at my favourite studio albums, that can be accessed here.

in the meantime, on to the main topic of conversation today, namely my favourite live release from 2013. And the winner is:

anathema universalANATHEMA
‘Universal’
KScope

For the second year in a row, an Anathema release sits at the top of a ‘best of’ list. In 2012, the Liverpudlians released the utterly perfect ‘Weather Systems’ and this featured at the top of my Top 20 for 2012. And now, we have the equally stunning ‘Universal’.

Offered to fans as a four disc combined audio-visual package, ‘Universal’ captures the awe-inspiring one-off show that took place in September 2012 at the ancient Roman theatre at Philipoppolis, Bulgaria. Not only is the outdoor amphitheatre setting spectacular, those lucky enough to attend the show, also had the pleasure of seeing the Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra join Anathema on the stage.

The first time that I watched the DVD, I was literally blown away. Events in my life over recent years have turned me into quite an emotional sort if the mood takes me, and within seconds of the band hitting the stage and breaking into “Untouchable, Part 1”, the opening track from the aforementioned ‘Weather Systems’, by body was awash with goosebumps and my skin tingled from head to toe. And, before I knew it, silent tears ran down my cheeks, as I was completely overcome by what I was watching.

Does this sound a little bit over-the-top, slightly melodramatic, too full of hyperbole? Maybe you’re right, but I’m only writing the absolute truth. Only a handful of bands have this effect on me, but Anathema are one. Their music is so beautiful, so deep, so rich, vibrant and emotional.

Having calmed down and over the weeks, given ‘Universal’ more time to sink in, what strikes me is how absolutely spot-on everything is. From the rhythm section, through to the melodic leads, the acoustic guitar picking and to the vocals themselves, to these ears, the music is delivered flawlessly. In a day and age where pop ‘stars’ sing out of tune live on TV and yet still receive standing ovations from tone-deaf judges, it delights me to know that there is so much genuine talent in the genres of music that I listen to.

The show has been filmed by renowned film maker Lasse Hoile and his deft touch can be seen all over this release. The whole thing is brought to the living room with clarity and professionalism but without losing any of that magic that must have been zipping around the Roman arena that September night in 2012.

The set-list itself is also fantastic. Naturally, coming so hard on the heels of ‘Weather Systems’, the bulk of the material is culled from this masterpiece. That’s fine by me, but there’s also room for some other Anathema classics in the shape of “A Simple Mistake” and “Deep” to name but two. The show also features a half-hour encore where the orhhestra are absent and it’s just the Anathema boys rocking out as only they know how. There’s room for another tear-jerker (and personal favourite) in the form of “Internal Landscapes”) as well as a full-on, more hardcore version of “Fragile Dreams”. ‘This is the version of “Fragile Dreams” that you want to hear’, quips Vincent Cavanagh, in a parting ‘goodbye’ of sorts.

Courtesy of Kscopemusic.com

Courtesy of Kscopemusic.com

As the end draws near, each and every time I watch this show, I feel sad. I want to watch it again, I want to be transported back in time so that I could get to see the show live, actually in the arena. Sadly I can’t, so I have to make do with the DVD. Thank the Gods that the whole package is just about perfect then!