Tag Archives: Anathema

Anathema – The Optimist – Album Review

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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.

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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

Anticipated music in 2017 – an update – 11 March 2017

It is becoming something of a trend now that  almost immediately after I post one of these updates, one of the mentioned bands will release something new, either a new song or more detailed information about their upcoming release. On the one hand, it is quite funny. But on the other, it means that I’m left tearing out what little hair I have left.

It also means that there is justification for writing another update, so that’s what I shall keep doing. Today’s update is briefer than normal but is also one of the most important to date in my opinion.

If you’ve missed any of my previous updates, they can be accessed via the links at the bottom of this post.

Voyager – Ghost Mile
Release date: 12 May 2017

Here is the biggest culprit this time around for releasing something just after I mention them in an update. But it’s Voyager, so I immediately forgive them and bring you the latest news that I have regarding the modern melodic progressive metal band with pop/synth leanings.

According to the band themselves, the release date for ‘Ghost Mile’ is 12th May 2017 and, having now reached their pledge target, they have released the first track off the new album. Here it is in all its glory and I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s a bit of a monster.

Anathema – TBC
Release date: TBC

This is arguably the biggest news that could come out in 2017 – a new album from Anathema. The Liverpudlian band are one of my all-time favourite artists and after many of the big hitters in my world released albums in 2016, Anathema are set to return this year with brand new material. I have this on very good authority, so trust me on this.

Anathema are one of those bands that seem to effortlessly create beautiful and poignant music. I have lost count of the amount of times I have shed tears whilst listening to this band and frankly, long may that continue.

I will admit to having a few nerves leading up to this new album because I have such high hopes for Anathema and I pray that the new album delivers in the same way that the last two or three certainly have. if you recall, the title track from ‘Distant Satellites’ was noteworthy because of the increased use of electronica – I’m wondering whether this might be an area of greater exploration this time around? Whilst I do love that track, I have to admit that I hope it isn’t a future trend, because I love Anathema most when the music is more organic, beautiful and lyrically intense.

As I said, I have it on very good authority that the album will see the light of day sooner rather than later, so hopefully we won’t have to wait much longer to find out.

Moonspell – 1755
Release date: November 2017

K1600_1755I’ve had a soft spot for Moonspell ever since I heard the awesome ‘Irreligious’ back when I was a teenager. However, as far as I was concerned, it took until 2015 and the release of ‘Extinct’ for the Portugese Gothic metallers to hit somewhere near to the heights reached some 20 years ago.

My love for the band has now been well and truly rejuvenated and so when I heard that a new album was due in the near future, I was excited. Having now read a little more about it, I remain excited but also highly intrigued.

Entitled ‘1755’ it will centre on the Great Lisbon Earthquake of that year and, as the press release states, “the band has developed a lyrical concept that looks into the death and rebirth of Lisbon and how the disaster changed Religion, Politics and Philosophy in the whole of Europe.”

What’s more, it will be heavier than ‘Extinct’ and will be sung entirely in Portuguese. The image attached may or may not be the cover artwork, but it gives us a bit more of an idea of what we might expect in November. My appetite has been whetted, how about yours?

Teramaze – TBC
Release date: TBC

I reviewed the most recent album from Australian melodic progressive metal band Teramaze on this very blog and I was rather taken by it I must admit.

As a result, I have been buoyed by news that new material is being worked on at the moment. I have no firm answers as to whether a new record would be released in 2017 but I will keep my fingers crossed. In the meantime, the band have released a snippet of the new music they are writing which I thought I’d share with you.

The noises coming early from the band’s camp suggest that they are really happy with the way the music is shaping up, which is always nice to hear. And, if this demo material is anything to go by, the satisfaction of the Teramaze guys is pretty understandable.

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Previous updates:

5th March 2017
26th February 2017
13th February 2017
3rd February 2017
30th January 2017
21st January 2017

Anticipated music in 2017 -An Update – 21 Jan

Since I wrote my series looking at some of my most anticipated album releases of 2016, there have been some updates. I’ve never really done this kind of thing before, so let me know if you like it or find it useful. My plan is that if it is welcome, I could continue these bulk update posts throughout the year. I’ve shied away from re-posting individual press updates as there are plenty of sites that do this and I like my updates to involve a little effort on my part rather than simple regurgitation.

Over to you…what do you think?

Soen – Lykaia

soen

 

First up, here’s a new song from prog band Soen, from their upcoming album ‘Lykaia’ due for release on 3rd February. Soen are a band that I really like but completely forgot to mention in my ‘most anticipated of 2017’series, sorry. I’m a sucker for Marcus Jidell’s guitar playing in particular, as well as the more organic sound that they employ, so I’m really looking forward to hearing some new material from this vastly underrated band.

 

Ayreon

In the last couple of days, Arjen Anthony Lucassen has revealed the title and artwork of his new Ayreon album. Entitled ‘The Source’, I’m sure you’ll agree that the cover is very cool, not to mention quite dark and sinister, suggesting an album full of music with a similar tone. If that’s the case, it is bound to be a hit with me. Mind you, I’m not sure that there is an Ayreon record that has been released to date that I haven’t liked!

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Iced Earth

On 15th January, Jon Schaffer went live and provided an update on the world of the American metallers. Essentially, the upshot is that the studio that Jon had built is now complete and the pre-production for the album appears to be all but done. What this means is that the various members of Iced Earth will be heading to the studio over the next month or so to record their parts.

And then, just yesterday, we had an update from the studio where drummer Brent Smedley has arrived to lay down his material for the new album. So, whilst there’s yet to be a final release date, things are progressing nicely for a mid-late 2017 release.

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Lost In Thought

A few days ago, a new video was posted by UK prog metallers Lost In Thought. It isn’t very long, but it gives a little insight into the musical direction of the new album and proves that the finished article can’t be a million miles away. I’m liking this riff – it is getting me very interested in hearing the final product that’s for sure.

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Cynthesis/Jasun Tipton

Whilst keeping my eyes open for news on the new Cynthesis album, I had cause to make contact with Jasun. The guy is seriously one of the nicest guys on the planet and his response gave me cause to be extremely happy. Not only is a new Cynthesis on the horizon, there is other music in the pipeline from Mr Tipton. I quote:

“Plenty of music on the horizon actually. A Dying Planet is almost tracked. Cynthesis 3 is in focus again. Plus if I can make Zero Hour – DeEvolution come to life that would be great!”

With regard to the latter, it appears that the material for a new album from Zero Hour was recorded back in 2002-03. There are problems in finding out what programme the files are in given that it is 15 years ago, but this is being worked on as I type. The band is now officially defunct due to the fact that Troy Tipton can’t play the bass guitar any more. However, the music exists and hope is not lost for it to see the light of day eventually. If, like me, you love Jasun’s guitar playing, all this is superb news.

Anathema

In my previous series, I listed Anathema in hope as much as expectation but felt it was a calculated risk based on their normal release cycle of late. There is still no definitive word on a new album in 2017, but the omens are good based on a recent post by the band on social media. The picture is below and I invite you to draw your own conclusions. Personally, I am buoyed by this latest inferred development and will keep my eyes open for more concrete news very soon.

anathema

Seventh Wonder

According to a post on social media, Seventh Wonder are hard at work in the studio at the moment, working on a long overdue follow-up to ‘The Great Escape’. It is too early to say for sure when the new album will be released but at least we now have definitive confirmation that a new record will see the light of day before too long. Finally!

Vanishing Point

Whilst the band pages have been quiet of late, guitarist and all-round top bloke Chris Porcianko posted an update on 17th January to say that vocalist Silvio and he had met up for another pre-production vocal. No samples sadly, but in Chris’ own words: ‘he’s killing it!!’ In addition, he goes on to say: ‘Totally loving the new shit, it’s sounding really, really great…’

Anyone else’s excitement levels just go up a notch? I think we’re guaranteed a new album in 2017 now.

My most anticipated releases of 2017 – Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of my mini series taking a look into my crystal ball at some of the albums I know, think or hope will see the light of day during the year ahead.

If you missed part 1, you can read it here: My most anticipated releases of 2017 – Part 1

Forgive me if you’ve seen a few of the names already mentioned in previous series from previous years. However, my crystal ball doesn’t always work and, when coupled to the oft-fickle music world and the fact that the bands I like aren’t always full-time musicians, there is a lot of scope for getting things hopelessly wrong. So I have.

But hey, I hope it still makes for interesting reading. And on that note, here are another five albums I’m hoping for in 2017…

Kingcrow – TBC
Release date: TBC

Are we due another Kingcrow album so soon after the incredible ‘Eidos’ from 2015? I don’t know and perhaps it is a little unlikely; this is definitely mentioned more in hope than expectation. However, I do know that the band are hard at work writing new music, so it isn’t perhaps beyond the realms of possibility.

What I can say for sure is that if ‘Eidos’ was anything to go by, the Italian progressive metal band are on an upward trajectory. ‘Eidos’ was a cracking album full of beautiful and sophisticated progressive music which was deceptively complex and technical. With Kingcrow, beauty and atmosphere come first, meaning that the songs themselves are packed full of emotion and gorgeous melodies. However, give the music time and those subtle intricacies reveal themselves and lend the music genuine longevity. The more I type, the more I hope that Kingcrow deliver another masterpiece in 2017.

Anathema – TBC
Release date: TBC

2017 must be the year in which we see a return of my favourite band ever from Liverpool…and no, I don’t mean The Beatles. Anathema are a top 5 band of all time for me, a situation only further cemented by the supreme one-two of ‘Weather Systems’ and 2014’s ‘Distant Satellites’.

Very few bands, if any, have the innate ability to reduce me to tears so easily. Theirs is a style of music that transcends genres and styles; Anathema write music that is emotionally charged, raw, honest, poignant and utterly majestic. They don’t sound like anyone else and no-one can replicate what they do so beautifully.

Nothing More – TBC
Release date: TBC

This is another band that I have mentioned in these series before as it seems like we’ve been waiting a long time for a new studio album. I’m not sure why we have this delay, but I’m hopeful that it will be worth the wait.

Nothing More were an utter revelation for me a couple of years ago as it’s not the kind of music I’m normally into. It’s actually difficult to pigeon-hole Nothing More into one single genre, but for brevity, I’d say it’s modern hard rock that contains elements of nu-metal, djent and demonstrable pop-rock sensibilities. What made their last self-titled album so strong in my opinion, was the combination of cocksure conviction from the band, a great song-writing nous and the inclusion of some of the biggest and catchiest choruses I’ve heard for quite a while. And they managed to prove a jaded cynic like me wrong by producing a slick, catchy album that avoided sounding plastic and soulless.

Seventh Wonder – TBC
Release date: TBC

Waiting for a new Seventh Wonder album is a frustrating experience but one that is generally worth the effort and frustration. So, could 2017 be the year that we see a new album from this insanely talented Swedish band? I certainly hope so.

Unbelievably, their last studio endeavour, ‘The Great Escape’ saw the light of day around seven years ago. That’s simply too long if you’re looking to maintain momentum and keep a buzz going.  However, seventh Wonder are special. Blending tons of technicality with memorable melodies and almost pop-like vocal melodies from the incredible Tommy Karevik, they tick all the boxes and deliver a more than satisfying listening experience each and every time. There are some bands that can seemingly do no wrong and Seventh Wonder are one of those without doubt…except maybe releasing albums more timely of course!

Andromeda – TBC
Release date: TBC

2017 must be the year for album number six surely? After all, back in July 2016 the Swedish prog metal maestros had completed the bass tracking for the new record. Or am I just being impatient?

It has been, somewhat unbelievably, over five years since they released the utterly fabulous ‘Manifest Tyranny’ and I for one cannot wait to see what they deliver next. The thing I love most about Andromeda is their ability to sound quirky and properly progressive yet somehow pull it all together and put the complexity into compositions that have surprising amounts of metal crunch, hooks and melodies, giving the tracks a feeling that they are songs and not just self-indulgent virtuoso workouts. Technical they may be, but impenetrable they are not and the whole thing just screams ‘class’.

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 19

Welcome to day 12 of my ‘Album of the Year 2016’ top 30 countdown. I trust you are all enjoying this endeavour of mine?

There’s going to be no long-winded introduction today, just a quick reminder to those who are interested that links to all other posts in this series can be found at the bottom of this post.

And with that, let’s get on with the show…

Number 19

airbag cover

 

Airbag
Disconnected
Karisma Records

 

“Some bands have a knack of making everything sound so simple and effortless. Airbag are one of these bands, a quartet that seem to have something of a Midas touch; everything they write is of the highest quality with a disarming smoothness and sophistication that others can only dream of.

…there’s no unnecessary noodling or pointless grandstanding with Airbag; each note is precise, each passage is thoroughly thought out and each song delivers exactly what it needs to. At times, the music is modern, minimalist and stark. At others, it is rich, vibrant and full of drama. The word ‘epic’ can be overused, but here it is well-placed and fully deserved.

‘Disconnected’ is a devastating album. On the one hand, it sounds so simple, so unassuming. However, give it your full attention and the magic starts to flow. Emotionally charged, epic and beautiful, there’s unlikely to be a more majestic progressive rock album released this year. This really is a wonderful album and I love it.”

Read the full review here

Pic: Anne-Marie Forker

Pic: Anne-Marie Forker

In preparation for this post, I have been listening to ‘Disconnected’ a lot recently and one thing is for sure: it has lost none of its magic. Indeed, if anything, it has only increased. This is a truly sublime album packed full of emotion, atmosphere and subtlety which all comes together to create something utterly compelling and all-consuming.

The compositions are assured and beautifully crafted, the melodies are gorgeous and the whole thing is wrapped up in an atmosphere which is dripping with depth and a certain poignancy that cannot be ignored. The more I listen, the more I fall under the Airbag spell.

Airbag are one of the most important and relevant examples in 2016 that progressive rock need not be all about musical excess an exercises in instrumental prowess. These guys are clearly very accomplished musicians but it is the music and the compositions themselves that come first. Then comes the feeling of the song and only after all that, if the composition demands it, comes anything even remotely resembling an exercise in individual proficiency and flamboyance. And with that, comes an honesty that makes the whole experience even more rewarding.

Listening to Airbag is a true experience, one that has left a lasting and enduring impression on me during 2016.

In case you’ve missed any of the other posts in the 2016 series, here they are for you to explore and enjoy:

Album of the Year 2016 – number 20
Album of the Year 2016 – number 21
Album of the Year 2016 – number 22
Album of the Year 2016 – number 23
Album of the Year 2016 – number 24
Album of the Year 2016 – number 25
Album of the Year 2016 – number 26
Album of the Year 2016 – number 27
Album of the Year 2016 – number 28
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2015
Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

Airbag – Disconnected – Album Review

airbag cover

Artist: Airbag

Album Title: Disconnected

Label: Karisma Records

Date Of Release: 10 June 2016

I may be the Man Of Much Metal but occasionally, there’s nothing I like more than to dial down the extremity and indulge in something altogether more relaxed. The scratching post for this particular itch comes in the form of Norwegian progressive rock band Airbag and their fourth album ‘Disconnected’.

Some bands have a knack of making everything sound so simple and effortless. Airbag are one of these bands, a quartet that seem to have something of a Midas touch; everything they write is of the highest quality with a disarming smoothness and sophistication that others can only dream of.

Given their laid back and melodious brand of progressive rock, ‘Disconnected’ is an album that could conceivably be played as background music and it would be very adept in this guise, serenely washing over the casual listeners with chameleon-like stealth. However, to do this would be the biggest of all sins in my opinion because by so doing, you’d miss out on the magic and elegant beauty of the six compositions that comprise ‘Disconnected’.

Not only that, you’d also fail to notice the richness of the compositions, the textures both subtle and more overt, the atmospheres and the depth of the lyrical content too, an ingredient that makes this record such a powerful one.

Airbag 2016 is comprised of lead vocalist Asle Tostrup, guitarist and vocalist Bjørn Riis, drummer Henrik Fossum and bassist Anders Hovdan. And it would appear that they are not averse to confronting big topics to supplement and enhance their musical output. To quote the band directly, ‘Disconnected’ “features six songs reflecting on the theme of alienation between the individual and society, what society expects from us as individuals, and our resultant failure to live up to those expectations. Each of the six compositions depicts the state of feeling on ‘the outside’ and out of touch with oneself and those around us.”

airbag band

Some might, somewhat disingenuously, dismiss this as being pretentious. However, such a comment would be a gross misjudgement because there is definitely a ‘wow’ factor that’s created through the marriage of beautiful music and the fragility and rawness of the lyrics. Pick any track amongst the six and there will be a line somewhere within it that, unless you’re a robot or lacking in feelings, will leave a lasting impression on you. For me, it’s ‘Broken’, with the line: ‘if I had the chance to take it all back, would you leave me anyway? If I told you I could change again, would you still be here with me?’ So simple but in the context of the song and given the conviction with which Tostrup delivers it, it hits me hard.

But returning to the music, it is here that Airbag truly excel. I referred to their music as progressive rock and that’s where it is rooted for sure. However, there’s no unnecessary noodling or pointless grandstanding with Airbag; each note is precise, each passage is thoroughly thought out and each song delivers exactly what it needs to. At times, the music is modern, minimalist and stark. At others, it is rich, vibrant and full of drama. The word ‘epic’ can be overused, but here it is well-placed and fully deserved.
In terms of reference-points, there are clear nods in the direction of Pink Floyd and Radiohead, but echoes of latter-day Marillion can be heard, alongside fleeting glimpses of Anathema, Steven Wilson, Riverside and a whole host of other progressive rock luminaries. That said, Airbag are very much their own band with a strong identity and a sureness of purpose.

There are no weak links on ‘Disconnected’. As such, every track deserves a mention. And, given that there are only six, I shall do just that.

Not only does ‘Killer’ open the album, it was also the album’s lead single for want of a better expression. It was therefore the first exposure to ‘Disconnected’. I listened to it once, but once turned into three or four spins back-to-back and before I knew it, I was fully entranced. Beginning with a driving beat led by Fossum’s drumming, layers of synth-led textures and a commanding bass line from Hovdan, it immediately grabs your attention. As it develops, the melodies get to work and it soon opens up into a scintillating hook-laden chorus that is impossible to shake from your mind. I also love the mid-section breakdown where Riis’ distorted guitar note cuts through the quiet introspection like a lion’s roar on the sparse plains. I also enjoy the numerous guitar leads and how the track rebuilds to a gorgeous crescendo. The lyrics are actually quite brutal in many ways, but rather than coming across as morbid, sensationalist or morose, they counterpoint the majesty of the music in compelling fashion.

The aforementioned ‘Broken’ is, if anything, even more emotional. Ushered in by a gentle acoustic guitar, the keys behind are almost imperceptible. The atmosphere and emotive nature of this track is stunning, underlined by the mournful lead guitar flourishes and the way that Tostrup sounds like he is a heartbeat away from breaking down throughout the song’s entirety. And yet, by the end, the forlornness is joined by something approaching hope. It’s an exquisite piece of music and one of my favourites of 2016 for sure.

‘Slave’ in contrast, has an angrier and darker feel, albeit cocooned beautifully within a myriad of clever textures and sounds. Nevertheless, when they enter the fray, the guitars offer more bite and controlled aggression, as do the vocals. As the composition nears its conclusion, there’s time for the mood to fleetingly change, to a feeling of elation. Well, almost – this is Airbag after all.

The melodies within ‘Sleepwalker’ are to die for, making it one of the most immediate songs on ‘Disconnected’. The acoustic guitars are once again beautiful as is the piano that becomes more and more prominent as the track develops. If you’re a fan of guitar solos that drip with emotion and soulful melody, then this is the album for you as Riis delivers another scintillating lead, arguably one of the best of many on the album.

The title track is also the longest on the record, clocking in at over 13 minutes. Within that extended period, it ebbs and flows wonderfully, creating tension and teasing the listener. For much of the time the song simmers, threatening an explosion and when it arrives, it doesn’t disappoint. The chorus hits and hits hard but each time is quickly replaced by a new idea woven into the tapestry with real deftness. Airbag talked about wanting to create dramatic music and it is here where this statement is brought to life most prominently.

And then, finally, the album closes out with ‘Returned’. And oh boy is it a real tearjerker. A simple guitar melody is joined by minimal piano notes and further fragile vocals to the point where Tostrup sounds like his voice is breaking. After a brief flurry, the song drops away again and fades out to the subtle sound of just the central guitar melody, leaving me feeling a tad bereft and tearful if I’m honest.

‘Disconnected’ is a devastating album. On the one hand, it sounds so simple, so unassuming. However, give it your full attention and the magic starts to flow. Emotionally charged, epic and beautiful, there’s unlikely to be a more majestic progressive rock album released this year. This really is a wonderful album and I love it.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
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