Tag Archives: Vincent Cavanagh

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.

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

Album of the Year 2014 – Number 2

Today is the penultimate day in my epic labour of love otherwise known as my ‘Album of the Year 2014′ countdown. If you’ve joined this lengthy and in-depth series late, you can find links to the rest of my Top 20 at the bottom of this post – please feel free to check them out should you wish to do so.

But now to my silver metal choice, the album that has taken the Number 2 spot for 2014:

Distan_SatellitesAnathema
‘Distant Satellites’
Kscope

Winners in 2012 with the stellar ‘Weather Systems’, Anathema make a return to my end of year countdown in 2014 in the number two spot with ‘distant satellites’. Even though it was released relatively early in the year, I knew that it would feature extremely highly in my end of year round-up. Indeed, I knew then that it was a special record and that it would take something utterly breathtaking to keep it out of the top few positions. It is simply that good.

Over the last couple of albums, Anathema have managed to achieve what very few other bands are capable of: move me to a point where I’m reduced to a gibbering wreck. The music that this Liverpudlian sextet create is unlike any other artist out there and the results are spine-tingling, heart-wrenching and full of a depth that’s difficult to put into words. I was lucky enough to interview Vincent and Daniel Cavanagh in person this year and was able to get a bit more of an insight into what makes them tick as musicians. The experience was every bit as emotional as their music, thanks to some frank and brutal honesty on both sides. It’s one of the stand-out moments of my year.

Credit: Scarlet Page

Credit: Scarlet Page

The net result is that I now find ‘distant satellites’ even more emotional than ever before. The lyrics make more sense, the themes and ideas come to the fore more and the intent behind the material has become clearer. Here is a band that are at the very top of their game, are utterly confident in their abilities but who also maintain a very human fragility that helps to imbue their music with an honest and brittle beauty that defies words.

And yet, there is no other album released in 2014 that has divided opinion quite so much. There are those who believe that ‘distant satellites’ is every bit as good as the previous two releases and, as such, is a majestic work of art. Then there are others who have been disappointed with the result, who suggest that the album sounds too samey and devoid of original ideas. I cannot for the life of me fathom the argument of the latter because ‘distant satellites’, despite being deliberately more stripped-back, is a rich, vibrant affair that plays host to a wonderful collection of compositions, with the final few songs even throwing fans something of a curveball.

I will be the first to admit that the final three tracks took me by surprise and, to be honest, took their time to work their magic on me. However, given the time and attention that they deserve, they are firm favourites. In fact, the title track is one of my favourite Anathema tracks full stop. Beginning with these compositions first then, the trio begins with ‘Firelight’, an ambient synth-led instrumental that is subtly beautiful in its own right but which acts as something of a buffer between the indie-rock stylings of ‘You’re Not Alone’ and the title track. On first listen, ‘distant satellites’ sounded a little shocking. Dominated by more rich synths, a piano and electronic drum beat, it initially comes across as an ambient dance track rather than a rock song. At the half-way point, ‘real’ drums enter the fray and the track begins to make more sense as a whole, creating those stark juxtapositions that work when realised so cleverly. Throughout, the central melody is fantastic as well, making a real impact alongside Vincent’s distinct vocals. And to close this fascinating trio and indeed the album, is the Sigur Ros-esque ambient post rock magnificence of ‘Take Shelter’, a composition that is filled with emotion but which creates something of an uplifting, euphoric finale.

But what of the opening and mid-section compositions? ‘distant satellites’ opens in similar fashion to its predecessor by offering an intrinsically-linked pair of songs. In this case, it’s ‘The Lost Song (Part 1)’ and ‘The Lost Song (Part 2)’ and they are magnificent. ‘Part 1’ is the more up-tempo, urgent and heavy of the two led by Vincent’s vocals, whereas ‘Part 2′ is dominated by Lee Douglas’ serene voice atop goose bump-inducing melodies and lyrics that combine to bring me to tears. And I don’t mean a solitary tear down the cheek, I mean floods of tears. During the interview, I was given an insight into what appeared at first glance to be an insignificant lyric. It turns out that with Anathema, nothing is insignificant. Now when I hear it and I understand the meaning behind it, it warms my heart, fills it with love and then breaks it all at once.

Elsewhere, ‘Ariel’ is another stunning song of epic depth and meaning, whilst ‘Anathema’ harks back to the band’s early, more Gothic metal days, thanks to a superb lead electric guitar solo which stops me in my tracks each and every time. It really is music that makes you stop whatever you’re doing and listen.

So why is ‘distant satellites’ not at the top of my list in 2014 I hear you cry? It’s here that I must be brutally honest. At its best, ‘distant satellites’ is better than ‘Weather Systems’ but whereas ‘Weather Systems’ was perfect from the first note to the last, there are a couple of tracks that I fail to warm too 100% on ‘distant satellites’. I’m not a big fan of ‘You’re Not Alone’ for example. Additionally, and arguably more significantly for me personally, there’s another issue. Such is the emotional depth of this record, I find that there are times when I cannot bring myself to listen to it. When the lyrics speak to me so clearly and force me to re-live past tragedies, it’s not always easy. Most of the time, I love the album and find it a very positive and cathartic experience. Indeed, I have taken this record to my heart and will forever love it. However, occasionally, very rarely, ‘distant satellites’ is too tough to listen to. But these are my failings, not those of Anathema. As such, ‘distant satellites’ is utterly sensational and damn-near peerless.

Check out the other posts in this series:

Album of the Year 2014 – Number 3
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 4
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 5
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 6
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 7
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 8
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 9
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 10
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 11
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 12
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 13
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 14
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 15
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 17
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 18
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 20

And if you’re interested, my similar countdowns from previous years can be accessed here:

Top 20 of 2012
Album of the Year 2013

Half-Way Through 2014 – The Best So Far – Part 3

Today I bring you the third instalment of my half-way round-up of some of the best albums released so far in 2014. So far, this year has been a strong one with a number of albums catching my attention and garnering positive reviews where applicable.

If you missed parts 1 and 2, they can be accessed via the following links:

Half-Way Through 2014 – The Best So Far – Part 1
Half-Way Through 2014 – The Best So Far – Part 2

But here now, is Part 3:

Anathema – distant satellites

Distan_SatellitesRegular readers of this blog will not be surprised to read that this album features in this list. I absolutely adored ‘Weather Systems’ and it finished at the summit of my ‘Best of 2012’ top 20. Clearly, based on the quality of the follow-up, ‘distant satellites’, Anathema didn’t feel any pressure. Instead, they have matched the brilliance and come up with yet another magnificent body of work.

The aspect of anathema’s music that I enjoy so much is their deep, emotional and thought-provoking lyrical content. ‘distant satellites’ is no different in that respect and there are plenty of occasions throughout the album where I find a tear rolling down my cheek as I listen to Vincent Cavanagh or Lee Douglas pour their heart and soul into the delivery of some heavy and raw subject matters.

The lyrics however, would lack their punch and bite if the music that underpinned it was substandard. This is not a problem for Anathema at all. The melodies are sublime, the compositions are, for Anathema, relatively simple and straight-forward but put together with a care and understanding that is beyond most of our capabilities to comprehend. ‘distant satellites’ is, by the Liverpudlian band’s own admission, more stripped back, with fewer layers and less ‘clutter’ if I can call it that. And yet, listening to this record, you’d hardly believe it because the output sounds so rich and full of vibrancy. Much of this has to do with the increased use of orchestration which is a real boon because ‘distant satellites’ feels more majestic as a result.

Naturally, much will be made of the closing few tracks which play around with more electronic and ambient sounds and textures. Honestly, these tracks took time to digest and to fully appreciate. With time and effort however, they stand alongside the rest of the album perfectly and are now some of my favourite songs on the album.

Put very simply, it will take one hell of an album to knock this off the top spot when it comes to my 2014 top 20 countdown at the end of the year.

Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

VPFor those interested in my full, in-depth review of this album, you can access it here: Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld – Album Review

If you’re just interested in a brief overview at this stage, then read on.

German progressive metallers Vanden Plas have been around since the late 1980’s and it is fair to say that every one of their eight releases since their inception have been quality affairs. Of course some will have their favourites amongst the pack but what you cannot say is that any of the back catalogue is substandard. Vanden Plas simply do not do substandard.

Over the years, the quintet have become more and more interested and involved with musical theatre and have actually put on shows in their native Germany. Unsurprisingly then, the ostentatiously-titled ‘Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld’ is heavily influenced in this area and, in conjuction with German author Wolfgang Hohlbein, Vanden Plas have created a concept album that is grandiose and theatrical in the extreme. You want big sounds and big songs? Then this is the album you need, trust me.

As theatrical and dramatic as ‘Chronicles…’ is, Vanden Plas have not forgotten their musical roots and so the core of the material is still progressive metal with bucket-loads of melody. In fact, what I particularly like about this album, which incidentally, is the first in a two-part series, is the use of recurring melodies and motifs throughout the ten tracks or ‘visions’ as they are referred to here.

If you are looking for a lush, grandiose, technical, varied and anthemic listening experience, ‘Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld’ stands head and shoulders above the competition and should be the only choice you need to make.

Kuolemanlaakso – Tulijoutsen

Kuolemanlaakso_TulijoutsenThe voice of Swallow The Sun, Mikko Kotamäki is back behind the microphone with yet another band. this time, it is the crushingly heavy Finnish doom metal band Kuolemanlaakso. And it is fair to say that this sophomore release has restored my interest in doom metal after a period where my interest has waned in the sub-genre somewhat.

The recipe for this album is apparently quite straight-forward: make the guitar sound as heavy as possible and once that’s sorted, write some of the most crushing mid-tempo riffs possible. That said, a subtle use of keys and Kotamäki’s deviation from an uncompromising growl into cleaner territories both help to provide some measure of atmosphere and accessibility to counterpoint the otherwise suffocating and relentless heaviness. Reference points include Agalloch, Celtic Frost and, to a lesser extent, the aforementioned Swallow The Sun amongst others. sound interesting? You bet it does.

What I like most about ‘Tulijoutsen’ however, is the combination of relative simplicity and groove that, if you’re anything like me, will plaster a big fat grin on your face and have you banging your head regardless of whether or not you have hair. It has been a while since I have been this smitten by a doom metal record but Kuolemanlaakso have produced a fantastic album that should be heard by as many fans of the genre as possible – you’re unlikely to be disappointed.

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!

My Top 20 of 2012 – Number 1

We’re finally there! Congratulations and thanks to those of you that have displayed amazing stamina to have checked out all of my posts in my ‘Top 20 rock and metal albums of 2012’ countdown. To anyone who has arrived late, links to all the other 19 posts in this series can be found at the very bottom of this post.

With any music list, I’m not expecting universal agreement and would love to hear what you think about my choices, so feel free to comment either here or on the other million social networking sites which I frequent.

But now, onto the main event. Which album has, above all others, impressed me in 2012? Here’s your answer:

Anathema 1Anathema
‘Weather Systems’
Kscope

I have been a fan of Anathema for many years, since their ‘Eternity’ album from 1996. However, I never considered them to be one of the very best bands within my collection. That has all changed now though, thanks to their latest opus ‘Weather Systems’ which on it’s own is magnificent but has also made me revisit the back catalogue and appreciate it a whole lot more than ever before. Anathema are now one of the best bands in my collection.

In short, ‘Weather Systems’ is a near-flawless masterpiece from the Liverpudlian band and as such, no other album really had a hope in 2012. This wins by a hefty margin and 2012 aside would almost certainly find a place in my top 10 albums since the turn of the millennium. It is that good.

‘Weather Systems’ is not a metal album though, let me say that at this juncture. Instead, and in keeping with their steady evolution from a dark and slightly doomy Gothic metal band, it is an emotionally charged and beautifully written progressive rock album with elements of alternative rock and flashes of metal on occasion.

Anathema 2 credit: Rod Maurice

Combining a deceptive simplicity with such lyrical and emotional depth, this was an album that grabbed me from my very first listen and has held me captivated ever since. Each of the nine songs offers something of real value and I never once consider skipping tracks or switching a song off mid flow; I have to listen to the entire song and, if possible, the entire album.

The killer blow for me is the final track, ‘Internal Landscapes’. It begins with the voice of an man recalling his personal ‘near death’ experience and, as the story nears the end, he is joined by an acoustic guitar. At that point, I nearly always well up. Those of you who know me and know my own story will understand why. Suffice it to say though that the words and sentiment within the song have an added resonance when you’ve been the one sitting by the bedside, watching helplessly as a loved one slips away. Only, in my case, that loved one never came back.

I apologise if I have taken this blog down a gloomy path but I think helps to put into context why I love this album and why it is so powerful. Instead of making me feel sad, Anathema have managed to create an uplifting vibe through much of the material and in spite of the personal feeling it stirs within me, I am also greatly uplifted and given strength by it.

Rod-Maurice_anathema_-(18)-500px Credit: Rod Maurice

Even now after several months and countless spins I find it hard to describe this album in a coherent manner that comes close to doing it justice. So, as I did in my ‘perfect 10’ review in Powerplay Magazine, I shall quote a passage from the spoken word section within ‘Internal Landscapes’:

“As a matter of fact, it’s impossible to describe. Verbally, it cannot be expressed; it is something that becomes you, and you become it.” For me, this says it perfectly. ‘Weather Systems’ is more than just an album of music, it is so very much more.

Thank you for reading my ‘Top 20 rock and metal albums of 2012’ countdown. I hope you have enjoyed it.

If you’ve missed any of my previous posts, they can be found here:

Day 19 (dark rock/metal)
Day 18 (progressive metal)
Day 17 (melodic doom metal)
Day 16 (progressive metal)
Day 15 (prog rock)
Day 14 (post black metal)
Day 13 (prog rock)
Day 12 (power metal)
Day 11 (progressive metal)
Day 10 (progressive rock)
Day 9 (modern extreme metal)
Day 8 (UK thrash metal/NWOBHM)
Day 7 (Norwegian progressive black metal)
Day 6 (Prog Rock/Metal)
Day 5 (Melodic Hard Rock)
Day 4 (Symphonic Folk black metal)
Day 3 (Modern Death/Thrash Metal)
Day 2 (Melodic Prog Metal)
Day 1 (Dark/Doom Metal)