Jun 092014

(Andy Synn wrote this review of the new album by Liverpool’s Anathema.)

Let’s start things off by getting a few things out of the way first, shall we? If your initial reaction to this post is:

“That’s a stupid name. I won’t listen to what any site named No Clean Singing has to say!”


“What is this? This is not metal! This site is stupid!”

Then there’s the door. Feel free to let it hit you on the way out.

For those of you who’re still reading (hopefully that’s most of you, because our readership here at NCS is, in the majority, pretty open-minded and interested in the albums/bands we elect to cover), thank you for sticking around, and I hope to make it worth your while.


Now while it’s been a long time since Anathema were a metal band of any sort, that’s not something we hold against them here at NCS. We’re not prejudiced like that. It helps of course that the band’s transformation into a soaringly melodic, heartbreakingly emotive progressive rock band has resulted in some of the most rewarding, complex, and beautiful material of their career. Or anyone’s, in fact.

Added to this, by my calculation, they’ve been a progressive band much longer than they were considered one of the original Peaceville Three. Perhaps it’s time to let that go, eh guys?

I’m sure you’re aware that both We’re Here Because We’re Here and Weather Systems were pretty much universally hailed as masterpieces (although there’s some friction over which is truly the better album). However, although Distant Satellites does follow on from its predecessors in terms of its near-perfect grasp of melodic beauty and human vulnerability, it also progresses the band’s sound in several interesting ways, bringing in comparisons to both Massive Attack and Ulver, particularly 2007’s Wars of The Roses.

Both albums share a similar sense of dreamlike minimalism and dramatic depth, and both albums feel extremely spontaneous and instinctive – as if they were written in a vacuum, isolated from expectations and external demands.

With its deeply felt themes of hope and heartache, love and loss, truth and beauty, Distant Satellites certainly remains recognisably Anathema at heart, yet it’s also strangely, almost magically, different from what’s come before.

The first half of the album will perhaps be more familiar to both long-time and new fans of the band, yet even here it establishes quickly that something ever so slightly different is in play, the band experimenting  a lot more with ideas of space and distance, separating the elements of each track to create a sense of depth and atmosphere quite different from both its predecessors.

With its stuttering drum beats and flowing piano, “The Lost Song, Part 1” captures a sense of calming energy, organic and alive, patient and warm, with the twin vocals of Vincent Cavanagh and Lee Douglas weaving an absolutely spellbinding duet of love and loss as the song builds toward an impressively intense peak of crashing drums and ringing, powerful guitars.

Its companion piece, “The Lost Song, Part 2”, is the yin to Part 1’s yang, the white to its black, the light to its shade. Two sides of the same coin, each the inverse of the other, yet irrevocably linked. The cleverness here is that though the two songs are incredibly similar, they’re also intriguingly different. The vocalists switch roles, the duet now led by the gorgeous, crystal clear voice of Lee Douglas, while the song’s climactic peak replaces thrumming guitars with sweeping strings in a gloriously simple, yet beautifully effective bit of musical shadowplay.

The intricate guitar picking and sleight-of-hand drumming of “Dusk (Dark is Descending)” provide a deceptively complex, deeply hypnotic, backing for the song’s prominent, heartbreaking vocal melodies, which slowly rise to a thrilling crescendo, borne on a murmuring tide of electrified bass lines and thrilling guitars. The song sinks slowly into twilight gloom and dusky silence, broken by the twinkling starlight of a simple piano line, before rising again to touch the heavens once more.

“Ariel” is as frail and soft as a nighttime breeze, plaintive vocals echoing in the darkness atop a soft stream of gleaming piano and the lazy swell of strings. The drums, when they appear, come in almost tentatively, afraid to break the solemn mood that has been built up, but soon after the song blossoms into something grander and more majestic — still fragile in its own way, but more vital and alive. The call-and-response vocals of Vincent Cavanagh and Lee Douglas are a thing of absolute wonder, and fill the second half of the song with a powerful emotional connection, one that seems to transcend the conscious mind and strike straight to the heart of things.

The second half of the album takes things a step further outside of the band’s established comfort zone, placing more emphasis on the more unexpected and unconventional elements which the previous tracks have only teased or hinted at.

“The Lost Song (Part 3)” begins particularly interestingly, with some intricate, lithe drum work underpinning a sombre ambient soundscape, to which crystalline layers of ight and colour are slowly added, the song growing and mutating from these tiny seeds of sound into an expression of fractal musical beauty, endlessly repeating, yet never the same

Taking the potentially divisive step of producing a self-titled song, “Anathema” begins with an eerie, hypnotic refrain of trilling piano, whose strange, unearthly promise provides a faint, ethereal canvas for Vincent Cavanagh’s pure and passionate voice.

A brooding accumulation of strings and drums aids the song in teasing unfathomed depths of mood and atmosphere, while Vincent’s lovelorn voice continues to expose the band’s naked soul to the world, echoing through the shadows and empty spaces in a display of raw emotion.

Simultaneously both minimalist and grandiose, the song is a rich tapestry of wounded passion and raw sensation, thin threads woven together into something unexpectedly grand and impressive, culminating in Danny Cavanagh’s glorious, Pink Floydian outro solo.

“You’re Not Alone” is this album’s equivalent of “Panic”, a seemingly disparate agglomeration of trip-hoppy haze and broken beats, married to an insistent, compulsive vocal pattern that offers an unexpected injection of guitar-driven adrenaline in its second half, exploding out of the void like a veritable supernova of sound and fury.

The steady hymnal heartbeat of “Firelight” possesses the same sombre vibe as recent Ulver, further driving home this unexpected comparison between the two bands, and leads into the stuttering electron pulse of “Distant Satellites”, which matches solemn grandeur with synthesized beauty in a perfect balance of artificial light and shade.

Its drifting, dreamlike vocals and faint, distant melodies cycle slowly and seamlessly for eight mesmerising minutes, stray signals leaking in through the empty void, hypnotic suggestions of sound which build almost imperceptivity into a wall of gleaming musical majesty before slipping suddenly sideways into pulsing ambient beats and pulsating atmospherics reminiscent of Massive Attack.

The album concludes with the fragile solemnity of “Take Shelter”, whose soothing electronic heartbeat and forlorn vocals end the album on a high note, stripped bare and vulnerable, yet always clothed in the invisible breath of life. Truly, unforgettably beautiful.


Writing about Anathema is hard.

It’s easy to write about the loud bands, the aggressive bands, the heavy monsters we usually cover here at NCS, since there’s a wealth of colourful terms and visceral metaphors for their sound. But when it comes to something as purely emotive and breathtakingly simple/complex as Anathema, that established vocabulary just doesn’t apply.

Music this deep, this subtle, requires a whole new approach, and it’s harder to find the right terms for the feelings and sensations that it creates. Finding the right words for those subtle changes and differences, for those moods and emotions that are so hard to grasp – even at the best of times – is a real challenge.

I’ve done my best here. I hope I’ve at least helped give you a tiny bit of insight into the music. But I suppose the real proof is in the listening. If it simply doesn’t touch you, then nothing I can say or do can really change that.

At best, maybe I’ve opened up a small window in your mind that might let the music in. Sometimes that’s all we can hope for.


Distant Satellites will be released on June 10 by Kscope, and it can be ordered here. It can be streamed in its entirety at this location. Below you can hear “The Lost Song Part 3”.




  1. WOW, this is a truly great review. Waiting about Anathemas isn’t hard for you!

    I’m a fan of Anathema Since the “The Crestfallen”-EP and followed them through all ups and downs (I was shocked when thy lost their record deal once). In terms of pure emotion to this day “Judgement” is my favorite, because I never (again) heard and felt the deep griev on a record. “Distant Satellites” is in the mail and I hope to be able to listen to it next weekend.

    • Thank you man. I actually honestly don’t think this is my best piece, though I really did try my best. I just struggled to capture exactly how the music made me feel in words. I think I got some of the intellectual parts across pretty well (the comparisons to Ulver and the feelings of space and depth they play with) but still don’t feel I fully got into the emotional aspect as well as I wanted.

      That’s partially my own fault though, as I really wanted the review publishing today, but didn’t manage to get it ready until about 15 mins before it actually went live!

  2. I’ve been on board with this band since “eternity”, so I think they’d already lost the doom, for the most part. “Judgment”, for me, also is a favorite, but everything they’ve done since “eternity” has been tremendous. I finally caught them live in NYC last year…the first time I’d ever seen them, and seeing as how I’d been listening to them for over 1/2 of my life, seeing them live for the first time was a transformative experience. This band is truly amazing.

  3. I’d like to see a counter review of this album by Full Metal Attorney.

  4. Never really listened to this band. But the song posted is really a kick in ass, in a rather different way from usual. It is as you said passionate and at the same time, a manifesto of vulnerability of human…powerful stuff.

  5. Sounds nice on first listen, I’ll have to give it some more time. I’m often interested in what metal heads listen to when they aren’t listening to metal. I like stuff like Elbow, Radiohead, Sigur Ros and Cafe Tacuba (or Tacvba depending on their mood). This fits in nicely with that bunch.

  6. Anathema is another one of those bands whose name has been floating around my mind for quite a while, yet I’ve never actually checked out. Based on this review and that track, I need to rectify that pronto.

  7. This is a very well-written and heart-felt review! I saw Anathema live around 2003, the singer even did a DJ set before the show. I have to admit, it was one of the most boring shows of my life. I couldn’t connect to any of the songs (yes, I went to the show without knowing a single note, it’s something I do quite often and most of the times works). From that moment on, I put Anathema in the “uninteresting” folder. This review might get me to reconsider this decision. I will certainly check this album.

  8. Very nice review 🙂 I’ve been listening to Distant Satellites for a bit now and at first I was a little disappointed (largely caused by how much I loved Weather Systems) but since I read a lot of praise on the intertubes (foremost this review) I redoubled my effort of getting into this album… And it’s working! I’m spinning it now for the sixth time and I’m starting to appreciate more and more what this album is about.

    Oh and I have read some comments on seeing Anathema live; I have seen them last at their Weather Systems promotional tour (the same tour at which they recorded Universal – go see that DVD if you haven’t!) and they are absolutely amazing. Easily among the best live experiences I have ever had with a live concert. I have read mixed things about how their live shows were before their hiatus, but at this point in time it truly is one of the best bands to see play live. I guarantee it.

  9. Forgot to get the mail yesterday, went out for it this morning. One Burning Shed surprise and Six Plays later, I’m in love again — meaning DS just might even be as good as WHBWH.

  10. Not being a metal fan (Black Sabbath, Metallica and Iron Maiden the exceptions) I opened this link with trepidation as to how a “True Metal’ fan would react, I am pleasantly suprised. Ive just finished listening to most of it and it is a great album, looking forward to emersing myself in its textures.

    One of the great things about Anathema is how unifying they seem to be between genres and in a genre such as metal. You could not currently define them as a metal band and yet they seem to be taken under the wing of the metal community, showing how open minded a lot metal fans really are and I wish the mainstream were more open minded towards metal music

    My abiding memory of their gig supporting Opeth was seeing black clad, tattoed, nose pierced guys all nodding their heads to their music. Looking forward to their gig in the Button Factory, Dublin

    • Welcome. We True Metal people are a strange but ultimately friendly people. Just try not to creep up on us, and don’t get between us and the water.

      In seriousness I suppose it is a little unusual for a site originally more about the Death/Black/Extreme sides of metal to be writing about Anathema… but we’re all big fans and over the years the site has opened up a lot more in terms of what we write about (even though the writing staff hasn’t expanded all that much).

      I hope you enjoyed the review anyway!

      • “don’t get between us and the water.” More like don’t get between us and the beer (though I shouldn’t be the one to say this).

  11. Long LONG time fan of Anathema.The problem is that the bar was set so high with Weather Systems that l dont know how it could be topped. Its a good cd of course but not great. Im not sure lm digging the the electronic You are not Alone. I hope they do a remix to make it sound more like traditional progressive Anathema. I would like to say that the Lost Song pt 3 i f**ing F***NG!!! Awesome. Its perfect in every way. To the lyrics to the song to the vocals. Lees voice is so magical and soring!!! Its up in top 5 best Anathema songs ever and they have lots and lots of awesome songs. I dont understand why that song is hardly ever mentioned.
    On a whole its a good album but the last song provideds nothing to really sink your teeth into. Which is too bad really. I do think that there is potential to make them more mainstream with this album and they deserve it.

  12. Big fan of old Anathema and the last 2 albums definitely high points in their newer direction, Weather Systems was majestic

    There are some good moments on this album but I can’t help but feel they have “borrowed” too many ideas from Radiohead (particularly You’re Not Alone which is straight from Hail to the Thief … right down to the abrupt ending a la 2 + 2 = 5 / Sit Down, Stand Up ).

    I think their incorporation of electronic music ideas into rock is a little clumsy when compared to someone like Radiohead, which I would say is probably down to them being influenced more by other bands doing it than a genuine appreciation of electronic music itself. Chinese whisper effect! ( caveat : only a theory ).

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