FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 48: Anathema – Judgement

FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 48: Anathema - Judgement

FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 48: Anathema – Judgement

This is the forty-eighth entry of my blog series ‘First Impressions.’ In each entry of the series I write about discovering an influential or genre-classic album for the first time and then write about that experience in a semi-planned, semi-stream of consciousness manner that is less helpful than a traditional album-review, but which does contain more personal flavour.

I prefer my reviews to be serious and informative. ‘First Impressions’ allow for a more director’s commentary approach. I can be silly and talk bollox, or make points that only a handful of people will understand. Usually I will deliver insights into my history with similar music as well as into how my mind works and how both of these things change over time. You will have to either possess a fairly detailed understanding of Rock and Metal history and Subgenre conventions or have a second tab open at Wikipedia to fully follow every single point that I make, but don’t let that put you off…I’m not honestly expecting you to know every single riff or tone I’ll point out off by heart.

If you want your own First Impressions article done, just suggest it in the comments. I’ll give anything a shot.

This time I’ll be listening to Judgement by Anathema. Apparently it was a big hit for the band and is held in high regard as a benchmark in the modern Proggy Alternative movement.

I just bought a boxset of three Anathema albums up the town today, it contained this, A Fine Day To Exit and A Natural Disaster. I’ve got given Anathema’s newest album, Weather Systems, for Christmas and it has become one of my favourite albums of the last five years, it feels like an absolute classic and its first two tracks ‘Untouchable’ and ‘Untouchable Part 2’ are now two of my favourite songs ever. Also, I bought their album before that, We’re Here Because We’re Here, at the same time that I bought Gallows’ Grey Britain, and although I liked it instantly on first listen, I haven’t listened to it as much as it deserves yet. I know that I love the opener, ‘Thin Air’ a heck of a lot, but the rest of the album is just a vague memory, it’s the kind of record that needs a lot of listening, so now I just have a cloudy, foggy, haze of a picture of a memory of the rest of the album. It’s a similar style as Weather Systems but not as x-factory on individual songs even though the overall style has the perfection kind of feel to it.

I also have their compilation/re-recording/re-working project/album ‘Falling Deeper.’ It’s a re-working collection of tracks from their early Death Doom days when they supposedly sounded like My Dying Bride (I’ve never heard any of that, so don’t have that ‘Anathema-sold-out’ mindset that confuses me in reviews of amazing prog records like Weather Systems) only rejiggered so that they sound more acoustic, and pianoy and violinny and generally more pleasant and positive. Unfortunately I didn’t really enjoy anything off of it, except the opening track ‘Crest Fallen’ (which actually sings the line ‘Fall-ing, Deep-er).

I should probably listen to it more. And to be fair, if both We’re Here Because We’re Here grows on me, and I enjoy these new Anathema albums, then I probably will give it a lot more time.

In fact, speaking of My Dying Bride, Martin Powell (Party Foul? Is that him) plays violin on this album. Also, Dave Pybuss of Cradle Of Filth does too. What is this, some sort of Paul Supergroup?

Anyway, Judgement, its part of a thing that I’ve observed but which hasn’t been named. Or I guess its half been named. Some people named it New Prog. That’s usually a name that is put on Muse, Coheed & Cambria and The Mars Volta, who at first glimpse seem like three such different bands that they couldn’t be the same genre.

However; There’s this whole Progressive Alternative sort of a thing that exists, you could make it a strict genre if you took all the bands like Porcupine Tree, Anathema in this era, Riverside & Amplifier. There’s also a sort of similar but distinct type of American and Australian strain, which includes Rishloo, Cire, The Mayan Factor, Fair To Midland, Cog, Karnivool, The Butterfly Effect, The Dear Hunter, & Dead Letter Circus. Furthermore, you could add in Radiohead and Muse if you wanted to make it less of a strict one. Prolternative. It’s a thing in my mind.

Anyway. Prog in 1996 was a different proposition to Prog in 2012, so how much is this going to sound like the brilliant Weather Systems? I mean, apparently Porcupine Tree hadn’t even heard of Metal until Steve Wilson produced Blackwater Park. So stuff like Signify is meant to sound very different to the stuff I like, like Fear Of A Blank Planet. Lets find out what a 1996 Anathema sounds like…


Ok. A few clean arrpegiated notes, quite quickly, and then that familiar Cavanagh vocal comes in. Yeah, its close enough to the Weather Systems sound that I can see how it’s the same band. Then Whuum. A big slide. And suddenly the rock kicks in. Ok, it kicks out some volume, some pace. Wow, the vocals are cool. It reminds me of Mariusz from Riverside and The Cure’s singer Robert Smith in certain shades, over the familiar voice from the records I already own. The song has got a forward momentum that I’m not used to from the band. It changes. Brings in one of those Phil-Anselmo whisper bits. Ohhhh. Then at 2.35, an absolutely beautiful end-of-a-film bit, shimmering, glorious, then a fat, slow, evocative guitar solo ala Dave Gilmour, and then the first bit comes back. The Riverside-but-too-fast bit. This song is immense. Holy fuck. This next bit, ‘Time recedes every day’ oh my god, its making my soul scream in happiness. Aww. It faded out and stopped, they should’ve done that bit four times, then another four times with progressively more and more energetic drum fills (like Dozer’s ‘Big Sky Theory’) until the very last, ninth one, where he just sings it out over feedback. If I ever covered this song that’s how I’d end it. But frig altering it, that shit was the mad notes, (as Jay from Jay and Silent Bob would say).

Next up, coming to life through the feedback of the last song, like a new section in a single, album-long song sort of song/album, the bass intro to ‘Pitiless’ arrives, menacing, surrounded by tense new feedback. Hmmm. This one has a sort of big, hardcore oppression about it, and tom rolls/flomps that work like Dave Ghrol wrote them. Huh. There’s also this slight hangover from Doom still in parts of the song. Its really weird. Its unlike anything I’ve heard until it all goes phase-flangy with the Floyd-esque hypno rhythm before an amazingly energetic seeming guitar solo section that isn’t actually particularly energetic but shapeshifts mood note by note. Then, a bit that reminds me of both ‘Hearts Alive’ and ‘The Nobodies’ simultaneously, that gets handed a background and turns into this romantic sounding build, that sounds like its telling Jamie Lanister’s story. Oh. It’s a different song. Huh. The vocals are amazing. ‘Did I punish you for dreaming?’

Then the umph kicks in. There’s a big long first-note-of-a-solo that hangs out loudly while the music gets louder and more intense. Then it simmers back down into the verse. Then that amazing dream punishment bit. The drummer starts adding little touches, there’s some no-words vocal wailing, it all falls down, then transitions into a new track.

‘Destiny Is Dead’ starts off with sexy bass lanks, and a little Pink Floyd-esque guitar squall. Shwuum, they seem to say. There’s this amazing mixture of funky good time feelings and depression and hopelessness, but its brief and it fades out in keys into a new track all too quickly.

‘Make It Right (F.F.S)’ starts off with some 90s rock introness, this on sounds like a single. It still has that mournful, Riverside-esque mentally ill vocal touch, but there’s this 80s pop music feel, guilty-feet-have-got-no-rhythm style, insidiously in the back. It’s a brilliant contrast. Sounds fuck all like Weather Systems this one. Not one jot. But its cool. Its more like if Alice In Chains had wanted to be Riverside after a trip to the future, but they didn’t quite know how to do it perfectly because they only had a hazy memory of what Riverside sounded like, so had to improvise, through grungey structures and production. Also there’s a sort of Faith No More sounding keys swell in the outro that reminds me of Planet Of The Apes.

Then a beautiful little intro that could be on Weather Systems, all acoustics, harmonics and key textures. Then when it kicks in with this slide, and some slow Doom paced drums. Its massively Riverside. The most of anything so far. Hmmm. Its also like Flaw’s ballady moments. I love it. It slowly builds up more intensity, until he shouts ‘In My Dreams I Can See You’ and a touch of distortion comes in. it actually reminds me structurally and emotionally a lot of ‘Miranda, That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore’ by The Mars Volta, except that the big bit goes on longer. Ooooh. Guitar solo too. That kind of get-sexy Gilmour school of soloing where there aren’t many notes but you put a tonne of feeling into any slides or bends and just make the guitar sound like its crying. After the solo, the thing fades out, builds down and stops dead.

Next up, a piano intro. ‘Parisenne Moonlight’ Hey. The girl. The girl who featured so heavily on Weather Systems and We’re Here Because We’re Here. Bit of a late addition, but a hell of a welcome one. Also, once this song builds up pace, it becomes very captivating. Aww. It falls away to nothing before it could get going. But an intense, Empty Spaces atmosphere starts in the background, and a cool acoustic build up not unlike ‘Dunkirk’ by Camel comes in. The vocals come in threateningly, the track is now ‘Judgement.’ The drums fade in, its starting to build up nicely. Louder, Louder, Louder, a fill, louder, louder, louder, LOUDER, LOUDER, LOUDER, THE BEAT BUT WITH TOMS, LOUDER LOUDER LOUDER. FASTER, FASTER, FASTER FASTER FASTETFASTERFASTER.

Ok. After the screams, a left turn, a drum fill and then we head off into some punky territory, hey, its not unlike Jetplane Landing at this point. The production is very different to the rest of the record. The line that the guitars are taking could be pop-punk at one point but could be Testament at another point, its walking an interesting line. The production has this sort of through-a-telephone feel that suggests it would explode afterwards but nope. Record-Scratch sound effect and the song stops dead.

Some acoustics, and a new song begins. ‘Don’t Look Too Far.’ Ooh. Its more of that haunted pop like Porcupine Tree, and the softer Riverside moments. Ooh. Left turn. A Very alternative bit, it reminds me a bit of Stupid Dream era Porcupine Tree actually. It’s a sound that could never have existed outside the 90s. But afterwards that same Riverside bit has more guitar lead touches, slightly more pained vocals and more general atmosphere. The chorus, it comes back. My first reaction is ‘Yuk’ but its actually cool. This time the woman provides backing vocals too, and its got fills and a guitar solo underneath, it goes on about four times as long too, then the guitar solo keeps going as the rest of it transitions from noisy rock, to fluffy acoustic No Code era Pearl Jam stuff, like ‘In My Tree’ almost.

New song. ‘Emotional Winter’ Those mind expanding, I’ve just had an epiphany sounding keys come in. The kind of keyboards that make you feel more intelligent temporarily when they’re playing. Some teased out, super sexy Gilmour guitars. Are we going to get a ‘The Hound Of Blood And Rank’? Or a ‘Poles Apart’ ? Ok. Neither, it goes into another mentally ill, asylum sounding Riverside curl. Wahey. It kicks off. ‘Wasted Moments Won’t Return And We Will Never Feel Again.’ Then when the Riverside curl comes back, it’s a bit more lively. I think Opeth fans would like this song. There’s a hint of Weather Systems in the ‘Will Never’ but its altogether darker and more threatening. It fades out for forty seconds with more getting sexy lead work.

Then builds back up into ‘Wings Of God’ which has a ‘The Final Cut’ by Coheed & Cambria style bluesy solos over a jangular, stop-start, pained Waltz kind of feel. If you get me. Its very intense. The vocals sound like nothing on the last two Anathema records. But damn, that lead guitar has feeling. It sounds like raw, human pain.

Oh, cool, a new bit. ‘Solitude Was Never Seen As Loneliness.’ Its louder, and more driving. Ummmph. Then it evolves via a bass line, into this very proggy sphere. It feels like a creature Metamorphosing. Then some Camel sounding leads come in. It has that ‘Big Sky Theory’ build-sustain quality I was on about earlier. It slowly, super slowly, builds down, its kind of like a fade out over a whole minute and a half, where the distortion gets quieter first, and then the drums, a sort of staircase fadeout.

Then, ‘Anyone, Anywhere’ comes in with acoustic guitars and piano stabs. The vocals are very sad sounding. It drops these bright piano notes ala Weather Systems, that give a sort of emotional power you wouldn’t believe, over the hypnotic repition of the simple four note main rhytmn. This could be dropped into a charity advert, save the children from abuse etc.

DAMMN. They drop a huge My Dying Bride Doom guitar drop and power drum into it suddenly. The combination of the Doom and the Prog is awesome. When the pianos drop down over the distortion its so evocative. Then left turn. Into a sort of Queen, glory, power metal-ballad territory. Then everything cuts out, and the piano is the main line. Until the end. This song instantly gets five stars on my iPod.

Last tune, ‘2000 & Gone’ comes in. It sounds like the music your parents put on to go to sleep. It has a sort of Coheed & Cambria’s ‘Wake Up’ feel to it, but its got more pace. There’s a bit with two snares that sounds like the drummer made a mistake. Hmmm. This sort of happy, hypnotic direction is all over We’re Here Because We’re Here. Once it finds its feet, it kind of dwells there for a while, playing with slides and bends. Then it drops down to almost silence. There’s a Steve Howe sounding little acoustic solo tinge briefly. Acoustics come in when the found-feet bit returns. Its all instrumental so far. This sounds like the Heaven parts of The Afterman story. It’s a cool end to the album in that its obviously set up their future and its all happy after all the sadness, but even with how cool it is, I think the previous track would’ve been a better close simply because it was the best track on the album.

BUT ANYWAY. That’s the record. I loved it. Instantly. It’ll take a lot of listens to get to grips with all its little touches, and its overall mood, but goshdamn, there’s some fine, fine music on it. I can tell already I’ll love this album, if I just put the time in.

I immediately recommend the shit out of it. Try it out. Its fabulous. I love Weather Systems more, because it was my first, and I’ve heard it more and know its little details, but this is a seriously cool album. If you like Riverside, Porcupine Tree or the two no-death Opeth records then give it a go. Damn fine stuff. I can’t wait to listen to it again.

Hmmm. I’m glad when I bought it, it came with two friends. More of this Anathema stuff please! Its delightful.

Well, I think I’ll stick on the three albums I already had again now, get used to them with this new info in the mix, then drop another of the new ones from today in, then go over all four again, and so forth.


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