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While 'Eternity' left behind most of the metal elements from Anathema's early years, 'Alternative 4' is their final album that could be reasonably labelled as doom metal for evoking the same melancholy atmosphere, albeit in a mostly lighter fashion with the heavy guitars all but replaced by acoustic and the death growl vocals now firmly a thing of the past. Not yet going the full way to prog rock throwback, this is still authentic old-school Anathema with a less aggressive approach, with a greater focus on atmosphere but one that doesn't come at a cost to the music itself.
Vincent Cavanagh's soft vocals still have a nice amateur edge, particularly on the rare occasions that his Liverpudlian lilt shines through, and while his singing and guitars are fairly uniform throughout the album, some being entirely acoustic and some featuring louder, slow rock riffs, the rest of the band is still integral to the sound and keeps it from being a tedious and repetitive solo effort. While the bass and drums stand out throughout, particularly when carrying the song alone as is the case in the opening to the excellent 'Lost Control,' most impressive of all is newcomer Martin Powell, fresh out of Yorkshire's My Dying Bride and a year or so before he joined London's Cradle of Filth in his grand metal tour of the regions.
Adding some very nice violin touches to 'Fragile Dreams' and 'Lost Control,' the instrument isn't over-used in the way it tended to be in My Dying Bride (though his prominence was always my favourite thing about that band, and they were never as good after he left), Powell also takes over the keyboard duties and enhances each song with a polished atmosphere, particularly spacey and ethereal in the later 'Alternative 4' and 'Regret' before shifting to a more prominent organ in 'Feel,' helping that more upbeat penultimate offering to better stand out.
While my fondness for Anathema albums roughly decreases proportionally along the timeline from the crushing, emotionally exhausting doom metal of their earliest demos to the atmospheric yet dull Radiohead rock of their more recent releases, 'Alternative 4' is the perfect half-way meeting point along with its predecessor 'Eternity,' though it does disappoint in the centre where the songs start to blur together and sound largely indistinguishable. 'Empty' and 'Re-connect' are shorter, slightly faster and potentially more accessible songs, the first having a particularly compelling chorus, while the suicidal end of the spectrum is skilfully held up by 'Lost Control' and the more sinister title track.
1. Shroud of False
2. Fragile Dreams
4. Lost Control
6. Inner Silence
7. Alternative 4
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Shroud Of False
2 Fragile Dreams
4 Lost Control
7 Alternative 4