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The Anathema of Serenades and the Anathema of today are two very different beasts. In the early days Anathema, along with My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost, pioneered a relatively new and unique form of metal known as Doom. Doom Metal, in the broadest sense of the term, has several identifying characteristics which set it apart from other forms of metal, namely slow heavy riffs, a great deal of droning meandering passages punctuated with melodic "relief", guttural growling vocals and a lyrical fixation on death, misery and hopelessness. Black Sabbath sported elements of this form of metal and indeed inspired the development of it into a fully fledged genre, with the band often considered the root of Doom Metal by Doom aficionados. Serenades by Anathema represents one of the milestones of Doom Metal's evolution and one of the most pure examples of what Doom Metal is about.
Unlike its counterparts in the Doom world, Anathema's Serenades makes sparing use of keyboards and choir aahs. The album is almost exclusively guitar-driven, save for the occasional synth-string punctuations during "Under a Veil (of Black Lace)" and "J'ai Fait Une Promesse", with momentary flutters in other tracks. All of the guitar work (except for that of the acoustic guitars) is produced by 7-string electric guitars, which adds an extra B-string below the low E-string of a standard guitar. In other words, much lower, deep tones are possible and work well within this genre.
Doom Metal is almost certainly an acquired taste, and Serenades is no exception. The uninitiated metal fan might find themselves becoming bored or impatient as they listen to Serenades for the first time, because the very nature of Doom Metal permits the excessive use of long drawn-out repetitive phrases which serve to create a sense of dread and despondency in the listener. However, these long passages almost always climax in an unleashing of melodic and complex sections which serve as the "pay-off". These sections require a build-up in order to be effective, and Doom Metal musicians are given license to stroll through their riffs as much as they like before reaching their ultimate destination. In Serenades this formula is in full swing.
The first track of the album, "Lovelorn Rhapsody", is one of my favourites of the album and indeed all of Anathema's early work, and it exhibits all the classic Doom Metal ingredients that I mentioned above. The track opens with an almost discord synth-string intro which holds two harshly disagreeing notes from the beginning right up until the first chorus, if "chorus" is the right word to use. The guitar riff played during the intro section is equally inharmonious, with corrupted power chords forming the meat of the phrasing (corrupted in the sense that the three-note power chords contain a stray note in the middle of the octave, giving the sound an awful, uncomfortable character). After this section plays for around two minutes we are treated to a gorgeous melodic chorus which washes over you in warm yet melancholic waves. Repeat it all once more and then we move into the latter half of the song, during which harsh straight-up metal riffage takes centre stage and rocks out the final moments of the song.
The most far removed song on the album has to be "J'ai Fait Une Promesse". It is played entirely on two acoustic guitars and the harmonised vocals are provided by an ethereal sounding female singer. Additionally, the lyrics are in French! It is certainly a glimmer of things to come for Anathema, now that they've moved away from metal almost entirely and are concentrating more on music within the same realm as "J'ai Fait Une Promesse".
One of the few songs to still be played live from this era is "Sleepless". It's probably one of the band's only songs which is recognisable to fans of all stripes, whether they've been with the band from the beginning or have only just discovered them. Its popularity is strange on the one hand - it's not the most accomplished song, or even the most accessible - but on the other hand its lyrical content is pretty much universal, which is perhaps why it seems to ring true for even non-metal fans.
"Under a Veil (of Black Lace)" is one of the more personal songs from the band, obviously discussing the death and funeral of a loved one. The song is unique on the album in that the depressed, lifeless vocals are harmonised. It's an interesting effect, and this track is among my favourites from the album because of it. The middle of the song is interrupted with a solo acoustic guitar accompanied by light synth-string work, and then explodes into a heavily distorted melodic lamentation. The song is driven along from then on with an increasing tempo and increasingly volatile guitar riffs, which eventually taper off into solid chord-based crunching, which are a recall back to the riffs used during the beginning of the song.
The final track on the album, "Dreaming: The Romance", consists entirely of synthesized strings and to call the track filler would be understating the reality of its 23:23 runtime. I'm not entirely sure what this track represents, but it bares no resemblance whatsoever to the rest of the album and I can honestly say that I've listened to it in its entirety maybe three times in my eight years of being an Anathema fan. It's an interesting closer, I'll give 'em that.
The album's production, even in its remastered state, can be taken in two ways. First, you can take the seemingly low quality of the production as being part of the overall dirty, gritty tone Doom Metal is renowned for - in other words, it's intentional. It's true that Black Sabbath intentionally under-produced many of their albums for this reason. The second is to take it as evidence that the band were young, the genre largely unheard of and thus the fledgling record label who were backing the band had very little in the way of funding and resources to produce a highly polished record. I quite like the gritty sound, for much the same reason that I like the genre as a whole. I'm a miserable sod who is drawn to music which cuts itself off from the mainstream and even the cuts itself off from bands/genres which consider themselves non-mainstream when in fact they are simply mainstream bands playing in ripped jeans.
The album clocks in at around 66 minutes, 43 if you ignore the final track, and contains twelve songs:
1. Lovelorn Rhapsody
2. Sweet Tears
3. J'ai Fait Une Promesse
4. They (Will Always) Die
6. Sleep in Sanity
7. Scars of the Old Stream
8. Under a Veil (Of Black Lace)
9. Where Shadows Dance
10. Eternal Rise of the Sun
11. Nailed to the Cross/666
12. Dreaming: The Romance
The record label behind the album are probably the most renowned purveyors of Doom in the world, Peaceville Records. The remastered edition of this 1993 album was released in 2003, with tracks 10 and 11 not being present in the original listing.
Serenades, for me, represents true Doom Metal and it holds Anathema up as true pioneers of the genre. The band has evolved drastically in the years since the recording of Serenades and a reasonably accurate label you could apply to them now is "atmospheric rock". I love the band and I love every "era" of the band's growth, and Serenades is no exception.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Lovelorn Rhapsody
2 Sweet Tears
3 J'ai Fait Une Promesse
4 They (Will Always) Die
6 Sleep In Sanity
7 Scars Of The Old Stream
8 Under A Veil (Of Black Lace)
9 Where Shadows Dance
10 Eternal Rise Of The Sun
11 Nailed To The Cross/666
12 Dreaming (The Romance)