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Anathema are a band that have gone through quite a musical transformation since their first releases in the early 90's. Formed in Liverpool 1990 and known for a while as Pagan Angel, they were a doom/death metal band with growl vocals.
They gradually moved towards clean vocals, and had several changes of personnel along the way. In the mid-90s their record label closed, and they couldn't find a new record deal. They started to use the internet to reach their fan-base, offering downloads of their new songs for a voluntary donations (which was how I heard some of these songs for the first time). Their music has moved to a more atmospheric brand of rock, and remains heavily melancholic.
They toured with Porcupine Tree at the end of 2007 which was when we first 'met' their music properly, and were blown away by their performance. They were a perfect complement to PT and it was more of a double headline in truth. Their previous full studio album A Natural Disaster, I felt, lacked the heart of their live set in terms of the sound quality. PT's Steven Wilson, a renowned producer and exponent of 5.1 audio mixes, has mixed this album. I hoped that with his magic that the sound quality would improve. I wasn't disappointed :-)) Anathema are now signed to the Kscope label, which is also the home of Wilson's other band no-man, and a distributor for some of Porcupine Tree's material.
We're Here Because We're Here was released in May this year (2010), and as well at the standard CD version, was released in a special limited CD/DVD-A 5.1 mix package, and also on vinyl, available direct from their online shop at Kscope / Burningshed http://www.burningshed.com/store/kscope/collection/222/
I'm reviewing the bog-standard CD, as our DVD-A player died and we're currently without a surround system! The album has ten tracks in all, starting with:
THIN AIR - a delicate, rhythmical beginning, building gradually to the climax of the first chorus, a soaring love song with a melancholic undertone, which mixes down into an almost choral refrain, growing to incorporate the drums and guitars again, and ending quite suddenly.
SUMMERNIGHT HORIZON - starting without drums, when they come in, this becomes a bit of a frantic song with calmer melodic interludes, with the frantic sections having some great rock guitar moments. This is one of my favourite tracks on the album, I enjoy the vocal harmonies going on here, and the great atmosphere set by the music.
DREAMING LIGHT - a favourite song of a friend of mine, who found this on YouTube as a teaser for the album and plugged it like fury! It is a lovely ballad, a very beautiful song, if a little conventional for Anathema.
EVERYTHING - is another ballad really, but with a bit more go to it. Now you could be forgiven for comparing it to a Coldplay song from a few years ago as the piano riff sounds very familiar. However, you could say that they've take THAT riff (from 'Clocks')and given it some new legs. I've had a demo version of this on the computer for a couple of years, along with two of the other tracks from this album, which were given away free from their MySpace page at one time. It's been interesting hearing how these tracks have developed and grown since then.
ANGELS WALK AMONG US - here beginnneth the philosophising (see below). This has Celtic overtones, and maybe even a bit of a Marillionesque guitar riff running through the track.
PRESENCE - this is a voiceover speaking about a revelatory moment when they came to see life in a different way, with some sung vocals over the top in places for harmonious emphasis.
A SIMPLE MISTAKE - Starts quite slowly and deliberately, with a verse / chorus structure that eventually gives way to a classic rock crescendo - the quiet storm of guitar, drum, keys, gradually increasing in volume until reaching THAT moment, then rocking out, ending with pleading vocals, and playing out quite softly
GET OFF, GET OUT - I enjoy this one a lot. It's a faster-paced song from the out, and has a good rocky chorus. One thing that strikes me, however, is the similarity with some of Porcupine Tree's recent songs. I guess the influence is bound to rub off, always assuming that the influence hasn't gone back in the opposite direction, of course...
UNIVERSAL - My favourite track on the album. This starts with an orchestra-laden torch song, it's breathy vocal creating a feel of hot summer days. Another love song, its slow beginning belies its eventual destination though. Has to be played loud to appreciate the majestic ending fully as the orchestration continues to build, incorporating guitars, drums and keyboards to an ear-splitting, heart-thumping pitch, until it sharply fades back to a lone, echoing piano sequence. Quite magical.
HINDSIGHT - Largely instrumental, and is the longest on the album at 8 minutes & 10 seconds. Starting quietly, it's quite a contemplative piece and moves between serenity and a medium-paced rock-out. There is a spoken word track over part of it, similar to the one on 'Presence', but this time it's a female voice relating thoughts on life, the universe and the various efficacious properties of love.
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The philosophy of the album on the whole is in the vein of self-affirmation and self-discovery, e.g. "Only you can heal yourself, only you can heal inside" (from Angels Walk Amongst Us/ Presence). Some may find this a bit cloying, but to be honest for the most part the music speaks louder. There is one sentiment which grates for me though, which only really comes out if you read through the lyrics: "There is no disease that enough love cannot heal" (Hindsight). It's well-meaning, but completely unrealistic, as anyone who's lost someone who they love dearly will realise. The words come across as the work of someone who is recovering from a very low period, and is trying to climb back up, and in so doing is going overboard with the positive thinking.
However, as I said, the music really does speak louder, and to be honest you can just ignore those bits if you want and enjoy the rest.
You can probably tell that I like this album - I'd recommend it to anyone who likes their rock atmospheric, maybe a little folky, with occasional dramatically sweeping loud parts. If you have a 5.1 system, I think that I can confidently recommend trying to get hold of the surround version, as Steven Wilson makes some excellent surround mixes and I suspect this will be well worth hearing in that format.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Thin Air
2 Summernight Horizon
3 Dreaming Light
5 Angels Walk Among Us
7 A Simple Mistake
8 Get Off, Get Out