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Anathema - Distant Satellites CD (album) cover




Experimental/Post Metal

3.65 | 463 ratings

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2 stars Only two years after releasing a strong album like Weather Systems, Anathema are back with another full-length, Distant Satellites, written, produced and recorded pretty much by the same team that was behind Weather Systems (the lineup is unchanged and both albums were recorded and produced by Christer-André Cederberg, who also played bass on both releases). Partly because of this, Distant Satellites feels very much like a continuation of Weather Systems, albeit less inspired and generally weaker in the quality of its compositions.

To put it bluntly, the overall impression I have when I listen to this album is that on Distant Satellites Anathema started running out of fresh ideas and resorted to recycling the formula that had worked so well on the previous couple of albums. This impression comes from the fact that Distant Satellites has a very similar sound, songwriting style and production as Weather Systems and We Are Here Because We Are Here (WAHBWAH). The sound is lush and deep, with lots of emphasis on the piano and the orchestrations (curated once again by 70s cult-musician Dave Stewart), which often take complete control of the arrangements. The guitars are most noticeable by their absence ? this is probably the least guitar-driven album in Anathema's whole discography (though there is a shimmering guitar solo on "Anathema" that is worth checking out).

In terms of songwriting, Distant Satellites follows the same post-rockish approach of Weather Systems and WAHBWAH. The tracks are typically based on a single motif repeated and stretched out for the whole duration of the song. The variation mainly comes from the arrangements, with orchestrations, choirs, percussions and the occasional distorted guitar adding or subtracting layers to increase or decrease the intensity of the music. As a result, there is a lot of play with dynamics in the 10 songs of Distant Satellites, each piece slowly building in intensity to achieve a cathartic climax at the end. Personally, I find this songwriting approach a bit too static and unadventurous. Granted, Anathema managed to write some great songs with this formula (Weather Systems, in particular, contains some fantastic tracks), but I feel that, by this point, Anathema had somehow reached the limit of what they could actually achieve with this type of songwriting, and Distant Satellites inevitably suffers from the law of diminishing returns in this respect.

The structure and flow of Distant Satellites are also similar to that of Weather Systems and WAHBWAH, adding to the general impression of dealing with a formula repeated one time too many. The album starts with two twin-tracks, "The Lost Song Pt 1"and "The Lost Song Pt 2", like Weather Systems had started with the duo "Untouchable Pt 1" and "Untouchable Pt 2". The two "Lost Songs" are not as similar to each other as the two "Untouchables" (where "Pt 2" was essentially an acoustic re-arrangement of "Pt 1"), but there are still common musical themes being swapped across the two parts. Moreover, both pairs of songs play on the idea of having a slightly more metallic first-half sung by Vincent Cavanagh, followed by a mellower second-half sung by Lee Douglas. It's a good way to open the album, as the two "Lost Songs" are probably the strongest pair of tracks on the whole Distant Satellites, although neither reaches the heights of the "Untouchable" suite.

The album then continues with a more up-tempo track ("Dusk"), in the same way as Weather Systems did with "The Gathering of the Clouds", but again, in terms of quality and impact on the listener, the comparison is strongly tilted in favour of the previous album. Distant Satellites then transitions into a mellower phase, with the soaring, cinematic ballads "Ariel" and "The Lost Song Pt 3" (a final reprise of the opening pair of tracks), but neither song really leaves a strong impression. Finally, as on Weather System and WAHBWAH, the second half of Distant Satellites is a darker and more heterogeneous affair. Perhaps the most distinctive and original aspect of this part of the album (and the whole Distant Satellites, in fact) is the experimentation with electronica, which features heavily on "You're Not Alone" and the title-track "Distant Satellites". The experiment only partially succeeds, though, as "You're Not Alone" is not really something to write home about (it sounds like a b-side from a Radiohead album). The title-track is slightly stronger, although it is too long and repetitive.

Thematically, Distant Satellites continues to dabble with the sort of new-agey, "love-is-all-you-need" philosophy that has inspired Anathema's lyrics since WAHBWAH. I believe the word "love" actually appears on every second track on this album. Nothing's wrong with that, to be clear. It's just that this "positive vibes" approach does not particularly resonate with me, so I struggle to connect in a deeper way with the songs on Distant Satellites as well as on the previous two albums.

Overall, I think that Distant Satellites is the weakest Anathema's album since the band left behind their doom origins. It feels very much like a washed-out copy of Weather Systems and WAHBWAH, trying to repeat the winning formula of those earlier albums but without success. To be honest, I am not a huge fan of those two albums either ? they feel too much like a collection of singles rather than properly cohesive full-lengths -, but at least they were redeemed by some great individual songs that I consider among the best tracks Anathema have ever written. Distant Satellites is instead rather lacklustre in this respect, with no song that really stands out in the way that "Thin Air" or "Untouchable Pt 1 and Pt 2" did. Fortunately, on the next album, The Optimist, Anathema will shake things up a bit, looking back to their "golden" period (1998-2003) for inspiration and delivering their strongest album since 2003's A Natural Disaster.

[Originally posted on]

lukretio | 2/5 |


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