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Anathema: Distant Satellites

Album Notes

With each release since the mid-'90s, Anathema have pushed their boundaries to the breaking point, creating a prog pop sound of their own. After the groundbreaking -- and universally celebrated -- Weather Systems in 2012, it was fair to wonder just where else they could go. That question is answered with Distant Satellites. Produced once more by Christer-André Cederberg, the set is divided into two halves that diverge from one another musically but are lyrically united, reflecting the evolution of an encounter with love, death, grief, yearning, acceptance, transcendence, and spiritual transformation. The first six tracks are grounded in the three-part "Lost Song" suite, appended by Dave Stewart's lush string charts, expansive, emotionally committed vocals by Vincent Cavanagh and Lee Douglas, acoustic piano and strikingly original guitar work from Daniel Cavanagh, John Douglas' keyboards and percussion, Jamie Cavanagh's thrumming basslines, and Daniel Cardoso's brilliant drumming. Parts one and three of the suite are in 5/8 time, atypical for rock tunes. Cardoso is locked in; he embellishes each section with canny fills and rolls that fuel and drive the singers, but never loses the pocket. "Pt. 1" builds rockist prog in layers adorned by strings until it explodes, then fades to ether. Lee's balladic "Pt. 2" relies on piano, drums, and strings in mellifluous balance, with rock guitars appearing briefly. "Dusk (Dark Is Descending)," with fingerpicked electric guitar lines, initially feels like a folk song, but is utterly transformed by Cardoso's drum kit and carried toward the emotional margins by the singers. "Ariel," initially a sparse duet, becomes an elegant yet powerful rocker. "The Lost Song, Pt. 3" -- the set's first single -- is introduced by Daniel's hypnotic guitar line; its quickly unfolding drama melds aggression, rich harmonics, and strident dual vocals in an anthemic progression. "Anathema"'s melody recalls something from Judgement, but its elaborate arrangements reveal a sophistication and confidence that weren't possible earlier. Vincent's soaring vocal and Daniel's squalling guitar break are startling, arresting. "You're Not Alone" commences the second-half shift toward the stratosphere. Synthetic hi-hat and snare loops integrate seamlessly with Cardoso's kit and Daniel's frenzied guitar; the rhythms and bassline from Jamie actually suggest Aphex Twin's early material. A short organ interlude introduces the title track, which combines glitchy laptop beats that recall early Autechre, though its digital textures and effects are reminiscent of Radiohead's Kid A. Closer "Take Shelter" is even more abstract; one can imagine the influence of Laughingstock-era Talk Talk and Sigur Rós' Takk... in its mix. Eventually, orchestral strings, guitars, and drums enter and coalesce it all into a jagged whole. Distant Satellites' second half takes repeated listens to grasp fully, but it does integrate with the first logically and thematically. Anathema's trademark emotional resonance and musical adventurousness purposefully re-engage earlier electronic forms to make this album a compelling -- if controversial -- undertaking. ~ Thom Jurek


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