Very few albums in my lifetime have had the immediate and lasting impact on me that the 2012 release by Britain’s Anathema, Weather Systems, did. Though the rest of their work is stuff of very high quality, none of it, for me, captured the undeniable passion and intensity that Weather Systems did. After seeing them live, it only cemented my opinion of the album, its pure magic, and has surely garnered a lifetime spot in my playlist. This isn’t an isolated opinion either, much of the music lovers who make up my circle of friends have a deep connection with the album, so it was with a collectively baited breath that we waited for their next release. The time is upon us, Anathema has given us a new type of magic in Distant Satellites.
Since their inception back in the early 90’s in Liverpool, England, Anathema has always been a family project of sorts. The members consist of brothers Vincent (lead vocals, guitar), Danny (lead guitar, backing vocals) and Jamie Cavanagh (bass) and sibling pair Lee (lead vocals) and John Douglas (acoustic/electronic percussion). Joining these two talented groups of siblings is Daniel Cardoso on drums. Together, they followed the release of Weather Systems with an extensive world tour which included a brilliant DVD, and somewhere in that time and the time following, they managed to write and record their next release, and it’s our turn for another sonically blissful journey with Anathema.
It’s rather difficult to really do a qualitative assessment of Distant Satellites, especially since it follows what to me is a top ten lifetime album. Also, a lot of the things that made Weather Systems so special reappear in Distant Satellites. That trademark sound of subtlety slowly building into a crashing wall of sound is there, but has some new tweaks to it. Thematically, they still delve into those areas we usually leave out of casual conversation, deeply spiritual thoughts on love and life that we tend to leave untouched because we just feel too vulnerable opening up that part of ourselves. Musically, they execute with precision, the previously mentioned wall of sound cautiously and meticulously built brick by brick. For the first six songs, they hammer in with what made Weather Systems so special, then they veer into a sound quite different, though still wondrous and moving.
Starting off with The Lost Song Part I, Anathema goes right into their tried and true formula, with atmospheric notes, the stunning vocal work of Cavanagh and Douglas, and the frantic drums hinting of things to come. A frenetically paced tune that only gets more and more intense, Part I is a solid first track. Part II sees Lee Douglas taking the helm with a much more subdued pace, and as a huge fan of Lee, I’m always more than pleased to hear her work. Starting with an almost bluesy sound, they again add and add the layers, building into a song that resonates with depth and feeling. Dark is a more forceful and powerful track, the buildup isn’t subtle at all, but expected. Then comes Ariel, where the band brings out what to me is their strongest hand, pairing the lush musical buildup with a classic vocal duet of Cavanagh and Lee. Something about the two vocalists pairing off against each other just brings the core essence of the songs home, and it works just wonderfully here, an all around beautiful track and my favorite on the album. The Lost Song Part III is a huge sounding track, with the elements converging together once again to create immense depth and emotion. Then comes Anathema, which opens very delicately, but builds into a veritable sonic monster of a track, with all instruments firing off big note after big note.
Then Anathema brings in a new element. With You’re Not Alone, they open with a few piano strokes, and then drop into electronic mode, dropping off a staccato of frenetic notes of electronic percussion paired with a repetitive vocal track. This then explodes into an altogether different wall of sound, though the effect is the same intensity-wise, and it is still distinctively Anathema. Firelight serves as a transitional track of choral organ work that leads into the title track, Distant Satellites, an eight minute monster of a song that opens again with the electronic percussion work, almost doubling the effect when Cavanagh’s soft vocals enter. The song is spent teasing with the intensity, swaying the listener around to and fro without a care. Every aspect of the band is brought into play here, and is used to its fullest. Take Shelter finishes off the album, bringing in again the electronic elements to pair wonderfully with the traditional Anathema sound, and as with most of their work, I am left satisfied at the end, and in a better place than I was when I hit play.
For me, topping Weather Systems is a near impossible chore. I will never again be in the spiritual place I was when the album had all the right things to say to me, that was its magic, and though Distant Satellites didn’t click perfectly with my soul, it’s still a wonderful product of the collective magic that Anathema brings to everything they do. With each subsequent listen, Distant Satellites just gets better and better, surely the effect of it becoming in my soul an album of its own right, and a brilliant one at that.