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Anathema ascends to new heights on stunning tenth album, 'Distant Satellites'

Distant Satellites by Anathema; artwork by Sang Jun Yoo
Distant Satellites by Anathema; artwork by Sang Jun Yoo
Sang Jun Yoo

Distant Satellites by Anathema

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Simply calling Anathema a "progressive British rock band" is understating a magical, emotional experience. The best of the best tend to defy categorization. To hurriedly slap a label on music this honest and full of beauty is, in a sense, disrespectful. Anathema is not casual background music. Their music should not, and really cannot, be compared to a group of others. It is intense, having undergone numerous changes over their 20+ years. From the despondent and chillingly bleak nature that personified their earlier, darker material, Anathema's sound over recent years has expanded to also include a deeper, more varied spectrum of feeling. Although the 'old' Anathema sounds completely different from the music they are now creating, the band has consistently remained distinctive and captivating, certainly a rare feat for artists with such a long history.

It can quickly be concluded that Anathema's tenth studio album, Distant Satellites is more diverse than their previous two releases, We're Here Because We're Here and Weather Systems. This is not to say the predecessors were anything but fantastic. However, those who seek versatility in music are more likely to be pleased with this one, because no two moments on Distant Satellites are really the same -- yet it all works and flows so well. It is nearly impossible to describe any of these songs as catchy. There is a complexity tough to sum up present with this particular release. Listening to a song or two from the album, then, is more difficult; Distant Satellites is best experienced from start to finish. Those unacquainted with Distant Satellites will quickly learn to expect the unexpected, and it is a beautiful thing. Each listen invites new observations; each time, something new stands out, one trademark of a truly special release.

Among the most spectacular offerings on Distant Satellites is the three-part "The Lost Song". Parts 1 and 2 initiate the Distant Satellites experience -- as tracks 1 and 2, naturally. "The Lost Song, Part 1" is immediately enchanting, with an unusual rhythm, utilizing the lovely vocals of Vincent Cavanagh and Lee Douglas. It is a song full of hope, gradually speeding up and becoming delightfully chaotic toward the track's end. Cavanagh's cries of "The fear is just an illusion" provide an interesting transition to "The Lost Song, Part 2", a plaintive ballad focusing completely on Douglas' goosebump-evoking performance. The way these two songs tie together is, in effect, brilliant. The aforementioned line in the first installment of 'The Lost Song' morphs into the lament of "Can't believe it was just an illusion..." Somehow, part 2 is both heartbreaking and optimistic.

Pairing a mesmerizing piano melody with tremendously moving vocals from Douglas and Cavanagh, "Ariel" is dreamlike, with one of the most breathtaking lines of the album, "Love so strong, it hurts..." With this song, Anathema reaches new heights in emotion. It is simply stunning in every aspect. Guitarist/vocalist/main songwriter Danny Cavanagh's vocals perfectly end the song in a near-whisper during its final moments. Not since "Dreaming Light" has the band made a song this captivating.

True to its name, "Anathema" wonderfully encapsulates many defining characteristics of the band. Nowhere else on Distant Satellites does despondent, pensive, and triumphant mix so flawlessly. Again, the lyrics are a sure highlight: "But we laughed / and we cried / and we fought / and we tried / and we failed / but I loved you / I loved you." Somehow, Anathema is gifted with the ability of pairing quite simple words together into something heart-wrenching and meaningful beyond compare. The song reaches its pinnacle with a majestic guitar solo from Danny, perhaps the best one in the band's entire discography. Clocking in at over eight mind-blowing minutes and composed by Anathema drummer John Douglas, "Distant Satellites" has a light, electronic, spacey, floating feeling. To sum it all up, Vincent Cavanagh has never sounded more incredible than he does on this excellent title track. As terribly clich├ęd as this statement may sound, this is an ideal song to drive around aimlessly to, or to listen to in solitude and just space out for a while. What a wondrous and remarkable atmosphere it creates. It is a magnificent accomplishment by Anathema.

Never a band to repeat itself, Anathema has, once again, unleashed something phenomenal. Perhaps longtime listeners who felt indifferent about Anathema during the past few years should consider looking into this new outing, as it delves into new territory. Even those unacquainted with the band would be wise to get this album. Unquestionably, it will consistently be viewed as a defining moment in this band's career. There are too many special qualities about it, both examining individual songs and while looking at the album as a whole, for this not to be the case. People who really long to feel music deeply should look to Anathema. There are numerous 'superlative' moments on Distant Satellites. It is easy to lose count of how many times one can genuinely say, "that was the best _____ Anathema has ever done" during these ten songs. Fifty-six minutes of pure, amazing expression, Distant Satellites is the top music release of 2014 so far, and it would be shocking if anything in the coming months matches it.