Anathema - Distant Satellites
In 2003, supporting the stunning A Natural Disaster, Danny Cavanagh intimated in an interview that Lee Douglas, the sister to John, would feature more prominently in future projects. This record was a turning point for the band, who always sat uncomfortably in the realm of 'doom metal'. Rather than being theatrical, Anathema have always laced their harder edges with an emotional capacity that is beyond most metal bands. The imagery was always dark and stormy, and on a track like Underworld off 2001's A Fine Day To Exit highlighted the Danny's story telling abilities, and his deeply artistic lyrical mind.
2004 hits, and the band are dropped from their label. Danny invests his time and attention in various side projects, and the Anathema wagon loses steam rapidly. He begins to see a personal therapist, and the other band members shuffle off in to the abyss of the music industry, swallowed up in session appointments and local night life revery. Anathema and rap artists have one thing in common. A label saved their life. Signing with Kscope spawned a new lease on life for these Liverpudlians, and a rich vein of artistic form was discovered through We're Here Because We're Here, and the stunning 2012 release Weather Systems.
That 2010 release, We're Here Because We're Here, was both ominous and instructive for die hard fans. Take a gander Pentecost III and you'll see what I mean. But bands must progress, they must reinvent themselves. It'd be wholly cynical to blame their shift of sound on their new label, in fact Cavanagh and co have been firm believers in the importance of the label in their making of music, which obliterates our rapper comparison. The roots of the current sound took hold in the now divide bridging A Natural Disaster, a record that was at once aggressive and raw but, in time, significantly more melodic.
Distant Satellites evokes it's title extremely well, through a combination of wonderfully crafted harmonies between Danny and Lee, through the insistent and compulsive drumming of John Douglas, and the further exploration of keys. There is such a thick layer of strings it almost dwarfs the ambient guitar moves. It's the kind of record you can bite a chunk out of with your ears and carry it with you through life's complicated journeys. Danny has expressed that the bands music can be compared to film scores, or more pertinently with each song depicting a visual image that he has conjured. Certainly, tracks like Dusk (Dark is Descending) shudder with an anxious energy that forces movement at the most vulnerable of times when journeying alone. Of course the physical imagery is always a front for the inner turmoil that Danny channels, and phrases like 'Because I'm trying to be brave now / But I'm frozen in this place now / And it's so cold' hit hard on both fronts.
What evolves throughout the record is a desire for companionship, or the pervading sense that current relationships are insufficient. On Anathema (no, the world didn't blow up when they made a song called anathema), Danny doesn't just trot out the standard 'we hated each other but we loved each other' rhetoric. He descends in to a pit of aggression; 'Slowly dissolving, our time, but we laughed, and we cried, and we fought, and we tried, and we failed, but I loved you'. His voice is a pleading beacon, it's a desolate expanse. It's immediately accessible, yet hinged with a loneliness that he almost seems to cradle. This is finally explored and resolved on the title track, and the story of the album takes perfect shape. A nervous drum beat and dense strings provide the backdrop for Danny's explanation, "And it makes me wanna cry / Caught you as I floated by / And it makes me wanna cry / Just another distant satellite". Not since Wish You Were Here has something this concrete formed in my head when listening to a song about the hopeless plight of lovers stuck in an endless cycle of everyday life. As he takes each breath, you feel the relationship slipping further from his grasp.
The record now opens up. You're Not Alone is a song written in the hope that it's target will hear it in the pervading buzz of digital chatter in the world. Almost as a text message to your ex from a different number. You're not alone. The opening track, The Lost Song Pt. 1, bleeds with both hope and a resignation. "Tonight I'm free / So free / For the first time / I've seen / New life" "For you're mine / And I'm yours / For life". Whatever that life may bring. Revisited on The Lost Song Pt. 3, in the simple line "Our scars can't heal". It's then so sad to hear their movement away from each other, drifting through space, unable to enter each other's orbit, defined by the gravity of other factors in life.
Ok so that's a pretty in depth discussion, and now you're asking why have I only given it a 6.5/10 if it touched such an emotional sore point? I think the most disappointing album I've heard recently was The Killers Battle Born. Not because each song was bad, not because it was musically redundant, but because it just didn't do anything. It was just music, not Music!!! That's the problem with Distant Satellites. Whilst Weather Systems was a brilliant exercise in restrained instrumental energy and huge, roller coaster valleys and peaks, this record runs on a plateau. There's none of the excitement and theatre that Weather Systems had in spades. I liken music like this to a dance music concert. The DJ must be an expert in judging mood, in building the crowd up to huge crescendo's that explode and wash over you, infecting more than just your ears. Instrumental metal toes the same line, and Weather Systems was expertly put together, painstakingly concoted so as to pull you up to the peak, toss you off the ledge, let you hang in freefall, and then give you a giant river of noise to crash land in. Distant Satellites does none of this. Ariel almost sounds juvenile in execution, with the explosion coming like a hammer blow in the middle of the track with no subtelty. Take Shelter is a hideous piece of drum machine noise, where they've just replaced a wall of sound laid with care with an intrusive barrage of sounds. The best thing about music like this is it can be like a really good orgasm. The sex is great for the first 20 minutes, then all of a sudden you're on the trail, climbing the hill towards the peak. Not too slowly, but not too quickly either. Then, when you've been suitably worn out with the climb the pleasure hits and explodes as you reach an unseen summit. Distant Satellites is just one long plateau, where the edge of the cliff is easy to see, and you jump off it knowingly. Make sense?
Emotionally, this record is one giant smack between the eyes. Danny Cavanagh is a master of conjuring a story that takes twists you don't see coming, and it's sung so wholeheartedly you believe his every word. Lee Douglas provides suitable back up, allowing a richer harmony. Unfortunately, the record just doesn't have the technique or skill of the stunning Weather Systems, and that is what lets it down.