Review Summary: Anathema never fail to impress, even when it's simply an album full of acoustic remakes.
At the risk of stating the obvious, acoustic remakes generally turn out worse than the original because something is usually lost in the translation. It seems that when a band strips a song down to its acoustic base they also strip the elements that made the original any good. A lot of it has to do with the fact that bands seem content to simply unplug the amps and recreate the songs without any other changes. When you remove all that was special about a song and do nothing to make up for it than you can’t help creating a boring experience. Apparently, the four years since Anathema’s last release was enough time for them to contemplate the subtle nuances of the acoustic remake because they have released an entire album that manages to not only live up to the originals, but also exceed them in a few cases.
The reason they manage to create such a great acoustic album is because they weren’t content with simply unplugging the amps and playing the songs with whatever elements were left. Instead they took the time to re-imagine the songs with new melodies, subtle arrangement changes, new percussion and added instrumentation such as cellos and pianos. A song such as “Are You There” was really good in its original form, but is easily exceeded by this version. They replaced the synths of the original with a beautiful and uplifting guitar melody that provides the song with a whole new feel that is only accentuated by the new layered backing vocals, new synth melody and the removal of any percussion. Really if it wasn’t for them keeping the same melodic vocal arrangement and lyrics this could almost feel like a whole new song, and it is this kind of attention to detail and focus that can be found on this entire album.
While other songs don’t get quite as much of a facelift, they still benefit from new melodies and arrangements. “Angelica” from the Eternity
album is one of those songs that has benefited and exceeded the original. The original made good use of contrast by combining a great guitar melody with percussion that seemed a little harsh, but it pales compared to this. “Angelica” now feels almost dream-like and innocent in no small part due to them taking the original melody and adding a shoegaze element to it. The guitar melody now seems to float over a bed of subtle synth, strummed acoustic guitars, subdued percussion, and much-improved vocals. Another song that has benefited from this album is my favorite Anathema song, “A Natural Disaster”. Not a lot was done to this song stylistically excluding the addition of some string accompaniment and additional melodies, but the delicate nature of this version allows the melodies to take on a larger role and also allows the vocals to really shine through.
As enjoyable as this album is, I can’t help feeling that it could have been better. Don’t get me wrong, they do a great job of representing every album from Eternity
to the last release, but they completely ignore their first four doom-oriented releases. If they had taken the time to rearrange some of their older songs the way they did for their newer ones than this album could have really been special and bridged the gap between their beginnings and where they’ve ended up. Instead of reworked songs from their doom albums they end the album with a new song titled “Unchained (Tales of the Unexpected)”. This is probably the most melancholic song on the album, featuring an echoing piano melody and a morose guitar/violin melody. It’s a great way to finish off the album, but there was still enough room for at least three doom-era songs.
I admit that I wasn’t too happy when I read that Anathema’s first release in over four years was going to be a collection of acoustic remakes, but my opinion has changed based on the strength of this album. Anyone expecting to hear a collection of stripped-down songs that are virtually identical to their originals is going to be in for a very pleasant surprise. Anathema haven’t just presented us with simple remakes of past songs, but actual re-workings of those songs complete with new melodies, instruments, riffs and arrangements, going so far as to actually better a few of the originals. This is easily an album that any fan of the band could purchase and be happy with and also an album that those into dream-like, mellow rock could find plenty to enjoy as well; highly recommended.