Review Summary: Anathema are here because they're here and they're going to do what they know how to do.
Anathema have been on a roll for over twenty years. Regardless of musical direction, they’ve managed to consistently release albums that were creative, emotional and fairly unique. Those three overarching facets seemed to peak with the release of We’re Here Because We’re Here
. That album took every remarkable feature of the band’s Floyd-inspired, Radiohead-meets-alt-prog style and refined them to near-perfection. With such a powerful blueprint, it’s no surprise that the follow-up was the first time in Anathema’s history where they seemed to stop moving forward. Weather Systems
followed almost the exact same formula as its predecessor, but it was still universally lauded because it was really well done – making the best elements of the previous album even bigger and more prominent. So, where do you go from there? There was probably no tasteful way to make Anathema’s sound even bigger and more emotive, so stripping down was the next logical step. So, while they’ve opted to use the same basic formula for the third consecutive time, they’ve also taken it in a slightly different direction (with a twist ending you’d never see coming).
The most noticeable of those surprises is the slightly darker atmosphere. We’re not talking Serenades
-era dark, of course, but the album isn’t nearly as uplifting as its last two counterparts. This new feeling is augmented by an increased use of keyboards and a reduced role for the guitars. On paper that might seem like a negative modification, but it’s actually one of the biggest reasons Distant Satellites
doesn’t sound even more familiar than it already does. Another cool surprise was the inclusion of the song ‘Anathema’. Honestly, that song almost reminds me of a highly refined version of something that could have come from The Silent Engima
. It has that morose atmosphere, a strong guitar presence and it’s a bit more intense than what modern Anathema normally does. ‘Anathema’ also has the distinction of being the final ‘stereotypical’ Anathema track on the album.
Beginning with ‘You’re Not Alone’, Distant Satellites
takes a jolting turn towards the electronic. ‘You’re Not Alone’ begins innocuously enough with a typical Anathema-style piano melody and a repetitive vocal line, but those elements are short-lived. The piano melody ends abruptly when a distorted guitar riff carried by high-energy drum&bass percussion takes its place, while the repetitive vocal line continues over the top. It’s not the best of songs as it is terribly repetitive, but it will definitely elicit a response upon the initial listen. It turns out that ‘You’re Not Alone’ is prepping the listener for the final third of the album; a portion dominated by electronics. Unfortunately, that latter section is also fairly disposable. Each track features minimalist electronics, subtle percussion and repetitive vocals (if any). Making this sudden change to electronics could have definitely lent Distant Satellites
its own identity, but the songs just aren’t given nearly as much attention as the first two-thirds of the album.
Anathema stumbled onto musical gold when they crafted the formula used on We’re Here Because We’re Here
. It’s a formula that they would be crazy to dismiss, and that’s probably why they haven’t. Distant Satellites
is the third consecutive release to build on that foundation and it definitely has a prominent feeling of familiarity associated with it. The surprising thing is that it doesn’t really matter. Anathema have perfected a sound that is all their own; a sound that has enough flexibility to be used over and over without losing much (if any) of its impact. If there is a problem with Distant Satellites
, it’s the final electronic tracks. Those songs just don’t have the impact that the typical Anathema tracks do, and they almost make the final third feel like a totally different album. None of them are inherently bad, but there could be a fair amount of people that end the album after ‘Anathema’. Overall, Anathema have struck gold for the third time in a row, but for the first time there are some prominent flaws as well.