Round Table Review
Tracklist: Thin Air (6:00), Summernight Horizon (4:13), Dreaming Light (5:47), Everything (5:06), Angels Walk Among Us (5:17), Presence (2:58), A Simple Mistake (8:14), Get Off, Get Out (5:01), Universal (7:19), Hindsight (8:11)
Ed Sander's Review
I don't think I'd even heard of Anathema before 2005, when I first saw them as a support act of Porcupine Tree during their Deadwing tour. And even then I remember not being all that impressed by their show. It might be the unfamiliarity with the music or the fact that the vocals seemed a bit off at times. Nevertheless I had fellow DPRP writer Bart Jan convince me that I really needed to listen to A Natural Disaster, the band's latest album. And I was sold after that. Even though none of the bands earlier material grabs me, A Natural Disaster has become a true favourite with its wide scope of moods and styles.
Anathema released a couple of downloadable tracks after that, often asking for donations in order to fund the recording a new album (the 2008 album with acoustic re-recordings, Hindsight, probably served the same purpose). As such, early versions of Angels Walk Among Us, Everything and A Simple Mistake were released through the years. Although excellent tracks I hardly listened to these unpolished gems that were lurking in the dark corners of my computer's hard drive. Listening back to them now proves how far the band has come. Compared to the finished album they really sound like demos, with the finished versions having much more musical dimension and power.
And now it's here. Seven years after the release of A Natural Disaster the band return with We're Here Because We're Here, a title referring to a sing-along song based of the melody of Auld Lang Syne that English soldiers used to sing in the trench battles. Visually the packaging still seems to reflect the working title of the album, 'Horizons'. On the album the old version of Angels Walk Among Us has been split, with the spoken words and church organ now being called Presence. New in this version is a reprise of the song's chorus, sung by Lee Douglas. Compared to the early version of A Simple Mistake, the spoken words from "Defending Middle-Earth Tolkien: Myth and Modernity" that explain the title of the track have been removed.
I had been anticipating this album for a long time. If it was anything like A Natural Disaster I was in for a real treat. The first time I played it was in the car on the way to work. It was one of those sunny mornings that seemed to promise a day full of hope and opportunities in our sometimes troubled lives. And We're Here Because We're Here proved to be the excellent soundtrack for it. Rarely have I heard an album that overflows with so much emotion and this one had a profound effect on me. At times my breath stopped short and it felt like someone had gripped my heart and twisted in 360 degrees. If A Natural Disaster had touched certain edges of my psyche, this new album went straight to its core and ignited it.
Now, you might think that I'm exaggeration about the beauty of this album but I'm 100% serious. This is a work of art that has sparked emotions and thoughts in me that might have been hidden deep within. The good thing is that even though the music and lyrics at times seem very sad the message behind them is incredibly positive and filled with hope. On Kscope's mini-site Danny Cavanagh - who wrote 7 out of 10 songs on the album that form the most emotional tracks - explains that the new material resulted from an important change in his life. Whatever it was it must have been quite spiritual since most of the songs deal with subjects like energy, love, hope and such. As he himself described it it's all 'positive and deeply emotional' and 'it strikes at the heart of what matters in life'. The arrangement of the music features lots of piano, strings and soaring guitars that match perfectly with this subject matter.
Lee Douglas, who so beautifully sang the title track on A Natural Disaster, has evolved into a full band member on the new album. Although there's unfortunately no real solo song for her on the album (not counting the reprise in Presence) she does share vocals with Vincent Cavanagh on many of the tracks. And it works amazingly well, adding a whole extra dimension to the emotional power of the compositions. Another person that shouldn't go unmentioned is Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree, No-Man, Blackfield, etc), the man that mixed the album. And if you compare the finished product to the early versions of some of the songs you immediately hear his 'Midas Touch'. The music has gained a broader dimension and as if that wasn't enough the 5.1 mix of the album in it's 2 disc release is just breathtaking. Standing in the middle of my living room, playing along with Hindsight and being surrounded by the music from all angles resulted in a feeling that I could only describe as 'a glimpse of nirvana'. Wilson himself has stated the album is “definitely among the best albums I've ever had the pleasure to work on.” Enough said.
I'm not going into detail for every single song on this album since I'm sure my fellow reviewers will also do so and I could go on for page after page about this album. Suffice it to say that besides the deeply emotional tracks like Dreaming Light, Everything, Angels Walk Among Us, A Simple Mistake, Universal and the excellent instrumental album closer Hindsight there's still a lot of diversity on the album. Get Off Get Out is a powerful semi-aggressive tune that would not have been out of place on a Porcupine Tree album, while Summernight Horizon has a driving rhythm section creating a feeling that borders on anxiety and Thin Air evolves into a rather powerful rock song.
I am quite convinced that this album might well work its way into my Top 10 favourites of all time, hence my high rating. I don't often give such high rates and I'm personally very skeptic about others doing so, but this one is heartfelt. The music, the 5.1 mix (buy this version if you get the album!) the lyrics and subject matter it all adds up to a true masterpiece! Why not rate it with a 10? Well, I don't believe in perfect 10s and I still find myself skipping Summernight Horizons (it requires a different mood) and that if it wasn't for the excellent climatic piano and strings in the second half, Universal would not be one of the strongest pieces either. Still, these are very minor complaints.
Album of the year, if not the decade !
Dries Dokter's Review
My appreciation for Anathema started when someone introduced me to their Judgement album and from there I discovered Alternative 4, The Silent Enigma, Eternity etc... Albums that I still love very much. I was disappointed when A Fine Day To Exit was released (although it now appears to be an album that does stand the test of time) and largely put off by A Natural Disaster, that I bought and which I did not listen to for more than half a year. Then I started to discover the album as one of my all time favourites.
My initial reaction to this album was a bit like my reaction to A Natural Disaster, but I did learn from my past mistakes and took the extra effort with this album, and once I got past the - “where’s the guitars?” - this album started creeping into my system. Song by song I learned to appreciate the lyrics, the simple intimate melody lines, the orgasmic guitar solos. Now I am totally hooked, I don’t think there was ever an album that I played this often. Keeping it on repeat for hours.
And it appeared Ed shared my enthusiasm because while discovering the album we have sent each other small emails about the lyrics and the music. I sent him an email pointing out how good a song I thought Dreaming Light is and his only reply: “They are all good, Dries” and I realised how much I agreed with him.
It all starts with the quiet guitar riff of Thin Air, building up with drums, bass and then an energetic version of the same guitar riff bringing it all to a climax, then suddenly quietens down with playful keys and background choir. From where it starts building up again.
Summernight Horizon does not quite follow this path, it starts with a piano loop and then bursts into music. The vocals are amazing in this song, the female voice is so good and in harmony with the voice of Vincent.
Dreaming Light is a song I fell in love with from the first time I heard it... The first line of the lyrics: “Suddenly... life has new meaning, Suddenly... feeling is being” on top of a quiet piano, with small guitar decorations. Such a soothing song, and also such a hopeful song. Something that can be said for most of the album as this is an album with a hopeful atmosphere. People familiar with Anathema know that creating an atmosphere is what Anathema are the absolute masters of.
And then, Everything... on a very personal note: it must be because of my state of mind and what is happening in my life that this song is so import to me. It is such an uplifting song, lyrics so strong and music that fits these lyrics so perfectly. I am sure no other music would give these lyrics such power.
Angels Walk Among Us is one of the three songs that was available for download some time before the album was released. This web version was a taster for what was to come, but now the actual album is out, I must admit that I like this version more.
The track Presence starts with a narration and then a very lovely voice sings: “only you can hear your live, only you can heal inside” accompanied by strings and guitar. It is an introduction to A Simple Mistake, a song again decorated with the typical Anathema guitars setting a calm atmoshpere.
Get Off, Get Out is kind of, the odd one out on the album it has a different feel all together and is very close to Porcupine Tree. But that is of course a very good thing.
Universal does have a kind of grim atmoshpere, lyrics reminding of a love that was and still has it’s impact. The last track of the album Hindsight is a instrumental track. A piece with a guitar waiting to happen, building up until the moment it finally breaks out weeping, one simple riff played a couple of times, building up and keeping a tension. It invites playing air guitar - close your eyes and undergo the atmoshpere.
And then the album has finished and one can only sit and wonder how it can be that the same band that released Alternative 4 in 1998 has come to release this album in 2010. But if you follow the path from the doomy atmoshpere of Alternative 4 to the progressive metal album Judgement and then onto the alternative music of A Fine Day To Exit whilst stepping up to the ambient A Natural Disaster, then it is in fact very logical. It shows Anathema has been developing with every new album.
There is more than one song on this album that I would call the best track of the album and the same can be said for all the albums of Anathema. There is more than one album that I consider their best album ever, but this new one, We’re Here Because We’re Here, is such a masterpiece, outgrowing every label one can put on it. This album is a genre by itself.
So much about the album that I think I should have mentioned: it is produced by Steven Wilson, there is a limited edition containing a DVD a surround mix, the lyrics have such strenght and meaning, it is an intimate album, it needs to grow on you before you really start to appreciate it, etc... etc.. But the bottom line is: We’re Here Because We’re Here is the best album of 2010 and only people that have not heard it yet, will disagree.
Mark Hughes' Review
Being a relative newcomer to Anathema I have not lived through their various evolutions, picking up the more recent albums almost en masse. Having enjoyed each of the four original albums of theirs I possess (from 1998's Alternative 4 onwards, plus of course the most recent semi-acoustic retrospective Hindsight album). It has been a long seven years since the last studio album, the DPRP recommended A Natural Disaster which, these days, can spell commercial suicide with audiences quick to move on to pastures new. However, with the Kscope label behind them and a useful association with Steve Wilson (who mixed the album) the new album has been hotly awaited.
Opening number Thin Air starts slowly and quietly with acoustic guitar and heavily echoed vocals. Slowly, the intensity and volume builds with additional instruments becoming more prominent in the mix until the whole band can be heard. However, the character of the song doesn't change with the same riff being played over and over. Some further changes ensue but ultimately the song doesn't seem to go anyway and, to my mind, is not a great choice as an opening number. Summernight Horizon has an impressive piano opening but disintegrates into a dull monotonal thud and successfully manages to avoid become anything other than a dull monotonal thud throughout the four minutes of its presence, mainly due to the drums being overly loud in the mix. Likewise, Dreaming Light had pretentions of epicness yet remains somewhat lacking in lustre. Better is Everything, a duet between Cavanagh and Smith whose voices blend well together in a good melodic arrangement. However, there still seems to be a depravity of adventurism or imagination in the musical arrangement. Angels Walk Among Us is another song that I found rather weak, both musically and lyrically, although, once again, the singing, with 'mellifluous backing vocals' by Ville Valo, provides the strongest element of a rather monotonous five minutes. The song sets the scene for Presence a brief story narrated by Stan Ambrose but with some lovely vocals by Lee at the end accompanied by a nice orchestral backing.
The end of Presence segues neatly into A Simple Mistake which provides the highlight of the album thus far and bears a greater similarity to previous albums. Very much a song of two halves, the initial four minutes are fairly restrained, almost genteel, but the largely instrumental final four minutes provide some lovely musical passages. Loud drums also permeate Get Off Get Out which spoil the opening of the song for me and initially it appears that the number will provide to be a bit of a disappointment. However, as it ramps up and the guitars, a mixture of acoustic and electric, are introduced things turn out rather nicely. A lovely string arrangement is present throughout Universal providing a nice counterpoint to the band instruments. Beautifully arranged and played, this is the sort of music that "soothes the savage breast" and certainly provides the evidence that the group haven't forgotten how to create a masterful slice of progressive rock. Would have left the vocals on the intro untreated though. Final track Hindsight takes a while to get going with the group coming together over the recitation of the first stanza of a prose poem. Guitar bites through and provides a restrained and glorious lead throughout a powerful instrumental section. The band quietens down for the resumption of the poem before gradually everything fades out to close. The opening of the album may not have been the best but the ending is superb!
I had been looking forward to this new album with eager anticipation, perhaps too much anticipation as I find myself rather disappointed. Not that it is a bad album per se, just one that doesn't live up to my expectations based on previous releases and the current vibe attached to the band. When it is good, it is great, but two exceptional songs, one good song and a few other highlights doesn't an essential album make. The digipak booklet was also rather disappointing as although the cover photos are outstanding, the booklet shot were rather ordinary and the fake typewriter font used is rather tired and cliché. Perhaps the album will mature with age and familiarity, although it remains to be seen if enthusiasm will be retained for such a potential eventuality.
Tom De Val's Review
Having gained a whole new audience with their triumphant 2003 album A Natural Disaster, Anathema seemed to disappear from the limelight, resulting in a seven year wait for its successor. The dissolution of their record company at the time (Music For Nations) seems to have been the catalyst for this; since then, there have been plenty of live shows and a DVD, a semi-acoustic re-recording of older material (Hindsight) and a drip-feed to fans of single song downloads, but what everyone really wanted was a new album. Well, here it is, and thankfully the seven years have not been wasted – We’re Here Because We’re Here is something of a cracker.
Opener Thin Air is classic Anathema from the get-go: building on a simple but memorable guitar line, with the drums gradually coming in before heavier guitars increase the song’s intensity. Vincent Cavanagh’s voice has never sounded better, this time singing higher than his usual range but the emotional power he’s known for is intact. The extensive use of echo on the vocals is effective too. The song builds to a crescendo before building again to another, more symphonic climax, before this gradually peters out to ethereal, ambient sounds. Summernight Horizon soon picks up the baton, built around some urgent piano work which drives the song along. John Douglas’s drum work is at its most frenetic, and his sister Lee makes her first appearance on the album, duetting on vocals for much of the song with Vincent – this is particularly effective during a calmer mid-song break from the intensity of the rest of the track.
Dreaming Light is a beautiful ballad, simply but elegantly constructed around the piano, with some sensitively placed orchestration enhancing the song’s effect. Vincent’s vocals are at their best here, full of passion and emotion. Everything is equally piano-led, an uplifting track which once again builds slowly before gaining intensity. The chorus is perhaps a bit sappy but it’s a fine song nonetheless. This positive, optimistic vibe is continued with Angels Walk Among Us, a song many Anathema fans will know from a demo version which was available for download a couple of years ago. A charming, slightly Celtic-inflected song, perhaps a bit lighter (in both tone and musical force) than is usual for Anathema, although it does have its more urgent sections, denoted by a more yearning vocal from Vincent. This song segues into the darker, ambient Presence, which with its spoken monologue on mortality, mournful organ and tasteful guitar work is more than just a filler piece, and is capped off with a short but sweet lead vocal by Lee Douglas.
The oft-mentioned Radiohead influence that is often mentioned in relation to Anathema’s post-Alternative 4 work is noticeable in Vincent’s vocals on A Simple Mistake, a song which falls into a stuttering, slightly unusual rhythm before levelling out on the grandiose chorus. Lee Douglas’s supporting vocal work is again notable, duetting with Vincent on the verses and acting as a counter vocal on the second run through of the chorus. Midway through the song, a big, bottom-heavy riff kicks in and is gradually embellished, with the symphonic backing giving it an almost Kashmir-like feel, bringing the song to a dramatic and intense finish.
There are definite shades of Porcupine Tree on Get Off, Get Out, which with its pulsating rhythms, almost ‘detached’ vocals and raw, edgy guitar work feels a little out of keeping with the rest of the material – I think it would have fit the mood and feel of the band’s 2001 release A Fine Day To Exit more readily. That said, it’s still a good track. Universal is a sweeping symphonic ballad, making good use of strings to support a Vincent Cavanagh vocal that becomes more expressive and passionate as the song progresses and builds in momentum. Danny Cavanagh plays a short but effective guitar solo around half-way through the song, heralding a heavier finale.
The closing Hindsight shows that Anathema are clearly post-rock fans, with the early part of the song definitely showing a Godspeed You Black Emperor! feel, combining calming, meditative narration with beautiful, chiming guitar work. The concluding part of the song is a Cavanagh brothers tour-de-force, with soaring dual guitar work wringing yet more memorable melodies, before the song subsides.
In conclusion, it might have been a seven year wait, but if that’s what it takes to come up with something this good, so be it. OK, there might still be a few ‘old school’ Anathema fans who long for a return to the band’s doom metal roots, and they will be disappointed, but for most other fans this will be manna from heaven. In addition, the newly-forged Steven Wilson connection can only mean that their popularity will grow. All in all, We’re Here Because We’re Here is something of a triumph for this perennially underrated band. Whether it becomes a classic like Judgement or A Natural Disaster, only time will tell, but I would say the signs are positive at the moment. A final word – if you get the chance to see the band in concert, take it - they are an excellent live band and the new material translates superbly to the stage.