What’s to like?
“It gave us a purpose, sometimes, it gave us a reason, and a rhyme, looking for meaning in song”
Ten year retrospective showcasing the best of Anathema’s music on the Kscope label, and an excellent introduction for the newcomer.
The low down
The first Anathema album I heard was We’re Here Because We’re Here, which, looking back on it, could be seen as a statement of attitude from the band towards those who had written them off after a lengthy period of absence and uncertainty. It’s also a fitting declaration to introduce a new compilation of their material released to celebrate the band’s ten years on the Kscope label.
I tend to save my funds for new material, and pass on compilations of stuff I already have, and wasn’t planning on buying Internal Landscapes; but then I hit upon the idea of compiling a playlist to match the choice of songs and running order. I’ve been buying every Kscope release over the years, so I already had every song to hand.
As I hit “play”, I wondered if I’d become a tad bored with songs that I’m so familiar with, but to my surprise I was very quickly drawn into this collection of songs and reminded how good Anathema have become at coming up with melodies and lyrics that get right to the heart of our emotions.
The label has emphasised that Internal Landscapes has been curated by the band themselves, and they’ve done a cracking job on it. The one thing that struck me while listening, was how well the songs work in their new running order, showcasing the band’s talent for bringing light and shade to their music, and offering a balanced listening experience. The way the thirteen tracks here have been sequenced allows the listener to feel the intense emotional high of a song like Thin Air (from We’re Here Because We’re Here), and then be brought gently back down to a more reflective number like Ariel (from Distant Satellites).
With any compilation there’ll always be criticism for the choice of songs left out, or for the choice of songs predictably included, but I reckon listeners will feel well satisfied with the thirteen chosen here, especially if they’re not familiar with the band’s music.
The other thing that struck me while listening was the high quality of music across the whole collection. Normally with a compilation tracking songs from across the years, especially in chronological order of recording, you can spot the weaker and less confident tracks as a band feel their way towards “their sound”. But Internal Landscapes has eschewed this approach, juggling the running order, so that older sits comfortably beside newer, and it almost feels like listening to an album of completely new material.
From opening with the deceptively quiet track Anathema (from Distant Satellites) through to the closer Internal Landscapes (from Weather Systems), this feels like a rewarding listening experience, even if you already know the songs.
Unfortunately there are no rarities included to tempt existing fans, but at least the band have dug a little deeper into their catalogue to include alternative versions of songs recorded long before they signed to Kscope. So you get the orchestrated version of J’ai Fait Une Promesse (originally from the band’s early doom metal album Serenades), and an acoustic reimagining of Are You There? (from A Natural Disaster). Both tracks fit in well with the band’s current sound, bringing added colour and depth.
Comparisons? They have a strong following among prog rock fans, and some of Daniel Cavanagh’s guitar tones and pedal effects do channel some of the techniques familiar to Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour. Having Steven Wilson produce one of their albums hasn’t done them any harm either, and you can hear how his production techniques influenced the writing on the albums that followed.
But Anathema are very much a song-focussed band, with plenty of scope for atmosphere and allowing the songs to breathe, but no room for extended soloing. Vincent Cavanagh’s singing is another focal point of the band’s sound, and you can hear him dig deep into his soul for the emotion that he brings to the lyrics.
To that end, the music does occasionally remind me of classic U2 songs (from The Joshua Tree period) where they showed the same talent for writing concise songs that could move the listener. But whereas Bono’s delivery tends to be too brash and in your face for my taste, Vinnie seems to know instinctively when to push his limits and when to dial it back down for best effect.
And the band have an ace in the hole with singer Lee Douglas, who brings an interesting contrast to Vinnie’s style of singing. Initially Lee came on board as a backing singer but her profile and her confidence has grown over the years, that she’s now pretty much an intrinsic part of the band’s sound. Her contribution to the songs on last year’s album The Optimist shows how far she’s come, and add something unique to Anathema’s sound.
Presumably Internal Landscapes is being marketed towards the casual listener or new fan, as there’s nothing here to tempt folk who already have the albums. You could argue that it’s a tactical cash-in by the record label to keep the band’s profile prominent while they set about writing their next album. They’re currently on the road experimenting with new material in an ambient semi-acoustic format to gauge audience feedback and develop ideas to take back into the recording studio.
If you haven’t heard Anathema before, or are only familiar with a couple of songs, then I’d recommend Internal Landscapes as primer to get acquainted with the music. It’s a good representation of the sound they’ve developed during their ten years with Kscope, and a fine starting point for beginners.
The music is melodic and uplifting, and yet also deep and reflective. The lyrics certainly touch something within the fans judging by how many of them I’ve seen wiping the odd tear from their eyes while hearing the music live – Dreaming Light has a particularly profound effect on me for very personal reasons.
But even if you already have the albums, perhaps Internal Landscapes offers an opportunity as a potential pressie to that friend who might be curious but doesn’t want to spend the cash – the contemporary prog album that it’s safe to share with non-prog fans?