Anathema have been riding the crest of resurgence since their lengthy hiatus between 2003’s A Natural Disaster and 2010’s We’re Here Because We’re Here, and with 2012’s Weather Systems apparently garnering more praise and devotion than anything in their lengthy career, to follow that up with something as equally accomplished would be a big ask of anyone.
The question of whether Distant Satellites delivers on its promise is obviously subjective, but for me, it is not quite bumping its nose on the lofty bar that the band has placed way up in the sky.
Without intentionally imparting unnecessary negativity, I will begin by announcing that this is most definitely a strong album with some incredible tracks worthy of their personal pantheon, but as a cohesive whole I feel that it has a few moments that even after weeks of repeated play, still do not totally satisfy. On a positive note, we have a strong suite called ‘The Lost Song Parts 1-3’ which bear all the hallmarks of the band’s grandeur, experimentation and impeccable songwriting and performance. The opener is the first act of this suite and is propulsive and percussive with a Vincent and Lee double whammy on the vocals and a sign of Anathema in its element. The second chapter is a slower ballad style number featuring Lee as the main vocal and bears a resemblance to ‘Untouchable Part 2’, but it’s the album’s single and third part of the suite that really impresses with its experimental Radiohead vibe and minor key melancholy; ‘The Lost Song Part 3’ is surely one of the bands finest moments.
Now Anathema have always been a band that has worn its heart on its sleeve, and some could accuse them of being a tad overwrought emotionally at times, but I think fans really embrace the honesty and expression of feeling that they bring to the table. The song that bears the band’s name, and lyrically appears to speak of their own personal journey could be accused of being a tad pretentious, but as a tribute to everything they have been through to get to this point as well as an epic song that builds to one of their trademark crescendos it works a treat. ‘Ariel’ and ‘Dusk (Dark is Descending)’ both act as representations of Anathema being comfortable in their own skin, with both tracks also being album highlights.
The final third of the album sees the band embracing electronica as a way of expanding their repertoire, and this in itself is certainly a welcome element. Sadly, even with the assistance of Steven Wilson mixing two of the tracks, ‘You’re Not Alone’ and the closing song ‘Take Shelter’ both feel a little undercooked, the prior resembling one of WHBWH’s weaker tracks in ‘Get Off, Get Out’ (which also had Wilson’s involvement) and the latter sounding akin to a Sigur Ros piece with dance club beat layered over the top — a decent song but not a satisfying closer to the album. ‘Firelight’ acts as a moody Lynchian segue into the album’s centrepiece and title track, and what a song ‘Distant Satellites’ is. Apparently it’s been floating around the Anathema writing sessions for over ten years and finally found its home here, and it is remarkable and emotive epic that has had me returning to it multiple times per day singing its heart-rending refrain:
“So let it take me away
I’m alive inside these dreams…’’
Anathema has offered up a damn fine entry into their oeuvre that will certainly expand their audience with its stripped back approach and electronic experimentation, and as some reviewers have remarked aptly, it is the culmination of everything they have been working towards. But as a long standing follower of the band, I can’t help think that this might have been their masterpiece if only it had a little more baking time. Distant Satellites has some incredible moments of wonder and grandeur, but not as many highlights for me as their previous few albums and that’s ok, I am comfortable with that, as it proves they are human after all.
1. The Lost Song – Part 1
2. The Lost Song – Part 2
3. Dusk (Dark is Descending)
5. The Lost Song – Part 3
7. You’re Not Alone
9. Distant Satellites
10. Take Shelter