By Andreas Georgiou
(alternative rock, progressive rock, gothic rock, gothic metal (early), death/doom metal (early)
“I ‘ve never betrayed your trust”. As a lyric from one of their most special and emotional songs (Untouchable) suggests, I feel that Anathema have done just that for their loyal fans for just under 30 years, both in their early heavy days, but even more so after their 180 degrees turn to a more atmospheric progressive style towards the end of the 20th century.
Formed in 1990 in Liverpool, the mother town of the titans rock n roll, the Beatles, the band was a family matter, featuring the three Cavanagh brothers, Vincent and Daniel as guitarists, and Jamie as the band’s bassist. However, it was before Vincent finally settled as the band’s singer in addition to his guitar duties, something that eventually happened in 1995 when the band’s singer at the time, Darren White departed. They had already by that time released an EP titled the The Crestfallen (1992), and an album, Serenades (1993), both with a death/doom metal style. Soon after Vincent’s claim of the frontman position in the band, they released two more albums, The Silent Enigma (1995) and Eternity (1996), this time moving to a more gothic metal direction.
Despite the fact that the band had a more heavy and aggressive style during these early years, with vocals often falling into the brutal range, the melodic and emotional elements in their music was already obvious in songs like “A Dying Wish” and “Sleepless”, setting the ground for one of the most famous and prolific turns in the history of rock music. This didn’t take too long to get underway and it was in the album Alternative 4 (1998) where the difference was at first audible. Featuring the legendary “Fragile dreams” and masterpieces like “Lost Control” and “Regret”, the album was characterized by the more mellow guitar parts, atmospheric background sounds and of course Vincent’s shift from his previous aggressive vocals to a more melodic voice. However, the completion of this transformation came with the 2001 album A Fine Day To Exit, which was characterized as a solely alternative rock album. It is fair to say that all this came as a surprise for the majority of rock and metal fans. Whether this was a positive surprise, described by many as one of the most interesting evolutions a Daniel Cavanagh band ever went through, or a negative
surprise or a ‘sellout’ as many others described it, no one could tell but time, which after 20 years seems to have done justice to the band. What no one can accuse the band for, however, is their honesty, authenticity and immense musicality. On this, guitarist Daniel Cavanagh commented during an interview:
“People think we’ve gone soft, but we haven’t, we’ve just expanded, and obviously, most of the songs aren’t like that anymore, but some of them are still as heavy. A piano line and vocals can be far more devastating than seven string guitars and massive amplifiers. There has to be a balance, a mix. We know it doesn’t matter what anyone says, though, because what we do comes from a place of honesty.”
In the modern days, the band’s last album, The Optimist (2017), has been named Album of the Year in the 2017 Progressive Music Awards. Having released a sum of 11 studio albums in a just under 30 years career, I believe Anathema have managed to win over even the most hardcore fans, especially within the metal community, and eventually to persuade even those who initially reacted negatively to the band’s choices.