Anathema - Distant Satellites 01The transformation of Anathema has always been enigmatic to many metalheads. The obligatory rewind to their early 90’s pioneering death/doom records almost seems redundant now that this is their tenth album without a hint of metal in it. Any hope of them making a return to those death roots is about as realistic as waiting for the new Kovenant album (why anyone wants it I cannot fathom). But the key difference here is that their abandonment of metal did them nothing but good – without it, classics like Judgement and A Natural Disaster might be very different. And though both are highly atmospheric and unapologetically emotional rock records, I challenge any Anathema fan to resist loving them.

Since then, they’ve hit the same mark with few, but noticable blunders. We’re Here Because We’re Here was a great prog rock record, but felt inconsistent. Weather Systems however, was overly emotional to the point of fault; densely layered to the point of tackiness and desperately trying to squeeze an emotional response out of the listener. Neither record could ever match the atmosphere or emotional power of Judgement, but I’m happy to report that Distant Satellites comes closer to the poignancy of Judgement with none of the obnoxiousness of Weather Systems, even if it still falls short of their greatest efforts.

The key difference is the return to sparser, less dense soundscapes far more akin to A Natural Disaster. The orchestra, a point of contention for me in the last album, is subdued and more a texture than a key player; a far more effective choice to let the passion of the vocalists shine through. The use of electronics start off subtly, but the latter portion of the album almost becomes a straight-up electronica record. Still, their use of here is far more effective due to the simple principle of ‘less is more’ and it makes the attempts at beat-driven songs on Weather Systems seem an utter mess in comparison.

Anathema_2014Distant Satellites is far less instantly catchy and intense on a whole, heaviness being far from the focus. Weather Systems had moments of huge bombast, but they felt like they were trying too hard. This record proves that they never needed to. The orchestral ballads on the album’s first half are just as emotionally poignant if you allow them to grow. The vocal chops of Lee and Vincent are arguably at their most captivating and even the somewhat cheesy lyrics of “Ariel” and “The Lost Song part 2” can still touch anyone with a pulse. As a bonus,  the self titled track “Anathema” takes these elements and couples it with a riff hearkening back to their doom metal roots, and it’s a wonderful nod to long time fans.

Even the electronica movements are far more effective than on any previous albums. The admitedly repetitive title track being unashamedly catchy and easy to get lost in, and “Take Shelter” being one of the most gorgeous tracks they’ve put out in years, the mixing of Steven Wilson bringing the subtlety of the track to the limelight. The rest of the production work is far stronger than Weather Systems too, being far more balanced and dynamic.

There isn’t anything striking about Distant Satellites that sets it apart as one of Anathema‘s best efforts; instead, it’s a solid effort all around with only a few flaws (what on earth is “You’re Not Alone,” guys?) to speak of. It’s a welcome addition and a much needed paradigm shift that I can’t wait to see them build further on. Arguably safe for much of its runtime, but at least the experimentation was well placed this time.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8  |  Format Reviewed: FLAC
Label: Kscope Music
Websites: AnathemaOfficial | Facebook.com/anathema
Release Dates: EU: 2014.06.06 | NA: 06.10.2014

Share →
  • Lee Berreth

    I love these guys to be honest. I started listening to them after their “A Natural Distaster” album. Maybe it’s because I’m a prog junkie, or maybe it’s just because Anathema are amazing song writers when it comes to deep, emotional music. Either way, I’ll keep coming back for more.

    • Lee Berreth

      As for the song “You’re Not Alone”, I’ll admit the song sounds a little out of place. The song itself isn’t terrible, and I believe the meaning behind it has to do with people who simply have a hard time expressing what they have to say and how they feel. Which is something that I can relate to. The tone seems a little out of place, but overall it’s not terrible, and it’s only one song out of the rest of the album, which I think is pretty great.

  • Emily Potter

    You don’t seem to have retained much love for Weather Systems – I remember at the time, was it not album of the month? FWIW, I’ll be checking out the new one in time, but I really did like Weather Systems. Yes, it is incredibly layered, but then it’s nice just to float about in whichever part you choose to focus on.

    • Different reviewers. AMG handled Weather Systems.

      • Emily Potter

        My bad!

        • I love Weather Systems, actually would have scored this lower than three.

  • Steve Stone

    I really don’t like the new Anathema. I know they get big success with this new direction but they sound so boring to me. It’s not even music any more it’s just mellow, soothing sound. It’s not bad at all. The guys know what they’re doing but there is not a song that memorable to me. Same goes with Katatonia. It’s a same cause they were my favourites and now I can’t get interested in them anymore. It’s like you lost a very old friend.

    • Kryopsis

      No matter how bad an album is, no matter how much you dislike it, I can’t possibly think of a comment more dismissive and more insulting than ‘it’s not even music anymore’.

  • Arjan Zwamborn

    A great review! Though I think you are being a bit harsh on their 2010 and 2012 efforts, and wonder what score you would’ve given those regarding the fact that Distant Satellites gets an overall positive review and ‘merely’ a 3 out of 5.

    Personally I thought We’re Here… was a bit too ambient for my taste (though still a quite enjoyable), while Weather Systems has become one of my favorite albums thus far. Time will tell how Distant Satellites will compare to those two after giving it a few weeks to grow, but I think I’ll appreciate it at least as much as I appreciate Weather Systems now.

    Judgment is still my all-time favorite though, but that doesn’t mean that their other efforts are not great as well.

    • Noctus

      I actually put We’re Here Because We’re Here a bit higher than this, I just felt it was a touch inconsistent from track to track. I really, really didn’t like Weather Systems, I just found it to be really tacky. For me, at least, WHBWH is a 3.5 (a 4 on a good day), this just hits the mark of a 3.5, and Weather Systems was a 2.

      I’m clearly on my own regarding Weather Systems not being great though, heh.

      -Noctus

      • Arjan Zwamborn

        Well, I actually understand your arguments against Weather Systems that at times its bombastic and emotion feels forced. However, somehow that doesn’t bother me at all, and doesn’t keep me from enjoying the record.

        But thanks in giving insight on your opinion! It seems I wrongfully interpreted your article as though you disliked both We’re Here.. and Weather Systems.

        I regard Distant Satellites as a 3.5 atm. If it remains enjoyable after a long while (as Weather Systems does for me) then maybe a 4.0.

        • Noctus

          No problem! As much as I enjoy this record I just feel it’s a bit too ‘safe’ to warrant a rating higher. 3 is in no way a negative score, I do like this record, ended up buying the vinyl!

          WHBWH is the strongest record they’ve done in the last 10 years, for sure. I’m glad that the forced nature of the emotions in Weather Systems don’t bother you, I wish I was the same since there IS a lot in that album to like, I just wish it didn’t ruin it for me!

          -Noctus

          • Arjan Zwamborn

            Nice! I am not a vinyl guy but I bought the limited edition CD (even though these editions are not as limited as the name would suggest). I know 3 isn’t a low score but judging the overall positive tone of the review I was wondering why you chose to rate it a 3 rather than half a point or a whole point higher, but the safe-argument you use is a sensible one.

            Have you seen/heard the Universal live performance? They perform the entirety of Weather Systems – alongside most of their classics of course – and perhaps the album comes off better for you live :)

      • AndySynn

        You re not alone sir. Although WS has grown on me a lot since getting the “Universal” dvd, I still largely see it as the less attractive sister to WHBWH. That being said, “Untouchable (1 and 2)” are unfuckwithable.

        I would definitely put DS above WS though. And the song “Anathema” is just out and out superlatively fantastic. Love the nods to the early stuff, subtly, and the big, bombastic closing solo.

  • Stefano Kevin Prince Vitali

    The heights of Weather Systems might be untouchable, the guitars may have gone missing, there’s a little too much of electronica, the songwriting is sloppy at times… Still, I find myself spinning this one again and again, due to Anathema’s music conveying so much pure, raw, overwhelming emotion. 20 years and counting, and never a disappointing record!

    • Noctus

      I don’t know, there are a few of their records that really don’t do it for me (Eternity (blasphemy I know), A Fine Day to Exit, Serenades…).

      -Noctus

  • Anathema’s last two releases are two of my favorites of their career and Distant Satellites is the perfect bookend to an incredible run. There isn’t a band playing right now that can create the emotions and dynamic in a song that Anathema can create. What they create with their simplistic song structures is mind boggling.

    Glad to see you give love to their eponymous track as it is stunning and lyrically I believe Dan is singing to Vince about their journey through music together. “You’re Not Alone” is more of an interlude that breaks up the record nicely. The melody is so easy to get into and sing along with. A nice change of pace on a heavy (emotionally) record.

    So far my album of the year! (If Kovenant return to the Animatronic sound, count me in as one highly anticipating their return.)

  • Requiem

    I think it’s unfair to label Weather Systems as ‘overly’ emotional to be honest- I felt like it worked.

    • Noctus

      To me it didn’t – I just didn’t like how it was constantly firing on all cylinders to try desperately to sap an emotional response out of the listener for most of its runtime. A bit of brevity would have served that album very, very well.
      -Noctus

      • Requiem

        I do see what you mean, but… idk, I just really warmed to that album in general. Sometimes it did get a bit much though, I have to agree

  • Ah, this album.

    Yes I will buy it.

    Personally, I don’t think it’s better than the last two. To me, We’re here… is the strongest and most accomplished. And I think they really need to mature their musical ideas a lot more because both Weather Systems and this one are imbalanced dangerously close to a tipping point.

    Personally, I love what they are doing to the “scene”. And yes, they are at some points almost TOO fucking sappy, but they pull it off for the most part. And they are probably the only band in the world (until The Gathering comes back from their hiatus, at least) that can still do this kind of music and be featured in this site.

  • doom-erik

    I liked Weather Systems, but not the one before. Will give this one a listen, but I have no hopes that it will be anywhere near the level of the material they released in the 90s. Btw, in a discography with very even quality I probably hold Pentecost as the best one, in tough competition with Judgement. I belong to the minority of people actually liking Darren White’s vocals.

  • I came to this album not waiting much to be honest, but the atmosphere blew me away. It sounds so clean and well thought out, that I liked it. instantly on the first spin. Is always nice to listen to something a little bit different from time to time. But this year, slow nice sounding albums have been the winning drum. Gazpacho and now Anathema. It looks like a good year for music so far. (and soon enough MASTODON!)

  • FutureBeyondSatan

    To enjoy, and properly review this album, it would help to have been laid a few times. It would also be beneficial to have gone through a break up, or to love/miss something so much it hurts.

  • Mike Eckman

    Ive been listening to this album over the past few days and this morning and my initial reaction is I do not love it. I can’t put my finger on what it is, but this album definitely does not grab me like “Weather Systems” did, and its a FAR cry from “Judgement”.

  • Guest

    You talk about transformations the more tragic ones I’ve seen while being more popular with others is with Opeth which I think is akin to to the classic example of happened with Metallica’s deterioration. Then there’s Cynic, but all hope was already lost before the ink went dry on that one too.