'We're Here Because We're Here' - Anathema (8/10)
Each year, there is always a small handful of albums that I really anticipate, and count down the days until they are released. 2009 had me with the new Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree albums that came out, and 2010 presented me with months of eager excitement for the moment I would finally get my hands on a copy of this latest Anathema record. Hearing a few stunning samples from the album beforehand only intensified the hype for me, and all I could do is wait until the day 'We're Here Because We're Here' arrived in the mail.
'We're Here Because We're Here' (previously named 'Horizons' until a few months before release) might seem like a redundant, even stupid name for an album, but looking deeper into the title alone shows a level of deepness which reflects the rest of the album. Despite being silly at first glance, the title suggests a nihilistic (or possibly humanistic) point of view; that we exist simply for the sake of existing, and that there is no underlying meaning to life. To this extent, it is a very fitting title for an album that enjoys a recurring theme of mortality and life itself.
After having listened to it, I really found myself torn in terms of what to think of it. On one hand, it certainly did not live up to my expectations of being 'the instant classic' I sought it out to be, but there really was some beautiful music here that made it completely worth the purchase. The songs I had sampled were still as moving as ever, and there was some great fresh material to delve into as well. However, the second half of the record seemed to start taking a bit of a dive in quality as the album reached the last two or three tracks. This fact is almost tragic, because had the last fifteen or so minutes of the album been occupied with something as engaging and moving as the rest of it, 'We're Here Because We're Here' would be Anathema's definitive, even 'perfect' work of art they were meant to make.
Starting out with the atmospheric track 'Thin Air,' things take a little while to heat up but the track nails down it's sense of atmosphere very well. Although using repetition alot, things still feel fresh by the end of the song and it's a good, lucid track to bring things into the mix, although definitely not my favourite.
Things start really getting going with the second track 'Summerlight Horizon,' which is arguably the heaviest track on the album, despite being piano driven. Opening up with a dark, heavy piano motif, some metal-styled drumming erupts and a song in the typically dark style of Anathema is in full swing. This song really shines though for it's heavy use of vocal harmonies, which are of real highlight in the album. Although the songwriting itself is enough to carry most of the album along beautifully, producer Steven Wilson has really actualized Anathema's vocal potential, and made the music ring out even more as a result.
Next up is possibly my favourite song off of the album, and possibly even my favourite tune ever written by the band, 'Dreaming Light.' Despite sounding a little bit in the vein of Coldplay, the song shows a side of Anathema that has rarely been shown until this album; a sense of optimism. While 'happy-sounding' tunes have a bad reputation with me for seeming superficial and emotionally hollow, 'Dreaming Light' takes the typical melancholic feel of the band's music and spices it up with the all-so elusive motif of hope. Reaching a climax of tremolo-plucked guitar beauty, atmosphere and harmony all around, my heart almost dropped when I first heard this. This is definitely not the sort of track you would expect coming from a metal band, but it's stunning in any context.
The next two songs were the ones I heard even a year before the album was released. Strangely enough, the versions of 'Everything' and 'Angels Walk Among Us' that I heard without Wilson's production, I enjoyed more. The musicianship seemed more organic and vibrant, even though things are still beautiful as ever here. 'Everything' takes Anathema's newfound spirit of hope to new heights creating a song that has almost no sense of despair whatsoever; only forward thinking cheer. Don't let the description turn you off however, it's executed brilliantly and the vocal harmonies shine through once again. Ville Valo of the alternative rock band HIM does guest vocals for the song 'Angels Walk Among Us.' While red flags definitely poked up a bit when I heard this, his voice does fit the music well, and even bears a stunning resemblance to Vincent Cavanagh's tenor voice itself.
After the beautiful crescendos and melodic peaks of 'Angels Walk Among Us,' the album begins to take a bit of an unsettling slip from the 'absolutely stunning' to 'above average' to relative mediocrity. 'Presence' is an extension of the previous track, and has some bluesy soloing and organ work while a voiceover speaks on top. While the dialogue helps tie the recurring subject of mortality less abstractly into the music, I sort of wish I could turn off the dialogue after listening to it once or twice, so I could enjoy the calming ambience without the annoyance.
'A Simple Mistake' is a good song, but it certainly takes it's time to get to the good part, and the melodies aren't as moving as they were earlier on. Using alot of the same textures as were used on 'Thin Air' except with a much more sombre feel. Despite being less engaging and satisfying than the better tracks on the album, it works itself up to a really powerful climax, giving one last section of aural perfection before 'We're Here' falls into a state of complacent mediocrity.
'Get Off, Get Out' is a decent song, but it really doesn't match up to anything previously played on the album. It reminds me alot of 'Panic' from the album 'A Fine Day To Exit.' While variety is nice, it's very fast-paced compared to the two songs it sits betweens, so it fits in a bit awkwardly. It doesn't sit quite right with me, but it's more or less a good track.
The last two songs are where I started to really get disappointed. 'Universal' is the most down- tempo song on the record, and while it has some very nice string section work going on (reminiscent of some of the stuff that Muse has done) and builds up rather well, some of that 'hopefulness' from the earlier tracks would do well to rub off on this one. While the first few minutes aren't much to talk about, 'Universal' builds up once a classically influenced piano melody starts playing and a buildup in the post-rock vein starts off. Before you know it, the orchestral string section is in full blast, making the music sound like something out of an epic film score. In fact, had this been the last song on the album, it would have been all the more powerful and intense to behold. However, the band made the problem of throwing an extra track in, robbing the effective climax of 'Universal' of it's rightful place as the finale.
'Hindsight' is pleasant enough, but it feels more like a wandering afterthought that the grand conclusion that an album of this calibre seems to warrant. It feels like Anathema wanted to recreate the brilliant conclusion of their previous album, 'A Natural Disaster' with this closer. However, 'Hindsight' proves to be alot less effective and makes for a bit of a sour note to what was otherwise a brilliant album.
'We're Here Because We're Here' was an album that disappoints in sections, but is phenomenal in others. A mixed bag of sorts, things range from being 'mediocre' to being some of the best music my ears have ever been graced with. While I am really tempted to call this a masterpiece, the few things that went wrong with the album seem to hurt what could have otherwise been a classic in the art rock scene for years to come. Despite it's flaws however, Anathema still stand as being one of the most emotive bands out there in the music scene, and with 'We're Here Because We're Here,' they have established yet another chapter of beautiful music that will get under your skin if you let it do so.