ANATHEMA — Alternative 4 (review)

ANATHEMA — Alternative 4 album cover Album · 1998 · Metal Related Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
A dark portrait of betrayal, despair and isolation.

There were two reasons I was drawn to this album, my first Anathema album; the glowing reviews and that cover. I love the enigmatic power the cover exudes, an astronaut reflected visor, one of the most important images in history, the moon landing, merged with an angelic ghost. I do not know where it fits in with the music but it's a drawcard for me. I did not know what to expect, reading all the reviews that gush out praise, but I was pleasantly surprised.

At first listen I was reminded of the melancholy doominess of Opeth, primarily their beautiful acoustic work on "Damnation". So as I am a newbie to Anathema and from what I have read I have to assume a lot here. I have to assume that this is one of their quieter more sombre albums and that they are not as heavy here as on previous albums. This presents a problem, similar to Opeth, that I do not over rate it due to a knee jerk reaction on this one album performance. I am also reminded of Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd and Riverside at times; that is metal meets symphonic.

From the outset Anathema stamp their authority with an incredible opening number that builds in intensity and drops to the melancholy beautiful vocal performance of Vincent Cavanagh. His voice permeates every track, very heartfelt and emotionally resonant. The mix is an in-your-face ambience of soft guitars, and key pads that are heavily sustained and majestic. The feel is epic throughout the album both in arrangement and credibility. The choreography of light and dark textures are brave and powerful. Tension and release are created by aggressive distortion in the guitar work that are interwoven between huge passages of fragile keyboards; the music is a great marriage of all these elements to create a dynamism that commands attention.

Highlights for me are 'Feel' with its beautiful doom laden lyrics laced with betrayal, despair and desperation; especially the anger projected on the line; "Slipping away, I think I'm gonna crack, Misplaced trust, loyalty stabbed in the gut." The passion behind such lyrics embeds itself upon the emotions, and resonates on every listen; "I feel, I'm seeing so clear, I thought I was never gonna die. I feel, I'm seeing so clear, We need more time."

'Fragile Dreams' features tearful violin beauty and a powerhouse guitar riff, with melancholy vocals; "Tonight your soul sleeps, but one day you will feel real pain, maybe then you will see me as I am, A fragile wreck on a storm of emotion." The darkness of 'Inner Silence' is expressed with haunting piano and ethereal vocal work.

'Lost Control' has an atmosphere of impending dread created by sad melancholy piano, violin motifs and an extreme downbeat distorted guitar. The band are a force to be reckoned with when they lock in to that void of sheer unbridled isolation and alienation. The estranged vocals are in essence a part of the music, complimenting it with astounding finesse; "Life has betrayed me once again, I accept that some things will never change. I've let your tiny minds magnify my agony, and it's left me with a chemical dependency for sanity."

'Re-connect' is a heavier track with a wonderful bassline and elegantly performed vocals spouting Gothic imagery; "Black cold night I toss and turn, I'm sinking, feel so drained, Shroud me, blind me, sick, weak, empty, drag me into pain, I tried so hard, don't drown me, bound to me, self indulgently crazed, Black as coal, my sunken soul, will it ever be saved?" The nightmare imagery is juxtaposed with a more aggressive vocal with some expletives angrily spat out. There is a huge wall of sound created with keys and guitar and crashing drums. In fact the drums by Steels are incredible, pounding relentlessly in metrical patterns that would keep any metronome swinging busily.

I am pleased to be introduced to this band with this album as it was an excellent blend of metal and melancholia, but I am left wondering about other material from Anathema and whether this album was simply a break from tradition similar to what Opeth did on "Damnation". Having stated that, there is no way I could rate this less than 4 stars as it is a powerful, if rather bleak, experience that soaks itself in its own misery as a kind of catharsis, but always exuding it's own distinct atmosphere
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