The Sadly Decaying Orbit of Anathema: Distant Satellites Fails

[Review of Anathema, Distant Satellites (Kscope, 2014). Reviewed from digital files and without liner notes or lyrics.]

anathema-distant-satellitesNOT RECOMMENDED.

I would give much either to have the opportunity to write a different review or avoid writing a review of this album altogether. The latter is my usual M.O. when I don’t like something or when I think something is subpar. Though other progarchists would justly and properly disagree with me on this issue, I think it important to spend our time writing and thinking about beautiful things. Life is simply too short to waste on mud, muck, and decay, and art is too precious and rare to squander or abuse it.

Also, simply put, I’m not good at writing about things I don’t like. I would also guess that spending time with things that are poor or corrupt damage my soul (and yours) irreparably.

But, I can neither ignore the new Anathema nor write a positive review of it without being dishonest. Distant Satellites is not corrupt, but it is, for the band, sub par. I wish Anathema would have taken more time with the writing of this album or simply have taken time off for a rest. Or, perhaps, the band could have released just a few of the best songs as an EP rather than as a full-fledged album.  As an album, it can’t hold together.

A year ago, if someone had asked me to discuss the present state of rock music, I would have sung the praises of Big Big Train and The Tangent, correctly claiming that each band was reach so far and attaining so much that they were very close to becoming untouchable. 2014 wouldn’t change this assessment. BBT and The Tangent are not only at the very top of their game, they are at the very top of THE game. Outside of North American bands (I’m intentionally excluding Rush and Glass Hammer), I would have gladly said that Cosmograf and Anathema were so close to untouchable as to be nearly at the level of the top two. 2014, thus far, has drastically changed the prog landscape. Whereas Cosmograf has moved into the top three with its new masterpiece, Capacitor, Distant Satellites reveals a broken or, at best, wounded, decaying Anathema.

How different a year ago was. Looking at the trajectory of Anathema—from A Natural Disaster to Universal—I would have placed good money on the rise of the band. Well, not really, I think gambling is a waste of time and money. But, you get the idea. I mean, really, Universal has to be one of the best live albums of the rock era. In terms of intensity and significance, this was a band with everything. While I would not have rated the two lead vocalists of Anathema—Vincent Cavanaugh and Lee Douglas—at the level of, say, David Longdon, Susie Bogdanowicz, or Leah McHenry, they would be close.

As mentioned above, I really wish I could write a different review for the new album. I have now listened to Distant Satellites close to a dozen times in hopes of coming to love it. Every listen, though, only makes realize how poor it is compared to their previous releases. Not that it’s terrible. Overall, it’s ok, but it’s, unfortunately, not much better than ok. I find myself wanting to skip through almost every song. There are two exceptions to this. Track Four, “Ariel,” has to be one of the single best songs Anathema has ever written.

The second best song on the album, “Distant Satellites,” is fascinating, but not necessarily for the right reasons. I’m fairly sure that if I allowed 100 dedicated prog fans to listen to it for the first time without giving them a single piece of information about the track, 75 to 90 of them would claim it to be a never-before-recorded track from Radiohead’s Kid A sessions. Indeed, I won’t be totally surprised when my physical copy finally arrives from the UK, if the liner notes reveal that Thom Yorke actually wrote the track and sang lead vocals on it. It’s one thing to pay homage to an exemplar, it’s a very different thing to mimic them. I really don’t know what to make of all of this, or why Anathema decided to pursue the course it did.

I really wish I could proclaim Distant Satellites to be the finest work yet by Anathema. I would be lying, though.

If you’re an Anathema or Kscope completest, buy this. Otherwise, I simply can’t recommend it. Other than tracks 4 and 9 and, possibly, 10, it’s not worth the price. Purchasing it would be kind of like putting stock in the Skylab project a few days before it crashed into Australia.

Let’s all hope the band’s followup puts them back into orbit.

24 thoughts on “The Sadly Decaying Orbit of Anathema: Distant Satellites Fails

  1. I’m sorry to say, Brad, that on the whole I agree with your analysis: I’m gratified to know that I’m not the only one. I may not have listened to the album as much as you have, but it has singularly failed to inspire me in the way that Weather Systems and the profoundly beautiful Universal have.

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    1. John, are you going to review it? Thanks for the support! I must admit, I didn’t much like the final track on Weather Systems–but I could appreciate the experimentation with spoken word.

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  2. John Deasey

    Brad, I agree completely. I’m surprised by the glowing reports of this album. To me it seems like Anathema-lite, absolutely nowhere near the heights of the powerful and moving Were Here Because Were Here … I’m sure I’ve heard most of Distant Satellites before, whether it’s just reworked tracks of theirs, Radiohead and dare I say it, Coldplay.
    I asked my lad, who’s doing a music degree to listen to a couple of tracks and, like me, he said they just go nowhere and ramble on, perfectly pleasantly, but with little direction.
    I think they found a formulae that could be repeated – dreaming lights, a love that hurts, – and wrap it up in inconsequential tracks that, although very well produced, show up the depth of the songwriting.

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  3. Finally more people with guts to write the honest reality of an album. I’ve seen so much drooling over this Kscope bands that it gives me the creeps.

    Instead of writting a good review just for the sake of receiving promos again you did the right thing. Spoke the truth! That’s always good!

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  4. Bill Gonzalez Jr

    Oof! Well, I am anxiously awaiting mine to arrive here across the pond in Minnesota. I’ll reserve judgement after a good few listens. Loved Universal, Weather Systems and of course WHBWH. I do respect Brad’s opinion however. I read in one of the rave reviews that Distant Satellites was a bit of a “transition” album, whatever that means. I’m thinking that reviewer was being a tad diplomatic while dissing it in a disguised positive review. Still gotta love Anethema though….We’ll see….Thanks for your insight, Brad.

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    1. I love this, Bill. Do reserve judgment! And, please let me know what you think when you get it. It’s possible that when my copy arrives and I see the lyrics, I might change my mind somewhat.

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  5. Oleg

    Hm, is it the first negative review at this site? At least the first one I see. And that’s great. I think avoiding writing about the albums one hasn’t liked is a mistake. When most of the albums reviewed here are referred to as ‘excellent’, ‘great’ or ‘masterpieces’, there appears a feeling that reviewers aren’t trying to be objective and will praise almost any album.
    As for Anathema, in my opinion they haven’t changed much since 2010. ‘Weather Systems’ was still ok but already a little too the same as ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’. This one gets just boring due to the lack of originality.

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    1. Thanks, Oleg. I think we need to get a different system. I’m thinking about it, and I’ve thrown the idea out to the fellow progarchists. Your comment has sparked a lot for me. Thanks.

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      1. Oleg

        You are welcome 🙂 I see it this way:
        The mail goal of a review is to help reader understand whether he should try it or not. Since reviewer and reader almost certainly have at least slightly different value systems, their ratings of the same album will also differ, and even if they coincide, it may be due to different reasons. Objectively written review gives reader the details to evaluate the album according to his own system. Thus it doesn’t matter if the reviewer likes the music or not, in both cases the review will be helpful to reader just the same.

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    2. John Deasey

      I don’t think this is the first negative review on this site.
      I’m sure I put a rather scathing report on for Blackfield IV – also a KScope release.
      If the site is just all praise and glowing reviews I personally think it risks credibility – a well written negative review is tricky to pull off, but also helps give a different perspective on what might be someone else’s favourite, and can balance out the often effusive praise an album gets.
      The Anethema one is a point in question and a counterpart is very welcome ….

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  6. Brad, I kept playing it and playing it and thinking all the time that I must be missing something. I never found it. There are hints but as I would have had to write a negative review and the brief is to respect the work of the artist, I didnt write anything.

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    1. Dave, a proper review would be great. Only if you have time. There’s so much else out there, I wouldn’t something else from you as well. However you feel moved it great with me!

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  7. The Dude

    Mr bradbizer, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dude, thank you so much. I’ve been told this all of my life. It’s wonderful to have it affirmed here. I don’t know if my idiocy is genetic or from eating too much lead paint. Whatever it is, it’s great to be reminded of just how stupid I am. Thank you and bless you, Brad

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