For those of you who don't know who this band is, let's make a brief recapitulation: the genre or better strain of Metal which is one of the most unique and interesting to understate it a little bit, is the hybrid between Doom and Death Metal. You have a handful of bands that emerged in the late 80s and early 90s that pioneered this sort of experiment to various degrees of mixing the two genres. You have i.e. ASPHYX, that are more on the Death side than Doom, or bands such as MY DYING BRIDE and PARADISE LOST who clearly take more influence from classic Doom acts such as BLACK SABBATH or PENTAGRAM. ANATHEMA is also one of those Doom/Death hybrids, which took this approach and developed it quite nicely and brought some new fresh sound into the Heavy Metal subculture before evolving into a Prog Rock/Avantgarde/whatever band. If you like the new stuff from ANATHEMA, the old stuff will not necessarily be something for you. Let's take a look at 1993's “Serenades”, which is one of the leading albums in the genre and sadly, there has never been another album that takes the cake when it comes to this sort of music.
Up to now many albums of this genre, such as the first two MY DYING BRIDE albums are not ageing quite well with most of the fans, why? Maybe because a lot of this stuff is so inaccessible that most people will give them up to listen to SWALLOW THE SUN's newest shite; at least that's the case with a lot of people I know who have an interest to this sort of thing.
I have to admit, that it took me a little while and a lot of listens to really get into this album, ANATHEMA's "Serenades", and it pains me because I didn't know how to appreciate their music here. The album starts out pretty rough with "Lovelorn Rhapsody", which is one of those not-so-good openers. It mainly has no climax and pretty such slugs itself throughout the 6:24 of its length. This is maybe one of the reasons why people would immediately put this album down once hearing the song. While being one of the weaker songs here, it still has a very heavy and pounding guitar tune to it, with synths or keyboards that are rather in the background, simply overshadowing the rest of the song's composition. The song itself progresses in a very slow manner (what a surprise) and simply induces a very romantic or dreamy-like state, a state of longing, a theme often used by ANATHEMA, if you will. Its slow tempo stays through the whole thing and in my humble opinion, not the best opener, as stated before. The vocals on this track are simply a rugged and slow grunt, which only gets a little faster at the end, where we get a fluent transition from very slow to mid tempo and some riffs that resemble a faint Death Metal offering.
“Sweet Tears”, the immediate follow-up, is a wholly different approach to music than its predecessor; the early-BLACK SABBATH influence on song structure and riffs is clearly audible, with very dark and melodic parts and epic and exalted sounding bridges, only you get a fuller guitar sound and gloomier atmosphere in general, that is mostly induced by the horrifying grunts that Darren J. White. At the end of the song you get a similar approach like heard on KATATONIA's "Dance Of December Souls", which was recorded the same year; atmospheric keyboards and haunting clean vocals make it sound very dark and gloomy. So by now everybody's thinking: "Yeah, well this is the basic approach of this band and this is this album's artistic offering".
By the time "J'ai Fait Une Promesse" kicks in, everybody's stunned at to what extremes this album stretches out. This track is a very melancholic acoustic offering, with female vocals and French lyrics, no drums, no extreme sonic assault, nothing, just pure and great. Following this absolute stand-out, is the epic "They Will Always Die" that returns to the style of the first track, only with a proper climax and overall more direction and more focused. This is where the Death Metal magic happens, but much slower and with a lot of well placed pauses, that are filled with really dark and melodic overlayed guitar tracks that drag you through the rest of the song. The most accessible song here is with no doubt "Sleepless" that is also one of the band's big "hits". This song could have easily been on some alternative band's debut or wherever, since it features (again) a change of sound, yet still manages to sound intensely rough, yet you can clearly hear some of the later ANATHEMA stuff overshadowing the debut in this one. Later they will go and water the song down with a fresh new recording, that is inferior in each and every way. The rest of the album offers no further "surprises" let's say, since the rest "Sleep In Sanity" or "Under A Veil (Of Black Lace)" (the other two just being some interlude instrumental tracks) follow the doomy down-paced tradition of the other songs or demo songs.
If you're into war-themed lyrics with a lot of grief and melancholy thrown in, this is the music for you. If you like slow, down-tuned heavy riffs, with interesting and beautifully executed melodies and authentic harsh vocals then this is exactly what you need in your collection. It may get some getting used to, since this album is one of the few albums in Metal history that has never been copied (at least not so well). I recommend getting it with the "Crestfallen" EP as a bonus, since that adds up to a very lengthy and magical experience. That sound too cheesy? I don't care, this album is amazing and often not recognized for the masterpiece that it truly is. Have a listen. Absorb this album. Do it.
(Online January 21, 2012)