Although the band ANATHEMA has since gone down a much more atmospheric and melodic route with their music, it's important to note that the group began as one of the pioneers of Death Doom Metal, a style of music similar in its melancholic feeling to what ANATHEMA has done more recently, but much heavier and darker in the one it is executed. With a few demos and this debut “Serenades”, ANATHEMA would be setting the groundwork for a style that has since become much more popular by the likes of bands like SWALLOW THE SUN. Although “Serenades” is a classic work for its development in that Doom Metal sound, it is an incredibly hit-or-miss ordeal throughout, and may be better appreciated for its place in history than as a listening experience of its own.
Fronted by growler Darren White, the sound of ANATHEMA at this time is generally very heavy, downtempo and foreboding, using equal measures of the Doom Metal style innovated by BLACK SABBATH, and the newer Death Metal sound to create something that is dark, solemn and full of sadness. The album unfortunately however falls into a weak standing for its lack of cohesion and flow as an album; although ANATHEMA is making some great steps forward with music here, they fail to create a piece of work that is bound together tightly. Instead, what we have here is a collection of tracks that range from excellence to somewhat boring exercises in distorted heaviness. The album's opener “Lovelorn Rhapsody” has since become a classic song for Death Doom; a piece of music that cycles through darkness and beauty very powerfully. The real hit here however is “Sleepless”, a much more melodic and concise track than most on “Serenades”, featuring a Post-Punk mentality that wouldn't feel out of place on a CURE album. Besides that, the songs here so consistent, although moments arise where the more melodic beauty overpowers the raw heaviness. “They Die” features a Symphonic end that is a really nice breath of fresh air for the sound, and “Under A Veil” has some beautiful guitar harmonies to work with.
Another issue is the weak production of the album here, which at times works quite well, but the heavier sections generally suffer as a result. Darren White's vocals are also quite inconsistent as a vocalist; at times his voice can make some really great growls that only add to the vibe of the music, and at others sound like nothing more than an adolescent whisper.
A disappointing album considering its great importance to the development of Doom Metal as it is heard today, but it is not without a few gems.
(Online February 7, 2012)