Love and beauty are two very important concepts genuinely dear to Anathema – just listen to their latest record Distant Satellites if you want proof. But you could say this of most bands and artists nowadays, though there seems to be no end to the amount of artists today who carelessly fling these very delicate virtues into their songs with total disregard for their intimacy and intrinsic value. Just turn on the radio; what is everyone singing about? Love. Anathema’s lead guitarist, Vincent Cavanagh, echoes this sentiment.
“Every band’s ultimate aim is to progress. Just look at the charts man, you see these bands now churning out the same shit album after album, it’s like a factory. When you get on stage you owe it to the fans to absolutely mean it and that’s something a lot of these groups can’t do. Our music is completely honest; we don’t do it for money but for ourselves.”
Anathema are a group who fully embrace progression in music. In their early incarceration they were a doom metal band. Bloodcurdling screams and down-tempo waltzes characterized the band in those early years. Their current sound, a majestic form of melodic rock, is completely different and in some ways the very antithesis of what they started out with. “I like to see progression as an ethos rather than a genre. Anathema get tagged as progressive rock nowadays but I don’t think that represents every aspect of our music. When we create a new album we don’t want to repeat ourselves, we want to explore new musical territories. What’s the point in not progressing? It opened up that door for you in the first place”.
“When we create a new album we don’t want to repeat ourselves, we want to explore new musical territories.”
Anathema’s current tour sees the band stripped down to its bare essentials. An acoustic tour is a great way for bands to really showcase the intricate musicality of their songs. During a conventional gig when bands have their full line up there is a danger that the songs can fall victim to obfuscation – you only really get a sense of what the song is about while the real meaning is buried away under waves of distortion. An acoustic gig offers a solution to this, certainly true in the case of Anathema’s magnificent Leeds Minster performance. The simplicity of the music naturalizes the sound and the vocals are finally able to play a dominant role in the soundscape. That Anathema are doing this in a cathedral espouses the music with a certain righteousness not found anywhere else.
“When you walk into a church you get a certain sacral respect that you wouldn’t get anywhere else. Everything’s different; the feel of the place, even the reverb is altered. One of our worst gigs we’ve done was this acoustic gig one time in a really loud venue, everyone was shouting and being noisy and I was on the stage like ‘I’m trying to play something delicate here!’”
Vincent is right on the ball here. As the sonorous vocals of Lee Douglas encapsulate the cathedral the hallowed images of archangels quietly observe the spectacle – there is a sense that the solemn holiness of the cathedral and Anathema’s music are inextricably interconnected in some profound way. Both offer explanations for things beyond human comprehension.
Take for example the song ‘Ariel’ from Distant Satellites.
“We were in Buenos Aires and my brother had been experiencing a personal crisis, so I didn’t expect him to make it down to soundcheck. But then he did make it down and immediately he started playing the refrain for Ariel. Then I started spontaneously singing the lyrics. The song was so natural, it was as if our sub-consciousness had already written it. My brother really needed to pour all his feelings and emotions, and that song provided the outlet”.
This is what Anathema is best at: composing incredibly powerful songs often derived from personal experience. When Daniel Cavanagh says that “this is a very special song for me” before they launch into Ariel at Leeds Minster, it becomes demonstrably clear that it is not just a song but an integral part of the man himself.
Surely the responsibility of playing such elegies to mankind is a nerve-wracking task for frontman Vincent? “No, I never get nervous anymore. The only time that I would be nervous on stage would be if a minute before we go on, someone else is panicking, whether that be one of the band members or one of the crew”.
The confidence that Vincent betrays in those warm Liverpudlian tones endorses this statement completely.