Following on from their success in the recent Progressive Music Awards – at which they lifted the ‘Anthem’ gong for the eponymously-titled from their most recent ‘Distant Satellites’ opus magnificus (of which more anon) – Liverpool experimental progsters Anathema were obviously in great mood when they took that short trip across the Irish Sea and returned to Belfast for the first time in far too long to kick off their ‘Satellites Over Europe’ touring schedule.
There was bound to be some feeling of disappointment among diehard fans, as the tour was originally supposed to feature Alternative 4 – the band featuring, of course, former Anathema man Duncan Patterson. As it is, the task of opening each night of this mammoth tour falls to the wonderfully-monickered Mother’s Cake (https://www.facebook.com/motherscake); despite catching many of even the earliest comers unawares by taking to the stage almst 15 minutes before their advertised time, the Austrian trio undoubtedly won over many new fans with their cool jazz-edged funky groove, paraphrased by long psyched-out instrumental passages and delivered with youthful enthusiasm combined with accomplished musicianship which references the likes of The Mars Volta, Led Zeppelin and Red Hot Chili Peppers in more or less equal measures and results in an enjoyable, well-received set. Definitely worth arriving early for…
And the headliners were worth waiting 15 years to see again… climbing on to the stage to rapturous applause from the extremely eclectic crowd (ageing proggies mixed with teenage metallians) Anathema immediately mesmerise with the first two parts of ‘The Lost Song’, from the aforementioned award-winning album. The pulsating rhythms, combined with wonderfully choreographed double and triple vocal harmonies top off the brooding yet majestic soundscapes, producing an effect which is both atmospheric and melancholic, while at the same time mysteriously uplifting.
With a career spanning nearly a quarter of a century, it is understandable that fans will want to hear their favourite songs, and there’s a stream of requests throughout the evening – most of which Daniel Cavanagh rebuts and laughs off – and later there is some chatter on Facebook about the fact they play only one song from the pre ‘A Natural Disaster’ era: the aforementioned album, of course, was the one that truly marked the band’s change in direction, away from the harder edged metal which has helped make their name to the more ambient, progressive sound of today. It was a change which alienated as many old fans as it earned them new ones – as reflected in the prviously mentioned eclectisism of the crowd. Obviously, the band concentrated on material from the new ‘Distant Satellites’ album, with one of the evening’s highlights being ‘Anathema’ itself, which soared and swept around the room with a stately majesty. Previous album ‘Weather Systems’ also gets a good airing, with ‘The Beginning Of The End’ and first encore ‘The Storm Before The Calm’ both beautifully delivered.
In terms of musicianship, the performances are flawless, aided by one of the best sound mixes I have heard in this particular venue. Daniel Cavanagh moves seemlessly between guitar and keyboards (there’s a lot of thing to remember,” he jokes early on), while brother Vincent occasionally sets his guitar aside when John Douglas moves away from percussive duties to take up the keyboard playing role for the second half of the set. It is a bit disconerting seeing Daniel Cardoso’s kit hidden behind a perspex screen, but it undoubtedly adds to the clarity of the drum sound, while Lee Douglas is striking and haunting in her vocal contributions, with the overall result being one of a dark, enigmatic and entrancing performance which sees their complex material delivered with a graceful ease.
The ‘Satellites Over Europe’ continues with a sold out show at the O2 ABC2 in Glasgow tonight (Sunday September 21) and then moves on to:
Monday (September 22) – Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, O2 Academy 2
Tuesday (September 23) – Manchester, Academy 3 (Sold Out)
Thursday (September 25) – Wolverhampton, Slade Rooms
Friday (September 26) – London, Koko
Saturday (September 27) – Bristol, Thekla (Sold Out)
Sunday (September 28) – Southampton, Talking Heads (Sold Out)
Tickets for the Newcastle, Wolverhampton and London shows are available from the usual outlets.
Photographs by Darren McVeigh / MetalPlanet Belfast