A Fine Day to Exit

Everyone, who has followed Anathema’s illustrious career as intensely as this writer, should have seen this album coming. In purest form, A Fine Day to Exit is nothing less than a masterpiece. Not unlike Katatonia’s newest magnum opus Last Fair Deal Gone Down, the album is fueled by relentless emotive energy mixed with precise musical imperfections that leaves listeners awestruck and trembling.

At times, the album is too much. Anathema allows a chilling personal wound to be opened for listeners to climb into, revealing intimate brutal truths about the band and their vast musical journeys. Be forewarned, escaping this release is nigh impossible, as the band intend to conquer your soul through stark, painful realism. This is what moves this album beyond simple terms like ‘masterpiece’ (what does that really mean anyway?), and instead lifts it into enigmatic ranking, alongside albums such as Jeff Buckley’s Grace, Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left or Slint’s Spiderland. This is precisely why you’ll never hear Anathema or any of these other artists on MTV or popular radio, because creatively they exist on a higher plane.

Within them is found an unexplainable magic that shatters all preconceptions of artistic music, implanting itself tightly into your quiet emotional existence. Most ignore it or walk away, unable to cope with this level of achievement. For those brave enough to tread these seething waters, A Fine Day to Exit is the ultimate in bittersweet rewards. For Anathema, they have taken an exponential step forward in a bold new direction that plays upon themes only hinted at previously. Albeit risky, it is the only option afforded this era’s greatest, most unrecognized, talented, and under-appreciated rock band.

Extreme metal tags from the early 90’s have bled the band dry, pulling them far away of receiving proper critical recognition. This caused, stark indifference outside the metal community to past monumental achievements (namely 1999’s Judgement and 1998’s grossly underrated Alternative 4), leaving the band one simple option. Walk away from metal forever, with no regrets. With AFDTE, Anathema has done so, as proudly and ambitiously as one would expect from these classy Brits. After a 10-year journey, they’ve grown up and justly found their ‘voice,’ so be prepared.

Opener “Pressure” is classic Anathema formula, following in the tradition of fellow openers “Fragile Dreams” and “Deep.” Only in this case, there is a distinctive Radiohead OK Computer pulse, as the song glides effortlessly along with a weighty sense of deep-rooted importance. Anathema’s layered (almost molten), urgent sound has accepted a whole new diversity into its vocabulary, in much the same way Katatonia or Cave In did – with the usage of more acoustics, piano and electronic nuances. “Release” is pure originality, with only a hint of Johnny Cash-esque twang in the acoustic guitars, as the song builds into a momentous glacier of shimmering emotion. The ghost of Jeff Buckley is conjured freely on “Looking Outside Inside” and “Leave No Trace.” The first is an atmospheric journey inward for the band with loud bursts of desperation that recalls Buckley’s “Mojo Pin” or “So Real,” only with a bit more Anathema-ish psychedelic cloud-cover. The latter sounds deeply personal; the lyrics could carry infinite meanings. “The moment is passing you by,” singer Vincent Cavanagh croons as quiet acoustic crescendos gulf forward recalling Radiohead’s “Karma Police.”

The lyrics offer both testaments to human frailty and express the vulnerability of a band on a quest for artistic soul-searching (and overdue respect). Les Smith’s delicate use of keys is a far cry from his torrid Cradle past, where he was forced to overdue the dramatics instead of creating lush soundscapes for the Cavanagh brothers cosmic, sticky guitarwork. Only his brother Danny, whose loose bluesy style sounds like a braver David Gilmour at times, overmatches Vincent’s godly guitar playing. Vincent’s vocal work has put him into a dangerous category alongside the Thom Yorkes and Jeff Buckleys of our generation. Nowhere is this more evident then on centerpiece “Underworld,” a song that begs both heartfelt interpretation and consummate worshipping.

Some songs feel important, while scant few stray into inescapable genius. This falls into the latter, as mesmerizing musical execution mixed with Cavanagh’s purgatorial vocal performance leaves the listener either in flames or in tears, where endless layers of emotionally complex baggage unfold. Curiously found cutting through the blackness of this song is a rare redemptive quality. With Anathema it seems there is always hope. Danny makes a rare vocal appearance, rising to the occasion to reveal his wispy Nick Drake vocals on “Barriers.” The track inescapably floats through the listener’s subconscious thanks to the gentle propulsion of drummer John Douglas, who again proves what it takes to be a great rock drummer.

One might think the album schizophrenic, but it is quite the opposite indeed, as each song softly propels their powerful message forward in a logical manner rarely seen (think OK Computer, Lateralus or If_Then_Else). Stream of conscious rocker, “Panic,” is both unforeseen and refreshing. It is a total surprise unlike anything the band has ever produced: garbled lyrics, seemingly meaningless (Yeah right guys, nice try!), carry a firm rhythmic prose lacking in most modern music. Like a metallic, Beat-poetry session, the Cavanagh brothers race against one another in cosmic verbal warfare leading to an eruptive silence, comparable only to the hollow of a murdered explosion. On the quiet downturn comes the groping title track and album closer, “Temporary Peace,” in all their cosmic reverence.

A Fine Day to Exit is a myriad of interstellar emotions, firmly planted in the British soil of Floyd, the Byrds, Drake or even latter-day Radiohead. Cathartic breakpoint is achieved as Anathema leaves us with the gorgeously abusive tranquility of “Temporary Peace.” Here the band chooses to use subtle, accentuating female vocals (as with “Barriers”) that cascade over the listener, leading to a puritanical out-of-body experience. This sensation is not only a summation of Anathema’s ability to heal through their music, but a sonic exclamation point to an enigmatic masterpiece. Fitting, as Vincent’s soothingly repetitious phrase, “Drifting out…,” intersects with crashing waves to create a blinding, astral effect. When this blinding subsides your senses return to ground zero. From here you start over again, so the senses can freely explore the base musical textures grazing this Pandora’s box. It’s a shame bassist Dave Pybus left for Cradle’s boring narcissism, because Anathema have tempered into a wicked musical weapon. Each individual seems to be dwelling inside each other’s minds, wielding a sharp understanding of what each band member brings to the musical table.

 It seems that not only have Anathema mastered natural feedback and imperfective, infectious melodies, but also a knack for adverse rhythms and bleeding musical patience. Want uneasy rhythms? Try the bridge/chorus interchanges of “Looking Outside Inside,” a melange of strangely shifting euphonious passages that reads like flight manual for floating progressive indie rock. There is a cosmic ethnicity here that even makes recent space rock events like Cave In’s Jupiter pale, not to mention enough stark realism to comfortably place them alongside legends like Drake, Roy Harper or Buckley (Tim or Jeff). What’s beautiful about Anathema’s music is their ability to take standard repetitious rock formulas and make them anything but. They mold tangible sensibilities with minutely abstract ideas to form repeating verses that, in essence, never truly repeat.

As with each successive album, Anathema is ever-changing, always moving forward. No verse is alike, no chorus the same, their music is an organic art form that truly lives and breathes. Just as no moment of our day ever repeats, Anathema interject wistful feedback, increasing layers of keyboard, folkish acoustic undertones or a new vocal harmony to make every second comfortably different. After mastering this technique on Judgement’s shining “Wings of God,” it seems the band is ready for total ascension into a higher musical plane of artistic existence. With A Fine Day to Exit, they have breathtakingly succeeded. Do you want to know the scary part though (besides how many words this review is)? I daresay that I think they have only begun to ascend. Now that is truly chilling…

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jason Hundley
October 17th, 2001


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