British genre hoppers Anathema have a discography full of shifts and changes. Formed in 1990, over the years they’ve moved from death/doom through melancholic alternative rock to a difficultly classifiable sound that combines post-rock, prog, and electronic elements, among others. The band’s third full-length album Eternity (1996) was their first not to include extreme vocals or death metal elements. Instead, the album represents atmospheric rock with a heavy edge, though the band’s doom metal roots are still very audible in the music. Since Eternity turns 20 years old today, I’m revisiting it with a review based on the one I wrote over a year ago in my blog.
[This review has been backdated from 2016]
“Sentient” is a beautifully melodic and piano-driven intro track, but it’s the fan-favorite “Angelica” that gets the album started for real. The song itself is great, but the guitars sound unnecessarily heavy, and right from the start it’s clear that Vincent Cavanagh‘s clean singing is very shaky compared to his screams on The Silent Enigma (1995). “The Beloved” is an atypically up-tempo Anathema song with a little bit of double-bass drumming, but doesn’t really offer anything special or go anywhere. “Eternity Part I” starts a trilogy penned by bassist Duncan Patterson, and the lyrics ask the listener whether they believe in forever. It’s also fast-paced, but instead of sounding metallic, it recalls the post-punk vibe of “Sleepless” from Serenades (1993). “Eternity Part II” is an ambient instrumental anchored by Patterson’s bass playing that works as a break from the fast tempos of the previous two songs. It’s followed by a cover of Roy Harper’s “Hope”, which works surprisingly well in the album’s context.
“Suicide Veil” is the doomiest song on the album and contains Vincent’s strongest vocal performance – his rawer singing fits like a glove, and you can hear the anguish in his voice. “Radiation” feels like a filler despite the pretty layered female vocals by Michelle Richfield, and hearing Danny Cavanagh soloing on his guitar while Vincent sings is distracting to say the least. Luckily “Far Away” raises the bar again, including nice clean guitar arpeggios and thought-provoking lyrics about the hardships of life: “Sometimes I feel myself going under / Sometimes I envy the dead.” “Eternity Part III” closes the album’s title suite and is clearly the best song here, full of great melodies and culminating in a powerful climax. The album could end here, because while “Cries on the Wind” has a cool bassline and a vocal performance reminiscent of Roger Waters [Pink Floyd], it’s not a song I find myself listening to very often. “Ascension” is an instrumental closer, but doesn’t come close to the greatness of the preceding album’s “Black Orchid” and has a slightly cheesy vibe.
The reissue also contains acoustic versions of “Far Away” and “Eternity Part III”, which are a valuable addition, as they are the best songs on the album, and the stripped-down approach suits them better than the layered production and heavy B-tuned guitars of the album versions. Meanwhile, the live version of “Angelica” is just an awfully distorted bootleg, and it puzzles me why the band or label would allow such a low-quality audience recording to be released.
Eternity is the sound of a band in a transitional phase and feels like an awkward stepping stone between two landmark releases. Some of Duncan Patterson‘s contributions are among the best Anathema songs ever, but it feels like the normally prolific Danny Cavanagh was going through a creative drought at the time, as “Angelica” is the only composition of his that truly stands out. Both the album’s production and the vocals are unrefined, and the heavy arrangements don’t do the songs justice most of the time. Additionally, the keyboard sounds are quite dated, as is the album cover, where an angel statue has been stuck on top of a space graphic. On the other hand, you can hear clear hints of the Pink Floydian sound that Anathema would perfect soon afterwards, and going from The Silent Enigma straight to Alternative 4 (1998) would most likely have been impossible anyway. Thanks to these factors and a bunch of great songs, Eternity‘s place in the Anathema discography is justified, even though it’s the band’s weakest full-length album to date.
Rating: 6/10, 3 stars
4.Eternity Part I
5.Eternity Part II
10.Eternity Part III
11.Cries on the Wind