Following on the heels of our heart-to-heart about depression, it seems only fair to share what is for me possibly the most depressing album I have ever heard.
Anathema is the final piece of my ‘big four’ (the others being My Dying Bride, Opeth and Sentenced). Their roots begin right along side fellow Northeners My Dying Bride, a heavy and dirge-like Doom Metal band from Liverpool. It didn’t take them long to gain the attention of Peaceville, who signed them for a four-album deal.
The Crestfallen (EP) was their first mainstream release, a 32-minute dirge of atonal distortion and howled vocals. Even here, though, their more sensitive side, which would only become more prominent, can be heard in tracks such as Everwake. Their first full-lenth, Serenades, brought this musical style to a strong consistency, winding from leaden and moaning distress such as Lovelorn Rhapsody to haunting, acoustic interludes like J’ai Fait Une Promesse. The closer is an epic 23-minute drone; synths and soothing harmonies intertwine, changing slowly and subtly.
The following EP, Pentecost III, carried this style further, focusing on lengthy, heavy and atmospheric tracks. When The Silent Enigma came out in 1995, however, the beginnings of a marked change in style became apparent. Though still heavy and filled mainly with growled vocals, the musical style began to become less dissonant, with songs such as Cerulean Twilight and the wonderful A Dying Wish bringing a desolate and sad tone to their style.
Then, something happened that cemented the transition from Doom Metal to atmospheric, haunting and dismal rock: Darren White, the vocalist, left. Rather than hiring a new vocalist, guitarist Vincent Cavanagh took up the mic. Unable (or unwilling) to growl like Darren, 1996’s Eternity is now a classic album, an epitome of their canon. Alternative 4 carried this yet further, becoming ever more distant from their metal roots. By the time Judgement was released in 1999, the heaviness of their past was all but gone, leaving behind a deeply sad style of alternative rock.
And then came A Fine Day to Exit, in 2001. This is an incredibly important—and precious—album for me. Every one of the nine tracks simply drips with depression, and this became the soundtrack to my life at the time of its release. This album is Anathema perfected; nothing before or since has quite touched its sense of absolute, utter despair.
Both musically and lyrically, A Fine Day to Exit carries the listener on an uninterrupted journey through landscapes of darkness, each song blending seamlessly into the next. The piano-driven ostinato of Pressure feels like a crushing weight on the chest, a feeling of stress that doesn’t life. As it fades, Release picks up, its striking opening guitars lulling the listener into its landscape of sadness. Release eventually peters out to the subtle sound of heating pipes in an old, run-down building, and the inescapable arpeggios of Looking Outside Inside gently ease their way into the ear. This is perhaps the best song on the album, building up slowly, gradually, from acoustic nothingness into a rage of entrapment.
As feedback leads the way into Leave No Trace, the album settles into a soothing swaying between slow and faster-paced songs, and the lyrics become noticeably more unstable. An unsettling feeling of a descent into madness begins to creep into the music, with Underworld turning out some disturbing imagery.
Climbing up the wall gonna creep between the cracks
Get out of my skull tie the rope around my neck
Destroy all emotion gonna rip my face to shreds
Cut my eyeballs open
Underworld – Anathema, 2001
(Breaking Down the) Barriers brings a sense of calm, and indeed feels like a sort of conclusion. Heart-rending, it speaks of the ever-growing disconnect between two people who realize they are utterly disconnected. Try as they might, there is no salvation.
And then, all hell breaks loose. A great pause of silence follows …Barriers, as if preparing for the storm that is to follow. Rapid, wavering guitars then break in, musically reflecting the sudden and complete unbalance of Panic‘s disturbing words.
I don’t think it’ll all end up like this
There’s spiders on the wall and they stink of piss
Dead heads lying in the corner
Staring at me making me feel bad
I put my hands up to my eyes
But the holes in my palms let me find a way
To corner you…
Panic – Anathema, 2001
Racing through at breakneck speed, Panic represents the peak of the album, the final release of the terrible tension of an unstable mind. From here it descends into the final moments of utter despair, the title track A Fine Day to Exit bringing with it a sense of absolution.
Then, finally, the perfect conclusion: Temporary Peace. Slow, quiet and bleak, it is a resting, a peace; a settlement from the madness. It speaks of finality, of the the darkness dragging you under for the last time. Its closing lines reflect this, simultaneously intimating the momentary quiet before the ending.
Beyond this beautiful horizon
Lies a dream for you and I
This tranquil scene is
Still unbroken by the rumours in the sky
But there’s a storm closing in
Voices crying on the wind
The serenade is growing colder
Breaks my soul that tries to sing
And there’s so many thoughts
When I try to go to sleep
But with you I start to feel
A sort of temporary peace
There’s a drift in and out
Temporary Peace – Anathema, 2001
And as the final notes ring out, the music dissolves into the sound of breaking waves, and the muttering nonsense of a madman.
The flow of this album so perfectly reflects my own cycle of madness that it cuts me to the very soul, unfailingly bringing tears to my eyes by the final dying sounds. The tension, the guilt, the increasing loss of control, until it finally all breaks loose—and then, when the rage is spent, dissolving into nothing but the desire to fade into absolute blackness, and never return.
This is not an easy album, but it is ultimately rewarding. Just beware: it will not put you in a happy mood.