Hot on the heels of Anathema’s latest outing, “The Optimist”, is a new solo album of original material from multi-instrumentalist, and founding member of the band, Daniel Cavanagh. Having just recently seen Anathema perform a breathtaking show in Glasgow – on the first date of “The Optimist” tour (see review here) – I was keen to hear Daniel’s latest work, and wondered how it would compare with Anathema’s own material. While there are many successful side and solo projects around (Christofer Johnsson’s “The Luciferean Light Orchestra” is one that immediately springs to mind), there are also numerous ill-advised ventures that should never have seen the light of day. While an established artist has already an existing fan-base, who’ll go out of their way to check out anything they release, the expectations of those fans is also going to be high. So does this album satisfy the hopes of his followers? In the main, the answer would have to be a resounding yes.
As soon as I heard the opening melancholic piano riff of “The Exorcist” any apprehension I had about this album was immediately dissipated. When Daniel’s softly sung vocal arrives, it’s clear we’re in familiar territory here. Typical of the Anathema style of songwriting, this track slowly builds, additional instruments are layered upon each other, a strummed acoustic guitar joins the mix before the drums eventually arrive. Something which was noticeably absent from “The Optimist” was guitar solos, and I was very happy to hear them resurface on this release, not only on this song, but throughout the album. While many guitarists, especially on a solo outing, may take the opportunity to show off their technique and try and dazzle us with their chops, Cavanagh instead plays to the song. His solos are always very melodic and in keeping with the mood of the piece. This is a beautiful song, and one of the strongest on the album.
“Monochrome” features a number of notable guests, one of the most recognisable being that of Anneke Van Giersbergen (ex-vocalist for The Gathering). Her first appearance on the album is on the second track “This Music”. Her voice is very well suited to these dreamlike compositions, and it’s always a joy to hear her singing. Her re-appearance on a number of songs throughout the album is very welcome, and her voice always compliments Cavanagh’s. The violin of Anna Phoebe is also an unexpected highlight for me. Some rock fans may be familiar with her work with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I was very impressed with her performance on “Dawn”, but being a very short instrumental piece, it’s all over over far to quickly. While bands like My Dying Bride make extensive use of the violin, for the most part, it’s a very underused instrument in rock, so it’s refreshing to hear it here. Even though she also features on “Some Dreams Come True”, I’d like to have heard her utilised a bit more.
From the very beginning, the production is noticeably impressive. While many albums suffer from what’s now commonly known as the “Loudness War”, where the music’s dynamics are almost completely lost, it’s nice that the variations in volume between instruments in different sections of the songs have been retained here. This isn’t ‘made for radio’ music, it doesn’t need to be overly loud, and the subtleties within the songs could have easily been lost with a lesser producer. While the album isn’t quite up there with the best that Anathema has produced, I still favour this to “The Optimist”. It’s a gentler, mellower, and more chilled out album than that release, and with each listen, you seem to discover something new that you hadn’t noticed before. This is, however, quite a safe album; there’s nothing here that’s going to offend the musical sensibilities of existing Anathema fans. I’d like to have heard Cavanagh taking a few more risks and adding some ideas that would probably never have made it onto an Anathema album. In the press release Daniel does state, “A lot of this material could easily have made it on to the last Anathema album or any future album; that’s how highly the band rate it. There are several highlights: ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘The Silent Flight of the Raven Winged Hours’ are among some of my best works of the last decade. Taking them from the band was not an easy decision but I am glad; they’re so personal as to not need more input.”
This is a much more traditional album than I was expecting. Songs have a more conventional structure, and the electronic sounding drums of the last Anathema release are absent. The sound is much more natural and organic with its use of piano, acoustic guitars, real drums, and violin. It’s a style I’d prefer to hear Anathema move more towards, and perhaps further away from some of the more electronic sounds that have been recently introduced.
“Monochrome” is an album that all but the pickiest of Anathema fans will be happy to have in their collection. Highly recommended for those seeking something a bit more relaxed, easy going, and chilled out.
Available now on Kscope music.
Review: Martin Patterson