The compilation career retrospective is an unusual beast, filling many different roles for many different types of fans. To the die-hard fan it serves a purpose of giving an insight into the work the artist believes most in, what they are proudest of. To others its an easy to go to listen of a favourite band; great for reminding them of albums to immerse into later. And then for others, it serves as a great introduction into a band, and maybe inspiring them to delve deeper into a catalogue.
And for ‘Internal Landscapes’, the retrospective of the last ten years by Liverpool band, Anathema, I fall into the latter category having never really listened to the band myself. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why this is; Anathema are a band that a lot of people whose taste in music I admire and trust rate very highly indeed. So when I saw that the guys on the Big Big Train forum were making some noise about this release, well the opportunity to dive in was hard to resist.
And so, thanks to Martin Hutchinson, my Anathema cherry has well and truly been popped. And I’m glad it has been, with this compilation of music from their latter career from 2008 to the present day, including releases from the albums ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’, ‘Weather Systems’, ‘Distant Satellites’ and ‘The Optimist’, being one that has whetted my appetite for more from this band.
What I particularly like about this release is that it is in no way self-indulgent; for too many bands the temptation to throw too much at a compilation is hard to resist. CD’s are filled with more and more tracks, demos and outtakes, near on whole albums in some cases. Anathema have, though, restricted themselves with just 13 tracks giving that exemplary taster of what the last ten years have been about for them. Leaving someone like me, the new introductee, wanting more; a desire that can only be sated by diving into those albums this release supports, and for the already devoted, well I can only see them inspired to revisit those favourite pieces.
There is lots to enjoy about this album and the music of Anathema. Lyrically I found it sometimes a little clichéd, though not to the detriment of the whole enjoyment (but then I am always looking for lyrics to reach some pretty exacting standards). But, the real highlight for me is the music, the harmony between instruments and voices with the real star, for me, being the beautiful piano pieces that underpin the majority of the work produced here. The whole feeling is one of great subtlety, light and shade and beautiful melody and one that will inspire me to find more out about Anathema.
Life, like glass, is a fragile thing. Blows to both cause them to crack and fracture, delicately hanging the shards together as fissures creep across the surface, threatening to shatter at any moment.
Sharp edges and words cut deep red like blood and run with the dark crimson of passion. The reflections distort and twist our outlook on life.
Glittering and glistening in the light like fond memories slipping between the cracks into darkness, as we try to grasp what we had but see it slipping away and out of reach, things will never be the same.
We pick up the pieces to try and fit them back how they were, but there will always be a difference. How we deal with the changes makes us who we are, the person we evolve to be in the aftermath.
Travis Smith’s album design for ‘Fractured’ captures the essence of this album perfectly, a good start.
Pain can weigh heavy as we seek ways to lighten the load, allowing us to move forward. Not to dwell on Mariusz Duda’s own dramas that have befallen him of late, but the theme of this album under the Lunatic Soul guise, by his own admission is about coming back to life after personal tragedy. It’s inspired by what happened in his life in 2016 and by everything that’s happening around us and what’s making us turn away from one another and divide into groups, for better or for worse.
This catharsis involves him spreading his talents further from the paths run by his previous albums and taking a leaf out of the musical parchments of such luminaries as 80’s electronic masters Depeche Mode and others.
Mixing synth and programmed beats with loops of Duda’s voice, and adding his distinctive complex bass grooves, he creates what is probably his most commercially accessible and varied solo output to date.
From the throbbing beats and looped voice samples, almost aboriginal in tone, with synths and piano building in layers on the first track, Blood on the Tightropemarks a route through the jagged edges of doubt and indecisiveness, a fine balance without falling and edging forward to end on a determined note.
Baring his soul so honestly on this album, the music sometimes reflects a little uncomfortably. As in second track Anymorewhere sounds and notes flit in and out over the rhythms, jerking as if to remove some of the painful crystals buried in the exposed heart. There are also traces of Peter Gabriel buried in there somewhere.
Crumbling Teeth And The Owl Eyes may be the closest in sound to his Riverside roots on this album and is the first of two tracks on which the Sinfonietta Consonus Orchestra weave their magic nurturing the mood of the song. Mariusz’s struggles with his pain and the way he yearns for the age of childlike innocence to relieve him of this heartache, are hauntingly beautiful.
A darker feel as Red Light Escape scratches at anguish on track four. He explores the way people try to come to terms with tragedy. How some search for an emotional crutch to cling to rather than face their fears and slip back into dependency on things they find comforting, even if it is not necessarily a good thing and prevents them from dealing with the problem, so they can move on.
Title track Fracturedhas a sparser feel, with Mariusz’s signature bass pulsing as synth and other sounds inject like dark drugs into the grooves of unnerving beat pattern, that leaves you on edge and unsettled.
A hopeful ballad, A Thousand Shards Of Heaven is delicately ushered in with acoustic guitar and the emotional vocals from Mariusz then joined by the wonderful Sinfonietta Consonus Orchestra once more. It offers glimmers of hope amongst the sadness, as the silky saxophone of Marcin Odyniec floats into the mix and gentle ripples, torn into submission by Wawrzyniec Dramowicz’s syncopatic percussion, a feeling of calm bringing it to a close.
Synth bubbles on Battlefield awash with digital waves and electronica, in this slow burner that builds with rolling, rhythmic percussion. A cautionary warning of the dangers of holding things inside and letting them destroy you and a reflection of the inner fight he has faced and stood strong echoed in the assertive ending.
Moving Onwith it’s Depeche Mode influences worn on it’s musical sleeve, could easily have been a single. Melodic and catchy, Mariusz bares himself one last time for the listener, to let us know he is not going to let what has hurt him stop him moving forward, climaxing with a few positive notes from the saxophone.
It’s an awkward review, as this is so personal to Mariusz. As you look deeper into it you can feel a little voyeuristic and that you may be prying. But the attitude and bravery he shows in releasing this material is a testament to the man and those around him. He has put a positive spin on everything that has happened and fully embraces the adage ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.
Clearly his best solo output to date, ‘Fractured’ is in some ways a huge departure from previous works, a progression and isn’t that what this album is all about. A tremendous album that I believe everyone should have a copy of, certainly one of the best releases of 2017. Fans may have been concerned for his welfare after what befell him, but Mariusz has reassured us all that he is stepping into the light and the future looks bright.
Released 6th October 2017
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“I’ll keep evolving and put that into my songs.” Alanis Morissette
One of the great pleasures of being a music journalist/reviewer is watching an artist mature from their initial early steps and through their growing career. You see how the raw musical talent becomes focused and more mature to give ever impressive musical releases.
One such artist, for me, is Chicago native Zee Baig and his musical project Fire Garden. From hearing 2012’s debut E.P. ‘The Prelude’ (where I initially became friends with this engaging musician) through 2014’s first full length release ‘Sound Of Majestic Colours’ to this latest album ‘Far and Near’, you can see the increasing skill and artistry, not only in the music but in the songwriting too.
Zee is the mastermind, songwriter, guitarist, lyricist and a founding member of Fire Garden. He is self-taught musician. His main influences are the music of late 60s and early 70s and bands like Dream Theater,Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Opeth, Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson and classic bands like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and many more.
Zee has called on the undoubted drumming skills of Jimmy Keegan (Spock’s Beard) on the new release, which also features Jordan Rudess’ keyboard wizardry and is mixed by Bruce Soord. The spectacular artwork is from the feverish mind of the legendary Travis Smith.
Frank Lucas (piano, keyboards, synths), Marc Malitz (bass) and Barry Kleiber (bass) make up the rest of Fire Garden and each adds their own considerable expertise to the melting pot.
The album opens with title track Far and Near which is a haunting two minute instrumental that drips with pathos, feeling and intense emotion. Dominated by a sentimental piano note, it really strikes a chord with me, leaving me feeling slightly melancholy, but in a good way. There’s Something begins with a delightful strummed guitar before the drums become the driving force. Zee’s vocals lull you into a state of grace with their lush tone before the riff gets a little heavier and the song takes on a more serious feel. The chorus has a great hook and you just seem to be carried along on the wave of sentiment that the track engenders. There’s a slight interlude in the middle of the song, an ominous feeling that we are working up to something as everything slows down to a meditative pace. It’s a laconic and laid back, if intricate, build up to a slow burning guitar solo that hits you in the solar plexus and holds you in place while stripping your soul bare. A nicely judged and intelligent song that shows just how far Zee has come as a songwriter. A thunderously powerful riff is the opening to A New Day, a song that has the feeling of U2 but as if it was played by Metallica, the imperative verse drives on with the urgent vocals and dynamic drums. There’s a mesmerising feel to the heavy riffing and eerie organ note that adds to the wall of sound that is being generated. The slow build to the solo really sets you on edge and then Zee’s coruscating guitar really burns bright. A really compelling and forceful track that holds your attention to the explosive end.
Now to my favourite song on an album of great tracks, Life of a Drifter is a whimsical and nostalgic song that brings out feelings of hope and regret deep from your soul. The laid back chorus is gentle and touching breaking into a softly sung but heartfelt chorus. There is a sense of not wanting to look back at a sepia tinged past so that some sort of pain or less can remain hidden. Don’t look back, just focus on tomorrow, it really touched a nerve with me and I am moved every time I listen to it. The serenity is broken by clashing drums, guitar and keyboard, a maelstrom that leaves you breathless with its ferocity before a more focused and powerful rendition of the chorus is sung. This is all leading up to an absolute monster of a keyboard outro by the legendary Jordan Rudess, given free rein to let loose his mind-bending virtuosity. Turst me, you’ll be left slack jawed by the brilliance! The slow brooding A Thousand Lost Souls is a superb instrumental that seems to just be boiling under the surface, leaving the tension readily apparent. I love the way it makes the hairs on your arms stand up with its intensity and focus. Once you’ve heard the first note, you daren’t turn it off, it is like it is talking to you in a mystical musical code. War and Peace is a darkly powerful prog-metal track that feels like it has clawed its way up from the bowels of the earth, elemental and alive. The repeated, singular, words, are delivered in a menacing chant before the industrial riff and deliciously evil guitar threaten to take over your mind, leaving you a slave to the rhythm.
Faint Shadows follows that seriously heavy prog-metal direction with a riff that could topple mountains, primordial and destructive. There’s a feeling of barely controlled chaos that is bubbling under the surface before the ever more potent drumming of Jimmy Keegan breaks free. The vocals begin, almost shamen-like in their delivery, as if they are speaking an incantation and one that draws you in close. You know that something is lurking in the shadows but know not if it is of the darkness or the light, however, you have to follow your instinct and find out. It is a really vivid and dominant song that brooks no argument. Heartfelt, sombre and slightly mournful, the opening notes to Whitelight just leave your heart in your mouth. This is a passionate plea of a song that seems to linger in your subconscious. Zee’s vocals are wistful and dreamlike and you just find yourself left in a trance, able neither to move forwards or back, your attention on every word that you hear. The delicate guitar and keyboards just add to the atmosphere, a song powerful in its contemplation. The mood is broken by a dark-edged riff and frenzied drumbeat before a hypnotic piano brings a feeling of tension and the close of the song. At nearly eleven minutes, Diary Of The Blood Moon is the lengthiest track on the album and hits you straight away as being the most progressive of the songs too with an intricate play off between the drums, guitar and keys. Driven along by Jimmy’s expansive style and Zee’s brooding guitar it is a hectic ride for the uninitiated. Interspersed with interludes of calm and reflection, it is an intense crucible of musical majesty that bestrides this album like a colossal behemoth. The last two minutes raise the bar even higher with a build up of momentum that intensifies with a fiery guitar solo and dominant rhythm section to just leaves you open mouthed in admiration.
So Zee and Fire Garden have raised the bar even higher with this latest release. ‘Far and Near’ is a magnificent album that never loses focus or intensity and, while it is great to see Jordan Rudess and Jimmy Keegan giving their considerable talents to this enterprise, it is very much the product of Zee Baig and Fire Garden’s consummate skill set. Trust me, as an all consuming listen from beginning to end, this is a definite must buy for your music collection.
If they gave out awards for most ambitious debut albums of the year then Earthside would be the clear winner for 2015. ‘A Dream In Static’, the audacious debut of this Connecticut prog metal quartet was recorded over a two and a half year period, on three different continents.
To ensure they attained the production sound they wanted they travelled to Sweden and worked with renowned engineers Jens Bogren (Opeth, Katatonia) and David Castillo (Opeth, Bloodbath). Another frequent Opeth collaborator, artist Travis Smith was brought in to design the artwork. The passion evident in the overall project carries over into the music.
‘A Dream In Static’ is evenly split between instrumental cuts and songs that feature the guest vocalists. The risk of featuring multiple vocalists on any project is sometimes the identity can get lost from track to track, but Earthside (mostly) avoids this pitfall with a unified compositional focus that perfectly ties the pieces together into a whole.
The opening instrumental piece The Closest I’ve Come begins the album by introducing us to the character of the core group before the other layers are applied. Their sound is striking; very modern, muscular, melodic and intricately arranged. A lovely looped guitar melody cascades over a synth backing and a driving beat before the rest of band enters. Unlike many prog metal bands the focus here is not on pyrotechnics, it’s creating a mood, an experience. The arrangement continues to build with each section, dynamics always carefully applied; quiet and then soaring, delicate and then aggressive, tension and release. After a lovely guitar solo the song quiets down into a soundscape, synth sounds and real percussion swirling together in the aether before crushing Meshuggah-style guitar chords lead back into the arrangement. It’s dramatic music to be sure, but they’re natural dramatics, not the oft-contrived variety.
The group describes their music as “Cinematic Rock” and nowhere is this more evident than on Entering The Light. The song features guest soloist Max ZT on hammer dulcimer and he creates a lovely wash of sound that intermingles perfectly with the full orchestra. The contribution to this piece by the band is mostly confined to the mid-section bridge. It definitely has a soundtrack quality to it, if I close my eyes while listening I picture low flying helicopter shots of a frozen tundra or some such…exactly the type of reaction I’m sure the band was hoping for.
The most impressive composition on the album is the mid-album centerpiece Skyline. This intricate instrumental has a breathtaking arrangement, the complex layering of piano, synth, 8-string rhythm guitar and soaring melodic lead guitar in the opening sections create a massive enveloping sound. This is contrasted beautifully by a stark bridge featuring just piano and drums, before slowly building into the epic conclusion.
Of the vocal tracks on the album my favorite is the driving title track A Dream InStatic featuring Daniel Tompkins from Tesseract. The dramatic balance of melodic and aggressive from the instrumental compositions carry over to the vocal arrangements and the impressive vocal range of Tompkins is used to great effect. There is a Katatonia vibe to this song that also appears in other places on the album.
The lead single from the album is actually the only track that doesn’t really work for me. Mob Mentality is more akin to the symphonic metal style and I have to be honest and admit that isn’t really my cup o’ tea usually. The arrangement of the orchestra and the band is very nicely done and has a huge cohesive sound. Guest vocalist Lajon Witherspoon’s (Sevendust) R&B-flavored vocals also provide an interesting contrast as usually these types of arrangements go for the operatic approach. But as a whole the song just doesn’t quite gel in my opinion and it also goes on far too long with too many repetitions of the chorus. The band is actually underused here, this song is practically screaming out for an instrumental mid-section but it never materializes. While a nice attempt, this is the one track that feels out of place with the rest of the album.
The rest of the album fares better with the aggressive instrumental TheUngrounding and the album closing epic Contemplation Of The Beautiful featuring Eric Zirlinger (Face The King) being my other favorites.
Color me impressed. Despite my love of progressive rock and my love of good heavy metal I can’t say I’m usually that much of a Prog Metal fan. There are a few exceptions, but mostly the combination just doesn’t quite work for me. I’m very glad to have found another exception.
Earthside has crafted an impressive work with ‘A Dream In Static’, one that could prove difficult to surpass with their sophomore effort. But I’m laying odds they can top it.