Anathema are a band whose music has changed a lot over the years. They started out playing doom metal, but later evolved towards avant garde progressive rock with strong influences of Pink Floyd and Radiohead. Very little trace of metal remains in their most recent albums.
“Falling Deeper” isn’t an album of new songs, but orchestral reinterpretations of their back catalogue, much of it from their very early metal years. It’s an ambitious project. The songs are completely reworked, stripped down and rebuilt so that only the basic chords and melodies remain.
This is really an album where you sit back and let it all wash over you. Although songs like “Everwake” feature the ethereal vocals of Anneke von Geirsbergen, much of the album is instrumental, with piano or strings taking the original vocal line. The result is an album of atmospheric soundscapes drenched in melancholy. With the repeated piano figures, e-bowed guitar and washes of strings it’s far removed from the doom metal of the original recordings. In places I can hear echoes of Sigur Ros and even Godspeed You Black Emperor. The magnificent “Sunset of Age”, which closes the album, is a case in point. Female vocals replace the original death metal growls, strings replace the grinding metal riff, and one of the most amazing moments is when the orchestra takes up the spiralling solo. Epic is an overused word, but it’s entirely appropriate for that song.
Pretty much at the opposing end of the progressive rock spectrum from the technical virtuosity of someone like Dream Theater, Anathema have delivered one of the surprises of the year. Even if the none of the songs are new, the new versions are so dramatically different it’s as good as an album of completely new material.