ANATHEMA – We’re Here Because We’re Here (2010)

In an interview on Metal Underground, Danny Cavanagh stated that Anathema’s new album, We’re Here Because We’re Here is “by far the best thing we’ve ever done.” Strong words, to be sure, especially since this is the band that has given us three markedly different masterworks: 1996’s Eternity, 1999’s Judgement and 2003’s A Natural Disaster. But Danny wasn’t just inflating the band’s newest material simply because it’s the band’s newest material; he may actually be right. Listening to it, it’s undeniable that We’re Here Because We’re Here, an album that’s been in the works for years now, and has seen many false starts and about-faces, may go down as the crown jewel of Anathema’s oeuvre.

So, a quick history lesson: Anathema (together with fellow Brits My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost) redefined doom metal in the early 1990s; all three bands took the murky, slow-churned evil of Black Sabbath and sent it spiraling to depressive new lows. All three bands also seemed to hit their stride in 1995, which saw the release of Paradise Lost’s Draconian Times, My Dying Bride’s The Angel and The Dark River and Anathema’s The Silent Enigma, and from there, their careers took different turns. Paradise Lost now makes some kind of weird industrial gothic club music (kind of like what Theatre of Tragedy turned in to with Musique). My Dying Bride have stayed the course, releasing a new doom opus every couple of years. Anathema’s career change has been the most interesting, as the band began turning inward with each new release, making albums that were full of quiet catastrophes rather than guttural vehemence (yet which weren’t lacking in menace or despondency).

Nowhere is the more apparent than with the band’s last studio album, 2003’s A Natural Disaster. That album was a bleak affair, riddled with sorrow that seemed to be emanating from some place far away. But despite how burdened with emotion it was, it still all somehow felt fragile. It wasn’t melodramatic or maudlin. It felt very, very real. Few bands can defy the odds like that, and Anathema did. Now, A Natural Disaster is my favorite Anathema album, and I couldn’t help but make the connection that We’re Here Because We’re Here seems to be an inversion of that album, As dark as A Natural Disaster was, We’re Here Because We’re Here is as bright and life-affirming.

Let’s compare the singles, shall we? The first song that was made available from A Natural Disaster was Are You There?, and the first single from We’re Here Because We’re Here was Angels Walk Among Us (which features guest vocals from HIM’s Ville Valo, a band whose popularity in the US is not as inexplicable as it may seem at first). And while the phrase “are you there?” shows up lyrically in both songs, the tone is completely different each time. Angels Walk Among Us is imbued with spiritual resonance, while Are You There? is filled with regret.

“Spiritual Resonance” seems to be the theme here; there’s not a song on the album that doesn’t point itself towards the heavens (it must be said here that despite the occasional use of words like “Heaven”, “Angel”, “Spirit”, etc., We’re Here Because We’re Here isn’t a devoutly religious album; it’s merely one that’s concerned wholeheartedly with permeation of life, as opposed to the individuality lives). This inclusiveness is not hidden; it’s out in the open on songs like Everything, Universal and Presence (though they each take a different approach, tone-wise).

The culmination of all of this occurs (appropriately enough) on the album’s final song, Hindsight, which is a glorious, stately instrumental that slowly rises out of (and then descends back into) an airy bed of samples (some of which seem to be temporally connected to Anathema’s past, particularly to the aforementioned Eternity). This rise/coast/fall trajectory is a musical trick that’s been done for ages; it’s been used by everyone from Dan Deacon (on the song Snookered to A Silver Mt. Zion (on…well, most every song), but Anathema manage to take such a traditional formula and make something that’s surprisingly moving with it.

I mentioned earlier Danny’s interview on Metal Underground. Anyone who’s familiar with Anathema know that the band haven’t played anything that could be considered “metal” in over a decade now (old habits just die hard, I guess). And We’re Here Because We’re Here is no exception. It’s not a confrontational album. It’s not abrasive or ugly. It’s not loud. It’s not fast-paced and it’s not particularly energetic. But it’s a meticulously crafted album (Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree handled the production; that says it all right there), one that isn’t afraid to evoke capital-B big sentiments at every corner (and to set them against songs that soar, and dive, and soar again). Now that being said, there’s a fair chance that anyone who stumbles across this album by accident might find plenty dislike about it (the unapologetic use of major key, the incorporeal imagery, the overt lyrics). Any time you tackle a canvas with broad strokes, that’s bound to happen. But for everyone else, We’re Here Because We’re Here is likely to get caught in your soul. And stay there.

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