GIG REVIEW: An Evening With ANATHEMA Live at Metro Theatre, Sydney
Anathema’s evolution from doom/death metal to the current day band is a giant leap that few groups ever dare to try, yet the metal community has full heartedly embraced their experimentation into more show gaze, ambient and progressive rock territory. The Liverpool outfit’s extremity no longer comes from growling vocals or distorted guitars but rather from extreme fragileness in their guitar playing and long melancholic synth and piano ballads that feel depressive, gloomy and dreamlike. 2017 saw Anathema release their 11th studio album ‘The Optimist’ an album praised by music critics that demonstrated the band’s exploration into string arrangements, electronic soundscapes and show gaze guitar effects. A tour in Australia was also announced earlier in the year and Anathema fans down under would get the chance to see them for only the 2nd time in their 25-year history.
Sydney’s Metro Theatre on a Friday night often draws a crowd and Anathema did attract a lot of people into the venue but at the same time it was not an entirely packed out house. Sydney’s Meniscus were the opening act and the trio delivered their instrumental post-rock with passion getting the audience to definitely take notice of them.
Anathema’s entrance onto the stage came with a long intro featuring the composition “Love on a Real Train” by Tangerine Dream with a short video of a car on the beach and the sound of a radio dial tuning into a network. They kicked off the show with songs from ‘The Optimist’ album but strangely didn’t start with the opening composition “Leaving it Behind” and didn’t include it at all in their set list, despite being one of the few truly exciting songs they’ve written. The set list comprised mainly of songs from their last 4 releases where the band has gone for a more mellow approach to their songwriting. An unconventional component for the sextet is the fact they take turns in singing, sometimes front man Vincent Cavanagh steps aside and just plays guitar or disappears from the stage all together. Other times his brother and lead guitarist Daniel Cavanagh takes on vocal duties and Lee Douglas is an additional singer bringing a more ethereal and high-pitched approach to the band’s compositions.
The highlight songs of the night were the progressive opus “A Simple Mistake” the only composition where the metal heads in the crowd could practice their head banging and the sad and sorrowful composition “Springfield” being quite a beautiful and moving piece, otherwise the rest of the show felt as if Anathema could only compose music that was quite emotionally dreary and monotonous. The hauntingly beautiful composition “Ghost” from ‘The Optimist’ was also left out of the set list and for many fans that might just be getting into Anathema through this album; the set list could have featured more of the latest batch of songs. The show did drag on for a lot longer than most rock concerts, a two and a half hour set where only a few songs during all that time could actually be called truly captivating.
Anathema certainly do have a cult following and their true fans are happy to go along with their sometimes tedious compositions because they evoke something that they can relate to, but for other listeners such as myself it just felt too indulgent in its melancholy and lacked in excitement. I couldn’t say it was a riveting performance either but their longevity as a live act is due to a loyal support that might otherwise strongly disagree.