With Anathema announcing themselves another casualty of 2020, and being placed on indefinite hiatus, I’m sure many have been reacquainting themselves with their full discography. Everyone has their own special and favourite albums from the band, as their mood and style have changed several times over the years. There are, however, pivotal and transitional moments, and 1996’s Eternity is possibly the most important of those. There’s probably some bias in my statement, as Eternity is one of my three favourite Anathema albums – and yet, it’s hard to deny that this album was a big change for the band. All traces of extremity are gone from the music, and there are no harsh, guttural vocals.
The album is dark, tortured, melancholy, and yet hopeful. It’s powerful, emotional and expressive – all of which are key components to the success of Anathema’s latter day albums, and the new legion of fans accorded to them when they signed to Kscope. There will be some who argue otherwise, I’m sure, but in my opinion it all started here. Anathema retain the heaviness of their previous releases, but it is a heaviness more akin to gravity than to sound. This is music that weighs down upon the listener, all-encompassing and all-enveloping. The music may be less sonically heavy, but it’s crushing nevertheless.
The album begins with a beautiful and minimal instrumental, Sentient, with keening guitar over piano. It has a Gothic and Floydian sound which provides the mood and atmosphere for much, if not all, of this album. Angelica follows, and is possibly the album’s most well-known song, thanks to its reinterpretation on the Hindsight album. It’s also the first we hear of Vincent Cavanagh’s tortured vocals – not growls, but certainly nowhere as polished as they will become. Everything about Eternity screams transitional. The music is caught between what was and what will be. The vocals, too. And that transitional nature has often seen this album be viewed more harshly than I think is fair. Vincent’s vocals no doubt come as a shock to those who have come to Eternity off the back of later albums, as they did to those who came to it at the time.
In fact, the Anathema album I find most akin to Eternity is the far more recent Distant Satellites – another transitional album, heralding another change in sound. But while a lot of people seemed to regard Distant Satellites as a step backwards, after the beloved Weather Systems and We’re Here Because We’re Here, I see it more as looking back, than stepping back. Besides the aural similarities to Weather Systems, the Anathema album I am mostly reminded of is (you guessed it) Eternity. There is a return to the bleakness and darkness, after a couple of overwhelmingly “happy” albums. This is perhaps more a minor melancholy than the more oppressive gloom of Sternirt, but the change in mood is inarguable. Vocally, obviously, there is little comparison to Eternity (though the song Anathema certainly comes close), but musically it has that same Gothic Floydian vibe, albeit with an added flirtation with electronic sounds.
Both albums also have a song in three parts, in Eternity’s case the title track(s). The first part screams pain and sorrow, while the second is another gorgeous instrumental, as expressive without words as the first part is with. The pain may be gone, but the sorrow remains – until the end, where hope springs eternal. And this has to be deliberate, as the next song is one of the absolute highlights of the album – an incredible cover of Roy Harper’s Hope, from his album with Jimmy Page, Whatever Happened to Jugula?. Even better, they presage the track, as it was on the Jugula album with Roy’s recital of Bad Speech. I love both the original and Anathema’s cover, and it deserves its centrepiece spot on Eternity. With music written by David Gilmour, Hope is of course tailor made for Anathema’s dark and Gothic take on Floydian splendour.
Suicide Veil is even greater, with its slow and dramatic crescendo. It’s probably my favourite song on the album, the dynamic control on this track is awesome, instrumentally and vocally. Radiance is another slow burner, though with nowhere near the punch of a Suicide Veil. It’s cold and abrasive, but it pales in comparison. That said, when it ups the tempo in the last couple of minutes, it’s really quite impactful, and the guitar sounds at this point are irresistible. This is the weakest song on the album, for me, and it still has moments of glory. Eternity truly doesn’t have a dud track – which is quite phenomenal when you consider that it is a transitional album. Generally speaking, transitional albums can be quite clunky, but somehow Anathema has made the journey as exciting (possibly more so) than the destination.
Far Away remained a live staple long after Eternity was released, and you can hear why. With very little tweaking, it fits the more modern Anathema aesthetic, and features female vocals (those of Michelle Richfield) prominently. The final part of Eternity is suitably climactic, with squalls of guitar. Cries on the Wind has a glorious bass-driven introductory passage, which leads me to finally acknowledge one of the ingredients vital to the vibrancy of Eternity – Duncan Patterson. Patterson stayed on with Anathema for their next album, before moving on to different things. His bass played a huge part in Anathema’s sound at this point, and was certainly one of the reasons, I think, that this transitional album is as smooth as it is.
Eternity then ends as it began, with an instrumental. However Ascension is a very different beast to Sentient, and actually a quite surprising end to the album. Spirited and spritely, Ascension dances its way towards a fade out, before returning in a more sombre, yet still overtly optimistic fashion. Hope seems a key concept to this album. Through all the darkness, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We can only hope that Anathema’s hiatus will not be final. There may yet be light at the end of that tunnel, too. And even if that never comes to pass, the band have left behind an incredible discography. If I can not objectively say Eternity is one of Anathema’s best, I can say it is one of my favourites.
01. Sentient (2:59)
02. Angelica (5:51)
03. The Beloved (4:44)
04. Eternity, Part I (5:35)
05. Eternity, Part II (3:12)
06. Hope (5:55)
07. Suicide Veil (5:11)
08. Radiance (5:52)
09. Far Away (5:30)
10. Eternity, Part III (4:44)
11. Cries on the Wind (5:01)
12. Ascension (3:21)
Total Time – 58:11
Vincent Cavanagh – Vocals, Guitars
Daniel Cavanagh – Guitar, Keyboards
Duncan Patterson – Bass
John Douglas – Drums
Michelle Richfield – Vocals
Les Smith – Keyboards, Arrangements (track 1)
Roy Harper – Spoken Word (track 6)
Record Label: Peaceville
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 11th November 1996