Anathema - Alternative 4 review


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Band: Anathema
Album: Alternative 4
Release date: August 1998

01. Shroud Of False
02. Fragile Dreams
03. Empty
04. Lost Control
05. Re-Connect
06. Inner Silence
07. Alternative 4
08. Regret
09. Feel
10. Destiny
11. The Silent Enigma [bonus]
12. Your Possible Pasts [Pink Floyd cover] [2004 re-release bonus]
13. One Of The Few [Pink Floyd cover] [2004 re-release bonus]
14. Better Off Dead [Bad Religion cover] [2004 re-release bonus]
15. Goodbye Cruel World [Pink Floyd cover] [2004 re-release bonus]

I keep track of former Anathema bassist Duncan Patterson's Facebook page and have learned a few things from his own perspective. He has dismissed Eternity and Alternative 4 as being part of metal despite mentioning influences of Dead Can Dance and Paradise Lost. I honestly don't expect even Patterson would be comfortable with that era being metal, let alone gothic or doom metal. Regardless, Patterson would take part in another phenomenal album with one of my favorite bands.

Alternative 4 marked some major changes during and after its recording. It was the only album where drummer John Douglas doesn't appear in the band. Instead, drumming duties went to Shaun Steels, who would go on to drum for My Dying Bride between 1999 to 2006. This is the final album with Duncan Patterson, and at the time the band was mentally strained. Despite these changes, this would be one of the greatest releases they ever put out. This was the album that first got me into Anathema, primarily "Lost Control", which was featured on the map of the metal website under gothic metal and instigated the beginning of a love for a band's music. I never heard anything that depressing at the time and it helped me get into depressing music in the first place. Like Eternity, this album holds a special place in my heart and it's awfully close to being my all-time favorite Anathema record and one of my top 5 gothic metal records.

Alternative 4 continues where Eternity left off, musically depressing, gothic, and atmospheric. However, this album is mellower when it comes to the music and the rhythm section. It's definitely slower than previous albums and shows the band drifting further into some rock territory. It's still incredibly heavy and gothic-sounding in its tone, thanks to the dynamic changes of the guitars where it helps to bring added depression and tension, and it's not short of its chorus sound. It's simpler in structure but did nothing to hinder the performance of the music, a lot of which is heart-wrenching and depressing. The piano/keys and the key signatures used were the driving force in the album's depression, which ranges from classical simplicity or gothic organs like in "Feel", to atmospheric sustain that makes the album bleak. At the same time, it leaves out the soundscapes featured in Eternity for a simpler piano approach. From the very beginning of the album, build ups play an important role in dynamic control, because it establishes the heaviness and atmosphere from the album's guitar and vocals. Noticeably it has fewer highlights from Duncan Patterson's performance, but is still able to bring tension and anticipation on the title track and "Re-Connect".

Among the best things about Alternative 4 is the improved performance of Vincent Cavanagh's vocals. His performance went from a shy-induced dirty singer that struggled with reaching high notes in Eternity to a singer that finally understands his true range and how to utilize it better. The grit and aggression is completely void, and continues to improve with his clean singing. However, like the previous record, his tone is low energy, which is needed in an album that's meant to be bleak. He even utilizes a wide range on the title track, where he has that defeated nasal sound, but also Middle Eastern-sounding key changes and long sustain by the end of the song. By the way, the title track has one of the best examples of vocal crescendo in a metal album.

The lyrics are also bleak in Alternative 4. The theme of the lyrics is trust, but it reaches to depressing and even suicidal thoughts like in "Empty" and the title track. "I'll Dance With Angels to Celebrate the Holocaust" remains as one of (if not THE) most depressing line I've ever heard (seriously, who thinks like that?) and that is benefited further with Vincent's already depressing vampiric nasal vocals on that part of the title track. While most of the lyrical themes are crafted primarily by Duncan Patterson, Danny and Vincent Cavanagh are writing more lyrics to enhance the album's already depressing tone. This is also the point in the band's career where both brothers began to write lyrics that are not only as good as Duncan's, but more thought-provoking. The way the brothers wrote the lyrics are incredible and the improvement in their songwriting is nothing short of spectacular.

Apart from Vincent's performance being better, the production is also better on Alternative 4. It's less gritty, cleaner, and more elegant sounding. There's more delay included in the vocals and strings featured on the album to further the atmosphere of the music.

Alternative 4 still holds a special place in my heart. It's up there with Eternity and Judgement as one of Anathema's best records, and was even seen as their breakout album among fans, containing the band's most well known signature songs. Arguably, it's another underrated gem of gothic metal for the added elegance it provides from not just its atmosphere and vocals, but it reached My Dying Bride levels of gothic depression. Eternity may be my favorite Anathema record, and one of my favorites from this style of metal, but from a production, vocal, lyrical, and musical standpoint Alternative 4 is a far superior album.

Written by Gothic Metalhead | 24.10.2020


Guest review disclaimer:
This is a guest review, which means it does not necessarily represent the point of view of the MS Staff.

Staff review by
Dream Taster
After the release of 1996's Eternity, Alternative 4 is clearly its logical successor. Far from the doom-death metal of their first albums , these talented English musicians reinforce their already high position in the doom metal sphere.

The first track - called 'Shroud of False' - is a wonderful piano intro with one of the clearest sound I've ever heard. Simply a great overture for the rest of the album. Then, 'Fragile Dreams' is an amazing doom song. This track is one of my all time Anathema's favorites. With any doubt, one of the best doom songs ever written. 'Empty' brings a supernatural melancholy to the album but incredible as it may seem, it's also one of the fastest song on Alternative 4. 'Lost Control' has a weird effect on me: I'm starting to calm down. And then, I'm thinking about life and death. This song has an incredible doom-power. Terrible sadness... Let's have a look at my favorite lyrics of the whole album:

published 26.08.2003 | Comments (9)


Comments: 8   Visited by: 35 users
25.10.2020 - 00:20

25.10.2020 - 09:27
Very good review, man. I like the album but this is the point where I started losing my interest with Anathema personally. It is indeed gothic and dark and depressive and all these things were so much in fashion at the time. In 1998 I had had enough of that but this is definitely one of the best representations of this kind of music.

The melody of "Fragile Dreams" is godlike.
25.10.2020 - 11:47
"Feel" is one of the most underrated Anathema songs.
Do you think if the heart keeps on shrinking
One day there will be no heart at all?

2021 goodies
25.10.2020 - 12:02
JoHn DoE

I haven't listened to this album in quite some time, I usually go for Eternity and Judgement when I'm in the mood for some Anathema.

Nice review, now i wanna make some time for this album.
I thought the two primary purposes for the internet were cat memes and overreactions.
25.10.2020 - 16:54
Gothic Metalhead
Pro Introvert
Fun Fact: I performed "Regret" for my senior vocal recital in community college. Unfortunately it wasn't that good of a performance because I had to learn it on guitar in 2 days because our guitarist was unable to show up. So as a result I had to focus not just singing, but playing guitar which was the first and only time I performed singing and playing guitar.
25.10.2020 - 17:37
Written by Gothic Metalhead on 25.10.2020 at 16:54

Fun Fact: I performed "Regret" for my senior vocal recital in community college. Unfortunately it wasn't that good of a performance because I had to learn it on guitar in 2 days because our guitarist was unable to show up. So as a result I had to focus not just singing, but playing guitar which was the first and only time I performed singing and playing guitar.

Got any vids of it?
Do you think if the heart keeps on shrinking
One day there will be no heart at all?

2021 goodies
25.10.2020 - 20:52
Gothic Metalhead
Pro Introvert
I do not. When I did it. I only did a live showing on Facebook, then it disappeared. It's around here somewhere I'll have to double check
25.10.2020 - 21:40

Top notch review, as always with you.
Excellent album, but almost impossible to compare to anything else from this band, Judgement comes closest I guess.
But underrated, as you state in your last paragraph, I would say, is not what it is.

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