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Anathema - 'Fine Days: 1999-2004' http://rocktopia.co.uk/media/reviews/photos/thumbnail/200x200s/24/5e/d4/anathema-fine-days-1999-2004-17-1446407819.jpg Hot

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A solid collection that fans of latter day Anathema would be well advised to explore.

Music For Nations – the independent label that, back in the day, launched or sustained many a Hard Rock, Metal and, occasionally, Prog career – is back! And what better way to celebrate than with the re-issue of a "book-set" of re-mastered versions of Anathema's Music For Nations period albums, namely 'Judgement' (1999), 'A Fine Day To Exit' (2001) and 'A Natural Disaster' (2003).

Given the importance of the packaging, artwork and assorted extras to a re-issue of this nature, it astounds me that reviewers can be sent a download of the audio only. Consequently, it's hard to comment on the all round quality of the package or the value and insightfulness of the new liner notes provided by Dom Lawson and the band. Similarly, while a bonus DVD (cleverly entitled 'Were You There' – a play on the title of a track from 'A Natural Disaster') is included in the set, I'm unable to comment on its content. A great shame, as the band's involvement in, and endorsement of, the project will have set fans' expectations high.

In liner notes I do have, however, penned by guitarist/song-writer Danny Cavanagh for 2011's 'Falling Deeper' album, he notes: "I always find the statement "Anathema's music has changed beyond all recognition" to be something of a myth. Sure, the way the music is performed and produced has changed and grown immeasurably but the heart of the music, the melody and harmony, the structures of chords that pull at the heart strings, remains the same as ever, to me at least".

Certainly with the perspective of time, the three albums included in this collection can be seen as pivotal in Anathema's transition from a Death/Doom and Gothic Metal band (as they are often described) to the modern and emotive Progressive Rock outfit they have become.

'Judgement' is, perhaps, the most straightforward album in a trilogy that sees each offering growing in richness and complexity. It's pretty immediate for an Anathema album, having a natural, if gentle, momentum and a smooth flow. Indeed, before they've even had time to take stock, listeners are picked up by compelling opener 'Deep' and pulled along through 'Pittless', 'Forgotten Hopes' and others to the abrasion of the title track and the stunning 'Don't Look Too Far'. The latter features the guest vocal of current member Lee Douglas, who appears briefly on all three albums. Alongside fellow founding members Danny and Vincent Cavanagh (vocals/guitars/keyboards and lead vocals/guitars respectively), Lee's brother John Douglas is back on the drum stool after temporarily absenting himself for 1998's 'Alternative 4'. The line-up is completed by Dave Pybus on bass.

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'...Exit' offers most to fans already familiar with Anathema's back catalogue, containing as it does a track omitted from the previous release (the rousing opener 'A Fine Day') and a changed running order. This allows the band to present (for the first time) the album they feel they should have released initially. The line-up here is augmented by former Cradle Of Filth keyboardist Les Smith. Highlights for me remain original opener 'Pressure' – now at the heart of the album – and 'Looking Outside Inside', a powerful track combining edgy guitar with intense emotion. The latter now features towards the back end of the album, ensuring that '...Exit' keeps kicking and wriggling nearly all the way through. Arguably, while the original album grew increasingly sombre and melancholic as it progressed, the new running order gives it a better balance. (And for anyone wondering, the "chickens" and hidden track after 'Temporary Peace' are retained.)

'...Disaster' is a bit more trippy and, perhaps, the closest in sound to more recent albums. It's also the album that reunites the third Cavanagh founding member, Jamie (bass), with his brothers. There is some exceptional material here. 'Balance', for example, builds from warm bass and keyboards to an altogether Rockier proposition with Electronica embellishments. 'Closer' milks the Electronica influence for all it's worth – a cool groove that many will regard as the album's standout track. 'Pulled Under At 2000 Metres A Second' Rocks hard, while the album highlight for me is Lee Douglas's beautiful vocal on the title track which, with the benefit of hindsight, provides a taste of things to come.

While the "book-set" appears to offer exceptionally good value for money, vinyl buffs will be pleased to hear that all three albums will also be re-issued individually as separate vinyl/CD packages.

Musically, 'Fine Days: 1999-2004' is a solid collection that fans of latter day Anathema would be well advised to explore. Together, the trilogy of albums presented here make the case for the growth and evolution (rather than revolution) of the Anathema sound. For anyone who wants to understand the journey Anathema have been on, and the transition they've made, these albums add vital pieces to the jigsaw and are an essential part of the Anathema story. What's more, each album unquestionably contains at least some material that does, indeed, "pull on the heartstrings" in ways that more recent fans of the band will both recognise and admire.

Michael Anthony

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