In retrospect, the mid-nineties was a great time for English Doom and Gothic metal.
Paradise Lost were penning ‘Draconian Times’, My Dying Bride were basking in the dreary depths of ‘Turn Loose the Swans’ and ‘The Angel & The Dark River’, and their Peaceville counterparts Anathema released the last of what we could call their ‘Heavy-doom’ period.
It almost seems like a lifetime ago.
The definition of an enigma is a person or thing that’s mysterious or difficult to understand.
Anathema themselves are a bit of an enigma, so in hindsight, it may be quite an aptly titled album given what was to follow it.
Although they’ve released everything from doom to Radio-friendly rock, its fair to say that they very rarely put out a poor album – though this year’s offering was unfortunately proof that they can.
Only their second full-length, ‘Serenades’ being their first along with two EP’s ‘Crestfallen’ and ‘Pentecost III’, Anathema by now had a well honed ability to deliver huge sounding, downtuned, ugly but at the same time beautiful epics – ‘We, The Gods’ and ‘Kingdom’ being perfect examples.
This was also the first outing without the charismatic Darren White at the helm, instead main visionary and songwriter Vincent Cavanagh taking over vocal duties. Vinnie’s vocals really make this album what it is – a transition from one era to another.
Maybe constrained by Darren’s very unique and almost spoken vocal delivery to date, you can hear that Vinnie is on one hand trying to replicate it and on the other, stamp his own identity throughout.
What we get as a result is a mish-mash of styles, that imperfect poignant meandering mixed with a harsh foreboding vocal. It worked beautifully.
Shroud Of Frost
‘The Silent Enigma’ is vast in its expanse. It’s sometimes inescapably devouring in its sonic and emotional depth.
It is not just an album made up of 9 separate tracks. It’s a bleak and desolate soundscape that the listener gets lost in, as if trying to find your way through a dense primeval forest.
‘Restless Oblivion’ has to be one of the best opening tracks for an album that I’ve ever heard, primarily because of that beautiful melancholic intro and then diving straight into that guitar tone, downtuned to fuck, as heavy as a planet! “C’mon!” There are many high points throughout the album but that intro is without doubt the highest.
“My paralyzed heart… is bleeding” – the opening line of this epic and rewarding listen. It lets you know straight away what you are in for.
As noted above there is a melancholic emotional well within this entire album that takes time to penetrate.
Lyrically it carries on in a similar vein to what we were used to from the Anathema of old, an internal battle of a soul haunted by the daemons of grief and solitude. It paints a bleak picture and can be sometimes suffocating in its Shroud of frost.
Ups and Downs
This album thrives on dynamics.
Every track is a progression of crushingly heavy passages to beautiful, crisp clean guitar tones conspiring to pull you in. It’s almost tidal.
This can be a double-edged sword though, as it creates what can seem to be bloated never ending passages. For example the middle of ‘Cerulean twilight’, most of ‘Alone’ and the baffling spoken poetry section interrupting the otherwise stellar ‘Shroud of Frost’.
It can feel unpredictable and, at times, a bit messy.
I think it’s probably because of these pitfalls that ‘The Silent Enigma’ sadly gets overlooked a little bit.
But sticking through these moments ultimately gives way to many gems and golden nuggets hidden throughout this album.
I thought it was under-represented in the setlist of the ‘Resonance’ tour in 2015. But then again the fact that Anathema even bothered revisiting anything pre-‘Eternity’ was in itself a miracle, so beggars cant be choosers I suppose.
Other highlights for me are ‘Sunset Of Age’, the title track and the stunning ‘A Dying Wish’ – one of the best tracks that Anathema have ever penned.
It seems as if ‘A Dying Wish’ is the fulcrum point, embodying the moody spirit of the entire album.
Its as if everything was swelling like a raging ocean building up to this point. Lots of warm swirling guitar melodies dance with each other with some respite in the middle bringing it all back down, and then building it back up to a crushing crescendo, like a mountain rising up from the waves.
The quality of the production is another high point. As it’s quite an atmospheric album, the production is vital. Everything has space to breath, it dosen’t sound constrained.
The guitar tones are warm, nothing is overpowering, yet as a whole it sounds huge. That bass tone throughout is beautiful, deep yet delicate. It all sounds moody and dark.
There was a well deserved re-release in 2003 including an orchestral version of ‘The Silent Enigma’ and a reworking of ‘Sleepless’ both nice additions to an already great album.
So what were we left with?
22 years since its release it still sounds fresh and invigorating. I think Anathema created something unique and beautiful without realizing it at the time.
It remains vital listening for anyone interested in English doom.
There’s no dust gathered on my copy of this album. Instead it’s got plenty of wear and tear and seems well thumbed, proof of its place in my collection as an album that gets regular spins.
It’s something that I keep coming back to because it keeps on giving.
I still hear something new hidden throughout this dense tapestry every time I listen to it. There’s not too many albums that can do that.
It’s like it’s almost hiding itself, only really revealing its true greatness to those willing to spend time with it and watch it grow. Its mysterious -and indeed, an enigma.
– Pat O’Hagan ::: 18/12/17