A few years ago, Anathema were a death-metal band from Liverpool with songs of such crushing intensity they would make even Lemmy's ears bleed. Fast-forward to 2002, and the band have undergone a radical transformation that Hollywood's finest plastic surgeons would be proud of. Gone are the huge riffs that once defined Anathema's sound, to be replaced with a more organic style of melancholic rock with actually decipherable lyrics and -- wait for this -- melodies. Even though the band's previous few releases have provided a taster to this momentous change of sound, it's certainly surprising.
Anathema's moody dark lyrical themes still remain, but now they are sandwiched between a Pink Floyd-meets-Radiohead sound, which has no doubt alienated a lot of their original fans. However, the ones that have remained loyal will find an album that undoubtedly takes a while to become accustomed to.
An impressively accomplished production job by former Pink Floyd collaborator Nick Griffiths provides a few clues about the band's current ethos, and opener "Pressure" confirms the depth and diversity of the music on A Fine Day to Exit. The solo piano intro develops into a song that sounds like it could have been lifted straight from Radiohead's The Bends, and with a subtle, slow-burning melody, it triumphantly marks the evolution of the band. The hypnotic "Release" is something of an epic, clocking in at nearly six minutes long, but with the nine songs on the disc lasting over an hour, it's clear from the outset this is not an album to dip nonchalantly in and out of.
The brooding "Looking Outside Inside" confirms this further, but gives the band a chance to turn up the volume a notch in the chorus, which follows a curiously delicate verse. It's not an easy listen by any means, and "Leave No Trace" continues the intricate layers of instrumentation the band now favour and reveals more evidence of the clear Radiohead influence on Anathema's music.
The title track, along with the dreamy, meditative quality of "Barriers" is the very antithesis of the powerful, doom-laden sound of the band's early years, but the fuzzy electric sound of forthcoming UK/Europe single "Underworld" raises the pace and the frenetic "Panic" is possibly the heaviest track on the album, even though it barely registers on the Richter scale compared to what Anathema fans expect.
Anathema have met plenty of resistance with the new direction they've, with MTV refusing to play the video for intended first single "Pressure". Whilst their bold bravery is to be applauded, I think a name change may have been the best thing for the band in order to gain acceptance. Ultimately, it is true to say A Fine Day to Exit is an intense album, but not for anyone expecting monumental riffs. Lemmy definitely won't need ear-surgery after listening to this, that's for sure.