Anathema @ The Opera House, Toronto, 21 August 2017

The last time England’s atmospheric progressive rockers Anathema came to Toronto in 2013, visa issues cruelly skimmed the line up to just frontman Vincent Cavanagh, guitarist Danny Cavanagh and vocalist Lee Douglas. Now live in Toronto tonight, the whole line up is present and it the audience’s anticipation marks this show as long overdue. Starting life as an iconic death/doom band with their fellow countrymen Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride, the band has progressed from strength-to-strength, now composing particularly atmospheric prog embellished with contemporary rock pieces.

The intro tape is the pondering piano-dictated instrumental ‘San Francisco’ from new album The Optimist and is largely drowned out by wall-rattling ovation as the band members take their place on stage. Immediately, they propel themselves into both parts of ‘Untouchable’, the most formidable one-two punch they could commence with. This rendition of this fine song is blended into the intro tape, giving it a sound alternative to its recorded counterpart. The fans need no prompt to sing along to the impassioned chorus. The song’s structure journeys through a wealth of different energies with the velveteen voices of Vincent Cavanagh and Lee Douglas dancing with each other. Two drum kits on stage really amp up the performance, imbuing the music with attention-stealing volume when necessary.

A projector screen is prominent throughout the performance, usually displaying complementary scenes relating to nature and the looming headlights from the cover art of new album The Optimist when a track from it is served. The music from this studio effort is closely related to the last few Anathema full-lengths but with an even heavier inclusion of electronic drum parts. ‘Leaving It Behind’ follows the ‘Untouchable’ tracks, a sense of excitement unravelling as the song works its way to a climax. This is followed by the almost haunting ‘Endless Ways’, introduced by the ethereal voice of Douglas before developing into a dazzling cooperation of musicianship providing depth, ambience and spiritedness.

With such a vast back catalogue spanning their atmospheric later years, Anathema does not skimp on older favourites. ‘Thin Air’ and its playful jangles rustle up the fans’ appetite; ‘Universal’ reflects on its expansive solitude while the newer ‘Lightning Song’ beams out infinite optimism. The band on stage adopts a cheery persona, although guitarist Danny Cavanagh sternly advises people to stop recording the set with their phone after he went to see U2 in Paris and couldn’t see anything thanks to a wall of cell phones.

‘Closer’ appropriately closes the set but the real treat is the six-track encore that follows. The tender ‘A Natural Disaster’ focusses on Douglas’ vocal versatility and combines selections of Jeff Buckley’s ‘Lilac Wine’. The new ‘Springfield’ and slightly less fresh ‘Distant Satellites’ demonstrate Anathema’s later successes and Alternative 4 receives a gracious three song exhibition, namely ‘Lost Control’, ‘Destiny’ and of course the staple closer ‘Fragile Dreams’ (with selections of Pink Floyd’s ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond’ interspersed), enough to tug at the heart strings of all filling the venue. This two-hour performance was a stellar way to kickstart the week and the icing on the cake is that Vincent Cavanagh said that is appears these Brits will return in February. Fantastic!

Photo credit: Adam Wills

Adam has been a photographer for Hellbound since day 1 and also has a hand in the technical aspects of running the site.