When reviewing a vintage band getting a segment of their back catalog re-visited, on a bona fide, legendary, record label that has decided to open it’s doors again, 11 years after, initially calling it a day, It is hard for a thirty something like me to not turn this review into a history lesson. I will resist that particular temptation, but implore you, if you’re not familiar with the legacy of Music for Nations, go investigate. Even if you just read the Wikipedia page regarding them, it will give you an idea of how incredible they were/are.
So, to actually re-launch the label, they are going back in time, and, once again, putting out the sublime trio of albums that Anathema recorded whilst they called MFN, home. The first of these three, “Judgement”, is seen as the point where the steady transition from a Doom/Gothic/Death metal band, to a somewhat, progressive, unashamedly atmospheric, heady, melancholic and absolutely gorgeous, rock band. Make no mistake, this is a stunning piece of art, period!
In the late 80’s, they were part of the ‘Peaceville 3’, or the ‘Unholy Trinity’, as it was sometimes known. This was made up of fellow northern English bands, Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride. Both of these bands are also still active and unleashing high-quality output, to this day. “Judgement” though was released in 1999 and all three were trying different things or were returning to their roots. Paradise Lost were living out their Depeche Mode fantasy on the excellent, but misunderstood, “Host”. My Dying Bride had returned to their Doom metal sound and growled vocal style, only a year or so after an experimental departure of their own. The thing with Anathema is that, they have truly, never looked back, perhaps, revealing that they were never really destined to remain a Metal band, at their core, like their fellow, misery-mongering peers.
If you check your preconceived baggage at the door, and just treat “Judgement” for what it is, then you will be taken on an enchanting journey that, although is swathed in hoplessness and regret, is utterly bewitching too. In all honesty, you are in a better position to let this record get under your skin, if you aren’t familiar with any of the material that preceded “Judgement”.
Choosing highlights on a collection of songs, as well crafted and utterly sublime as this one, is very difficult. The record is best enjoyed in one sitting, with your full attention. It is a trip through grief and mourning. With that said, do not even think that there is only one dimension on offer, or that this record is all one mood and pace. This record ebbs and flows, lifts and swoops, and isn’t afraid to let go and, rock-out, now and again. It is all essential to making the experience of “Judgement”, what it is.
One track, and arguably the album’s centrepiece, is the breath-taking, ‘One Last Goodbye’. Starting so delicately, it climbs steadily, but hastily, to a huge peak, led by a simple, yet divine guitar refrain.
Also, peppered throughout the songs is the angelic vocals of female backing vocalist, Lee Douglas, who is used so sparingly that when her voice intertwines with Vincent Kavanagh‘s, the effect is goosebump-inducing.
“Judgement” only narrowly misses a perfect score, because the second half of the record does dip, ever so slightly, in quality. This is a minor gripe.
Welcome back Music For Nations and, thank you, for turning the spotlight back onto this brilliant album.