The longest track on Antimatter‘s Fear of a Unique Identity, “Firewalking” tops eight minutes and uses that time to offer some glimmer of hope from the head-down melancholia in which so much of the rest of the album revels. Fear is the British project’s sixth studio outing — there’s also been a best of and two live records — and continues their relationship with Prophecy Productions, a label which has become a haven for depression conveyed via musical gorgeousness, lush melody and introspective lyrics. In the case of Antimatter‘s latest, we get all of the above.
With a total nine tracks/49 minutes, it’s also an album that was bound to be a surprise — it’s Antimatter‘s first LP in five years since 2007′s Leaving Eden and the second since Duncan Patterson left the band. The multi-instrumentalist, also ex-Anathema, was formerly a defining presence in Antimatter alongside guitarist/vocalist Mick Moss, playing a central role in the ambient/electronica vibing of the band’s earliest albums, Saviour (2001) and Lights Out (2003). With 2005′s Planetary Confinement, Antimatter began to move toward a more organic, intimate style, and Patterson went on to release material with another band, Íon, that was in a roughly similar earthy vein before getting started with the darker project Alternative 4 (named for the last Anathema album on which he appeared), who made their full-length debut with 2011′s The Brink.
Moss, meanwhile, took the reins of Antimatter and has proven he’s capable of carrying the band in terms both of songwriting and performance. On Leaving Eden, he brought in Anathema‘s Danny Cavanaugh for the sessions and subsequent touring, also sitting in with Cavanaugh‘s Leafblade side-project. You’d need a chart to note every connection between these players, but one way or another, it mostly leads back to Anathema, except in Moss‘ case as he was never a member of the band. On Fear of a Unique Identity, however, Antimatter is perhaps the most separate from the Anathema lineage that they’ve ever been. Sure, the wisping ebow guitar leads in “Wide Awake in the Concrete Asylum” bear some sonic resemblance to Anathema‘s mid-period downer glories, but Moss is firmly in control of the band’s sound and quick to distinguish and make a mark of his own within these songs.
Primarily, he does this vocally, with a stunningly emotive and melodic delivery that’s adaptable to whatever happens to be going on musically at the time, but really, it’s the music itself on Fear of a Unique Identity that’s going to surprise first-time listeners or anyone who’s followed the band since they got going. It’s heavy. From the beginnings of opener “Paranova” to the Euro-doom stomp of “The Parade” and all the distorted tonality between, Antimatter in 2012 have more in common with Katatonia than with Anathema‘s newfound progressive joys. The additional vocals of Vic Anelsmo, periodic violin of David Hall and drumming of Colin Fromont give a full-band feel to Moss‘ singing, guitar, bass, piano and programming, and yet Antimatter retains an intimate, personal sensibility through their dynamic approach, here soft and contemplative, as on closer “A Place in the Sun,” and there unremittingly dark and threatening, as on centerpiece “Here Come the Men,” which marks Moss and Anselmo‘s best duet of the record.
Cuts vary in their individual memorability but all manage to serve the album’s purposes well in terms of mood or instrumentation, beginning with a strong linear build of “Paranova” and continuing onto the synthesized underpinning of “Monochrome” — perhaps a callback to Antimatter‘s beginnings echoed later on the album with “Uniformed and Black” — which soon gives way to heavier-toned chorus payoff. The title-track is every bit as progressive and brooding as one might expect, and the apt naming of “The Parade” makes it clear that if Antimatter were ever afraid of having their own identity, it’s a fear they’ve long since gotten over. Despite its already-noted nod to Anathema, “Wide Awake in the Concrete Asylum” makes one of Fear of a Unique Identity‘s strongest musical statements, Anselmo layering her vocals in the second half bridge to lead into an emphatic verse from Moss, whose convictions are answered with an engagingly weird solo.
As someone who’s been hit or miss with Antimatter over the years, Fear of a Unique Identity is a thrill, as it joins the band to not just a bygone day of British melancholic rock — Anathema having moved on in their approach, Paradise Lost having gotten more aggressive, and My Dying Bride retreated into what’s for them safer musical territory — while also establishing them as Moss‘ band without question. Further, while Katatonia‘s 2012 release Dead End Kings offered periodic bursts of excitement, Fear of a Unique Identity feels wholly less formulaic and threatens to put new malleability into what’s been a long-set mold. The songs remain emotionally charged, and that will likely always be the core from which they spread out, but there’s a feeling of tact conveyed here as well, and I’m hoping it’s not another half-decade before we get to hear the next stage in Antimatter‘s apparently ongoing evolution.
Tags: Antimatter, Antimatter Fear of a Unique Identity, Fear of a Unique Identity, Prophecy Productions, UK