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.