Artist: Daniel Cavanagh
Daniel Cavanagh is known as the main songwriter of Anathema, and therefore he’s not the first person you’d expect to release a solo album. On top of that, his main band’s latest album, The Optimist, was released less than half a year ago, which makes the question ‘why now?’ even more relevant. According to Cavanagh himself, the material would’ve been strong enough for Anathema, but the songs are, “So personal as to not need more input.” Having followed Anathema for 6 years, I was curious to hear how he would do on his own, so Monochrome was a must-listen for me.
Opening track “The Exorcist” shares its name with the horror film, but the music is far from terrifying – instead it’s like a beautiful cross between “One Last Goodbye” and “Untouchable, Pt. 2”, while standing on its own. What took me by surprise were Cavanagh’s vocals, as he sings the latter half in a higher register than usual. As a singer, he’s always been overshadowed by his brother Vincent and Lee Douglas in his main band, but “The Exorcist” is his strongest performance to date, as well as one of the best songs he’s ever written – his signature lead guitar playing at the end is the icing on the cake. “This Music” introduces Cavanagh’s past touring partner, Dutch siren Anneke van Giersbergen on guest vocals for the first time on the record. I enjoy the call-and-response approach between van Giersbergen’s somnolent vocals and Cavanagh’s subdued delivery when they sing “Just this song, just this music.” The wonderful “Soho” is like a musical triptych: at first van Giersbergen sings alone, only accompanied by the piano, after which the pace picks up, she and Cavanagh duet, and at the end, things wind down and Cavanagh is left alone, with only piano and keyboards in the background once again. The whole song is so picturesque, like two soulmates meeting in the night briefly before going their own ways.
The instrumental “The Silent Flight of the Raven Winged Hours” is the first big departure from the Anathema sound, as the early piano runs have a touch of classical music, while in the second half there are wordless vocals reminiscent of Mariusz Duda’s Lunatic Soul project and some 70s prog-style spacey synth leads, as well as a burst of guitars. What an epic track! “Dawn” is another atypical piece, as the combination of fingerpicked acoustic guitar, violin (played by Anna Phoebe, who has performed with Anathema before), and the upbeat rhythm makes it quite folky and almost Celtic-sounding. The lush “Oceans of Time” is another duet with van Giersbergen, featuring strong vocals from Cavanagh and a slight throwback to “Fragile Dreams” in one piano melody, although it’s so subtle that it may not have been intentional. On the closing instrumental, “Some Dreams Come True”, there’s presumably Cavanagh’s own child’s laughter, which is a sweet way to conclude the album.
Monochrome is slightly stripped down compared to Anathema’s latest works, and the piano dominates the music, but there are big buildups here as well. Cavanagh’s wailing leads likewise make plenty of appearances, which is a positive thing, as there hasn’t been a lot of them on Anathema’s albums lately. “The Exorcist” is by far the best song on the record in my eyes, but instead of making the rest of the album pale in comparison, which is a typical problem with strong openers, it sucks you in and just makes you want to listen to the whole record. Monochrome sounds relaxed, yet passionate at the same time – it’s as if Cavanagh knew that not many would expect a solo album from him, so he’d have full freedom to record personally meaningful songs and explore some slightly different sounds with no external pressure. This music (no pun intended) is best listened to in the quiet hours of the night, and I’d dare say Monochrome is the most satisfying and consistently great album Cavanagh has made since 2010’s We’re Here Because We’re Here.
Rating: 9/10, 4½ stars
1. The Exorcist
2. This Music
4. The Silent Flight of the Raven Winged Hours
6. Oceans of Time
7. Some Dreams Come True