DISCLAIMER: Okay, so I wrote this in April 2012, hence the anachronisms throughout. There’s no significance in me publishing it now; this isn’t some great moment of catharsis and nor do I feel like I’m putting lots of demons to rest by making this public.
Progressive music (known affectionately as Prog) does not have a natural entry point for a lot of people. It is music built around a non-linear structure, foregoing the verse-chorus based formula of ‘standard’ music, and therefore often stands out amongst other genres for being an oddity. Yet, as the recent release of Anathema’s Weather Systems proves, this isn’t a genre that delights in obscurity, but moreover one that uses obscurity to emphasise its delights. Prog shelters and nurtures a richness in its music that is rarely found elsewhere, and for me, this depth is captured in one song.
Anathema’s Judgement, released in 1999, was their fifth studio album. It was an album that saw the band holding onto some last, desolate bastion of doom, but it marked a notable departure from the then six year old colossal, caustic heft of the like of Serenades. Pitched right in the middle of this release is ‘One Last Goodbye’, a song built on residues of grief and loss, and one that was written by the Cavanagh brothers soon after their mother’s death.
From the off, the tangible, suffocating grief of the lyrics is almost overwhelming. Knowing the circumstances of its conception, trying to grasp the meaning of words that have been written and compute them into some sort of understanding is harrowing. Framing this is a song structure that echoes the irrepressible, unsleeping torment of the words; there is no chorus here, no return point, just an endless outpouring of grief as Vincent Cavanagh moves between despair, “But the strength I always loved in you//finally gave way” and clutching at mirages of hope:
“In my dreams I can see you
I can tell you how I feel
In my dreams I can hold you
And it feels so real”
With these latter lyrics, the song builds into a tempest, words thrown angrily into the wind at the surety of this injustice.
The song peaks about three and a half minutes in, as Cavanagh seems to gain acceptance in the midst of his sorrow “And somehow I knew you would leave me”, and as the last strand of “oh I wish, I wish you could have stayed” crashes home, a soaring solo erupts out of the anguish of the words. This is a moment that’s all at once beautiful and crushing, and leaves a trail of emotion as tangible as any of the lyrics.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of a song that means so much to you; ‘One Last Goodbye’ echoes a very specific part of my life, and a similar circumstance. It’s one of the few places that has granted solace and unquestioning acceptance, and is one of these uniquely beautiful and harrowing songs that says more through its progression than anyone else has been able to.
Of course, like I said above, this is uniquely personal. I do believe, however, that progressive music is one of the few places that can facilitate such an evocative story, and phrase it in a way that it’ll mean something different to every single person that digests it.