without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
Originally published at http://suite101.com
Anathema is another one of those bands that had an excellent comeback in 2010 after a period of rather sporadic activity. We’re Here Because We’re Here proved to be a refreshing release and the band shows no signs of slowing down despite keyboardist Les Smith’s departure. In addition to another collection of re-recordings called Falling Deeper, Anathema has also put out their ninth studio album in the form of Weather Systems.
Much like the new efforts put out by Accept and Overkill, the follow-up to We’re Here Because We’re Here is a logical continuation of that album’s bittersweet, atmospheric progressive rock sound. It sets itself apart by having a tone that I can only describe as electric. It’s not exactly heavier or darker but the atmosphere is somehow more energized and charged. I know it sounds corny but Weather Systems is a very fitting title as it sounds like the kind of music you’d play during a thunderstorm on a summer afternoon.
The guitars and vocals are Anathema’s strongest suits though not in the way one would expect. There is a noticeable emphasis on acoustic guitar but it goes beyond the typical chords and opts for more intricate patterns. In addition, the vocals are a little more prominent this time around as once guest vocalist Lee Douglas is more or less a full member and shares some gorgeous duets with guitarist/singer Vincent Cavanagh. Fortunately the keyboard work is still prominent and the drums get some excellent patterns out there. Now if they could figure out where the bass went…
The two-part “Untouchable” sequence that starts the album off is a great demonstration of its overall style. Like most two-part songs, the halves serve as effective contrasts to one another as one is more energetic and the second is more ballad-oriented. Fortunately, the two “Untouchables” also excel as stand-alone songs with the first part showing off some catchy acoustic guitar work and Latin drum grooves while the second part emphasizes piano crescendos and vocal duets.
From there, the other songs manage to be more than coherent. “Lightning Song” and “The Beginning And The End” reflect the band’s building side as the former is a gentle acoustic song driven by Douglas’s vocals and the latter combines prominent piano and louder guitars with some of the passionate vocals that Vincent has ever sung. “The Storm Before The Calm” is another noteworthy track and may be the heaviest song on here though it does cover a lot of ground in nine and a half minutes.
Overall, this is an album that may be easy to overlook but ultimately comes through as a strong prog rock release. At this point, it is hard to tell how Weather Systems compares to its predecessor but it is certainly equal in stature if not outright superior. Just turn it up and enjoy the weather.
“Untouchable, Part 1”
“Untouchable, Part 2”
“The Storm Before The Calm”
“The Beginning And The End”
What I mean by this slightly provocative title (other than that it sounds pretty cool), is that this album is a very logical progression from its predecessor, bringing multiple new elements, but also in a way refers a bit further back to the past. If you're unfamiliar with Anathema, or at least their recent history, the atmosphere of their albums was always quite dark, even though their style greatly evolved and changed, starting from the full-on death/doom of the early releases, to the subtle but incredibly melancholic melodies of A Natural Disaster. After a long break, however, We're Here Because We're Here was released. While musically it was a continuation of its predecessor, suddenly (if we can say that about an album released after seven years) the masters of melancholy wrote an album so optimistic that most people were quite certainly surprised.
Weather Systems continues in that direction, but definitely refers to the past themes, especially loss, more than once, except this time from a completely different angle. Albums like Judgement and A Natural Disaster were full of despair and regret, this one is basically about dealing with them and finding peace. Therefore, a large part of the album is quite monumental and even dramatic but in a very positive way, similarly to We're Here Because We're Here, but this time the band brings back some melancholy and uncertainty, such as in The Beginning and The End, which is a little reminiscent of Pressure from A Fine Day to Exit with its slow piano-driven verses, but with a much more dramatic feel and absolutely powerful vocals (which deserve a separate paragraph). The album's centrepiece, called The Storm Before The Calm (courtesy of the drummer John Douglas), also begins in a darker mood until the coming of the "storm"; an electronic wall of noise, a very unusual idea for Anathema, which in a way splits the song in two, until the "calm" section comes, beginning another, this time much happier-sounding, crescendo.
While possibly the most progressive track in here, it's not the only long, epic piece on the album. The album ends with two more of these, which are both by far my favourite tracks on Weather Systems. The Lost Child is possibly the most melancholic track on the album, being heavily piano-driven; Internal Landscapes is much more optimistic and dynamic, with the amazing vocal duo of Vincent Cavanagh and Lee Douglas cooperating together. Both are built in what appears to be Anathema's favourite song structure, beginning quietly and building up until a climax near the end, which also concerns several other songs on the album, such as the two "sister" songs in the middle, called Lightning Song and Sunlight; both are shorter tracks beginning with an acoustic guitar, and building up until a heavier, more rocking ending. The two also leave the lead vocal role to the band's two other singers, the former being sung entirely by Lee Douglas, the latter by Daniel Cavanagh. The entire trio gets to share The Gathering of The Clouds, a very interesting short song with complex vocal layers and acoustic guitars, while the album's opener, Untouchable, is divided into two parts: the second, more delicate one given to Lee Douglas, while the first, monumental and powerful like Thin Air from the previous album, to Vincent Cavanagh.
I have intentionally left the issue of vocals for later, as they are an incredibly powerful and important point of the album. While Vincent Cavanagh's singing was always full of emotion and power, this album is not just his best performance to date; it's one of the most amazing things I have ever heard. His voice goes everywhere from subtle and calm as in The Lost Child, to absolutely majestic and heart-melting as in Untouchable Part 1 or The Beginning and The End. He hasn't lost anything of his passion from the earlier albums, but his skills have developed significantly in the recent years, and he hits notes on Weather Systems which are quite clearly beyond what he was capable of in the past. Also, the same as on We're Here Because We're Here, Lee Douglas has a more prominent role on the album, being both the second lead and backing vocalist on several songs; her sweet and delicate voice makes the optimistic parts of the album sound even more pleasant, but she is also capable of singing in a much more dramatic way, as in The Lost Child. The two are accompanied vocally by Daniel Cavanagh, whose voice is much more subtle, providing an interesting contrast to Vincent's majestic, dominating voice.
The instrumental side, however, is not less great. While, as usual, the music is mainly guitar-driven by Daniel's and Vincent's energetic riffs and beautiful melodies, once again they're not afraid to let the piano take the lead role on several tracks. John Douglas' drumming compliments them perfectly, adding even more energy when it is necessary, but knowing when to be subtle and let the music breathe; also, Untouchable Part 1 and The Gathering of The Clouds have a guest performance of Wetle Holte on drums, and especially the former sounds excellent and energetic. The bass this time is primarily played by the producer, Christer-André Cederberg, with the rest being divided between the three Cavanagh brothers; however, as usual, it has primarily a supporting role in the music. Furthermore, this album also continues the use of orchestral elements, which appear on several on the songs, and perfectly add even more depth to the sound. Despite the complexity of the song arrangements, the sound never appears to be "overcrowded"; the production of the album is very good, giving space to each of the instruments and allowing the music to shine to its full potential.
Overall, if you couldn't stand what Anathema had been doing prior to this album, it's rather unlikely that Weather Systems will change your mind. It has some subtle elements referring to the past and slightly darker moments, but it also demonstrates clearly that the band is not going to leave the direction they've chosen several years ago. It's an album that manages to be quite complex, but also very catchy; monumental and subtle; clever and emotional; but most of all...
...it sounds like a band having a lot of fun writing and playing music, and it makes the album incredibly powerful.
Going into this album, I had no idea what to expect. Prior to listening to it, the only things I had heard by Anathema were Eternity and the first song from Serenades. Other than that, all I really knew about Anathema was that they used to be this really heavy death/doom band and then got really soft and emotional. Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Tiamat also went through a major change in sound from Sumerian Cry to their newer gothic/atmospheric stuff and I find all of their work to be enjoyable. To say the least, I wasn't expecting a cespool of sellout garbage from this album.
After a few listens, I'd have to say that this album is fantastic. It has pretty much everything one would want from this type of music. Excellent and somewhat minimalistic competitions with emotional and soothing vocal performances from every singer steal the show with Weather Systems. This album something to be felt and experienced, not just listened to. Lyrically, the band manages to capture a perfect combination of sadness, hope, and longing that merges with the music perfectly. It's also worth noting that the lyrics in some songs have this parallelism that flows very well and eliminates any abruptness that could distort the music.
Speaking of distortion, some of the most orgasmic moments on the album are when they come in with some light distortion on the riffs. A notable moment would be near the end of "Lightning Song." For the most part, the distorted riffs seem to be in the vein of what happens when pop punk bands try to be emotional. The main difference here is that when Anathema does it, it's damn effective and actually emotional. I also like the fact that these passages are used sparingly enough that they maintain their punch every time they come in.
A few songs on the album really stood out to me. "Gathering of the Clouds" caught my interest quickly with its mournful introduction that soon morphs into a mystifying acoustic melody with vocal harmonies that tug at the strings of your soul. The song evolves on itself and starts adding some strings in the background. And then there's the final song, "Internal Landscapes." The introduction and conclusion of that song is one of the creepiest things I've ever heard. And at the same time, it's also one of the most inntriguing and calming things I've ever heard. It's a man talking about his own suicide and then describing the feeling of death. It sets an interesting mood for the song that kept my attentions for the whole thing.
So, if you didn't figure it out already, I really like this album. The only real flaw I can find is that at a few moments it gets a bit too emotional, not enough to ruin the whole thing, and the bass never really stood out for me. Overall, I'd definitely recommend getting this album if you can appreciate softer music.
My relationship with Anathema took a backseat after ‘A fine Day to Exit’, an album I rushed out to buy but ultimately never got into. They were progressing rapidly and I couldn’t accept it. ‘We’re here because we’re here’ then hit the shelves years later and I decided to give them the benefit of a doubt and parted with my money once again. Needless to say I was not disappointed. What a powerful album and record of 2010 for me.
So is Anathema ready to shock once again? Well, not really. There was hardly going to be any huge change in style. I’d say there is less rocking out on this one replaced by lots of synth, orchestration and fingerpicked guitar lines that drive the tracks. There is the odd spurt of distortion but I think they would have omitted it if they thought they could have got away with such a brash move. If you like crescendos you’re in for a treat as they feature in half of the tracks. Christer-Andre Cederberg picks up some bass guitar duties as well as producing the album. Nothing to complain about really, everything is polished and clear.
‘Untouchable part 1’ is a great opener with a fast acoustic arpeggio not unlike Fleetwood Macs ‘Big Love’ (by Danny Cavanagh’s own admission if you dig around on youtube). Vincent’s vocals are clear and powerful, I love the sentiment in his voice. Once the drums kick in and the build up is complete, things calm down and it flows to the next track seamlessly where piano takes over the theme. On ‘lightning song’ Lee Douglas takes the lead on vocals. She has brought a great dynamic to the band and I’ve always enjoyed the harmonies her and Vincent trade. She sounds better than ever with more confidence than on the earlier outings. ‘The storm before the Calm’ explores new territory with a kind of electro prog beat to begin with and later yet another climactic outburst with violins and strings. Not entirely convinced of this one, but it maybe goes with the territory with Anathema now signed to the Prog orientated label K-Scope.
Lyrically the band explores the light and dark aspects of being human. Our mortality. There is a fair amount of brooding going on, like a mid-life crisis on record, but ultimately you can be uplifted by the experience. They bring you on a journey through the dusk and into the light at the other side. Final track ‘Internal Landscapes’ follows a similar line to a track on ‘We’re here because we’re here’ with a narrative based song, this time about a near death experience. It tugs at the heartstrings and sums up Anathemas life affirming message they’ve been putting across for a while now.
In reality there is nothing dramatically new here in retaliation to 2010s masterpiece. It’s emotional, clean cut and friendlier than ever. Expect a natural progression and some great passionate moments that Anathema do so well.
One can view Anathema's career trajectory as a passionate evolution from a sorrowful awareness of life's tragedy and despair to a blissful embrace of the beauty and joy of living - from mournful realization to ethereal transcendence. Their ninth album, Weather Systems, continues the life-affirming sound and concept of We're Here Because We're Here, but achieves an even more inspirational, enveloping, uplifting sound as well as a more consistently engaging quality of songwriting, substantially correcting the mostly inconsequential imperfections of the previous album. The songs are more unified to the album's defining theme, the connection between natural landscapes, universal forces, and the introspective thought patterns of the human mind. The sound is even more resplendent, continuously ascending in sonorous atmospheres towards realizations of overwhelming beauty.
"Inside this cold heart is a dream
that's locked in a box that I keep
buried a hundred miles deep
deep in my soul in a place that's surrounded by aeons of silence"
The intuitionist composition identifiable in this band's music from their origins emphasizes radiant melodies and perceptive arrangements, fueled by the primary intention to elevate the emotions of the listener, to direct one's thoughts to the deepest awareness of pure feeling and establish a more intimate connection with the soul in universal and individual experience. Impassioned and dynamic melodies weave their way through elegant structures in penetrating songs of breathtaking beauty. Throughout the album, the band demonstrates their familiar remarkable application of contrasting elements, each song reflecting in its form a harmony of contradictions, darkness and illumination, the joy of new beginnings and the sorrow of departure, delightful wonder and dreadful recognition. Lushly orchestrated in elaborate yet elegant forms, the songs captivate through melody and expansive atmosphere, wonderfully enhanced by exquisite orchestral arrangements and gorgeous vocal harmonies. The music is overflowing with vivid power and compelling emotional intensity, consistently rising towards epic culminations. The opening two-part "Untouchable", "Lightning Song", "Sunlight", "The Beginning and the End", and "The Lost Child" each build to incredible passionate charges before gliding to a fading reflection. They create spectacular soundscapes, particularly the vast 9-minute journey "The Storm Before the Calm", which expands from the dark, anxious suspense of its first half into a blossoming, spacious, magnificent revelation. What they aimed for as a finale for We're Here Because We're Here is more effectively achieved with the closing "Internal Landscapes", which perceptively employs a sampled spoken word piece (Joe Geraci's account of a near-death experience) as an introductory establishment of the song's melancholic yet heartfelt mood, which develops into an overwhelmingly emotional and vastly atmospheric track that provides the album a fantastic sense of closure, bringing together the album's themes in a final resolution of acceptance, belief, love, power, awakening...everything. As always anticipated with Anathema, these are emotionally challenging songs, but the inspirational harmonic quality and the vibrancy of melodic enrichment has not been this brilliant since 1999's Judgement.
"Fight for what you believe in
Dare to live your dream
In this life don't be afraid of yourself
Don't be afraid"
The splendid vocal harmonies are the band's best yet. The sparkling voice of Lee Douglas is given a more substantial role on this album, providing a more pronounced source of expressive variety. She shines gloriously as the lead voice in "Lightning Song", perhaps her best work since joining Anathema. Vincent Cavanagh's voice is strong, confident, richly expressive, completely unified with the emotional fabric of each song's melodic definition, particularly in "Untouchable Part 1" and "Internal Landscapes", beautifully accompanied and accented by Douglas. In "The Beginning and the End" and "The Lost Child", his voice gradually rises in tone from clam awareness to desperate pleading, reminiscent of his performance on classics such as "One Last Goodbye" and "Inner Silence". The tender dialogue between the singers in "Untouchable Part 2" enhances the somber beauty of the song, while in "The Gathering of the Clouds" they soar in melodic tandem over a fast-picked acoustic guitar, demonstrating excellent harmonic diversity. Guitarist Daniel Cavanagh takes the lead vocal role in the shimmering "Sunlight", his gentle and soothing expression outshining any of his previous performances as a lead vocalist. Daniel's guitar-work is phenomenal throughout, from his delicate acoustic finger-picking in "Untouchable Part 1", "Lightning Song" and "Sunlight", to his immaculate clean guitar melodies and his soulful, yearning solo in "The Beginning and the End". The past decade of Anathema music has been tragically deprived of Daniel's utterly fantastic solos, and his work in "The Beginning and the End" ranks among his best. The London session orchestra adds a variety of light and shade to defining melodies of guitar, piano, and vocals, arranged to subtly enhance rather than establish a song's primary theme. John Douglas provides the supporting foundation to this ethereal and elegant sound, bringing a much-needed dimension of rhythmic stability and force. His intense, frantic percussive energy in "Lightning Song" and "Sunlight" elevates the music with vibrant power. Anathema's music is all about melody and atmosphere, but the rhythmic constructions ground these components in the reality of motion; the music moves in a reflection of life's fluctuating patterns, dynamically portraying the relation between movements of thoughts and feelings, and the actions arising therefrom.
"Time is not what it would seem
The life we live is like a dream
Release belief, let it wash over me
Let love reveal what I feel"
Blessed with their most representative and detailed studio production, Weather Systems is yet another musical advancement for Anathema. Like every other album they've released, it is purposeful, emotional, sincere, and the result of marvelous artistic vision. Though they have increasingly adapted their approach to a more accessible style, they have appropriated only the most ambitious ranges of the popular form, while managing to completely avoid the superficial appeal, emotional vacancy, and evasive apathy associated with mainstream music. In fact, one could make the case that this is Anathema's most expansive work of emotional resolution. Their program has developed into an embrace of life as a whole, with all of its affections, sorrows, joy and sadness, driven by a genuine desire to relate the essential human realities of life and death, longing and energy, and the profound inner dimensions of the spirit. Once fearing and mourning the inevitability of death, Anathema now accepts death as a fundamental part of human experience from which one can discover a sublime awareness of the preciousness of a life so full of hopes and dreams, yet so fragile and fleeting. Yes, they have found faith in love, not in the shallow sense of the typical romantic pop-song, but in the energy of human affection that makes one feel like it can never end, the connection that exposes the principle of individuation as an illusion and transforms fear into inspiration. This is an exceptional album from a continuously amazing band, music that radiates meaningful artistic creation and a passion for the beauty and power of musical expression.
Going back around this time two years ago, I remember first listening to ANATHEMA's 'We're Here Because We're Here' and finding myself surprised. It wasn't that it was some great leap of quality that startled me- in fact, I had loved their previous album 'A Natural Disaster'. Where ANATHEMA caught me off guard was the tone, or 'mood' of the music. In the several year cooldown period between their seventh and eighth records, Anathema had inverted their trademark dreariness for something that sounded much more fresh than it admittedly should have; a sense of optimism. This more harmonious, hope-filled approach is continued on 'Weather Systems'. Like all great sequels, this one builds upon the previous work's strengths in every way, solving many of the last record's problems as a result. In the end, 'Weather Systems' does not stand only as a successful maturation of the style cultivated on 'We're Here Because We're Here', but one of the brightest moments this band has ever experienced.
Like 'We're Here Because We're Here', the resurrected ANATHEMA's sound is accessible, but in more of an ambient, rather than a 'pop' sense. To elaborate on this, the music enjoys rich orchestrations and ambitious structure, yet ultimately demands little from the listener, save for an openness to emotional suggestion. In truth, by progressive rock standards, the compositions are straightforward, but complexity has never been an aim for ANATHEMA. 'Weather Systems' is an album that would be nothing without its melody and vast atmosphere, and both are supplied in overwhelming quality.
Christer-André Cederberg gives ANATHEMA their greatest production job yet, correcting the somewhat treble-centric Steven Wilson mix of the last. The instrumentation benefits the most from the production quality, with many subtleties in the mix that won't get noticed by the average earphone or computer speaker set. Although ANATHEMA have all but absolved themselves of their metal leanings at this point, the music is far from mellow, often with many things going on at once. Somehow though, ANATHEMA never demand anything of the listener, and no matter how lush the string section or vocal harmonies get, 'Weather Systems' remains an album that instantly lets the listener fly.
It takes barely a minute into the gorgeous first segment of 'Untouchable' to know what 'Weather Systems' is all about. The album takes no time to get going, quickly pulling in a listener with a slick acoustic fingerpicking idea, courtesy of guitarist Danny Cavanagh. Vincent Cavanagh's vocals are soft at first, but as the rest of the band comes into play, a cinematic intensity is built until the point where it's damned near impossible to resist the emotional power of it. Although the orchestration is at times mindboggling, the true highlight of ANATHEMA remains the beautiful vocal work and accompanying melodies. In a nearly hyperbolic contrast from the doom-n-gloom 'Alternative 4' and earlier, there is nary a dreary word sung by any of the band's three vocalists. More than ever before, ANATHEMA focus in on harmonies in the vocals, and it works perfectly with the equally vast instrumentation. On a less positive note, the lyrics are not particularly engaging, generally falling upon credos of optimistic imagery and the recurring motif of nature, as reflected by the album's title. For what it's worth, the lyrics do work for the soaring sound of the band, and when they don't, it's not enough to detract from the rich atmosphere the rest of the music has created.
'The Gathering of the Clouds' continues where 'Untouchable' left off, without much of a noticeable gap between the two. Comparing natural imagery to a state of mind, ANATHEMA veer the album down a more melancholic route, all the while putting an even greater emphasis on vocal harmony and counterpoint. Within three minutes, ANATHEMA have worked enough orchestrations into the song that they could have fed a song twice its length. 'Lightening Song' plays on the momentum, but reins the intensity in a little, leaving it to Lee Douglas' gorgeous voice to reclaim the feeling of serenity. Lodged in the middle of the album, 'Sunlight' is arguably the least memorable track on the album, keeping the mood and orchestrations consistent and enjoyable, yet failing to add any new surprises to the already-magnificent string of songs so far.
Besides the five minute, 'single-worthy' tune 'The Beginning And The End', the second half of 'Weather Systems' is left up to longer-form compositions. Having found myself pretty damned disappointed by the so-called 'epics' on 'We're Here Because We're Here', I had my apprehensions when I got to this point in the album the first time around, and while 'The Storm Before The Calm' does not enjoy the same stirring melodies as those that came before, the atmosphere and sonic beauty are just as strong and beautiful. 'The Storm Before The Calm' does feel as if it could use a minute's shortening, but in fairness, the piece may have been best cut in two, with the first track comprising the trance-like rhythm built up over the course of five minutes, and the second devoted to the refreshing return-to- form ANATHEMA use to wrap up the piece.
'The Beginning and the End' sees 'Weather Systems' following an increasingly dark path, with one of the band's most memorable guitar ideas driving the song along. Although the song is surprisingly based around a single idea, it never feels tired, constantly building up in intensity until its climax. Finally, 'Weather Systems' arrives at my absolute favourite track off the album. Although at least one person I have talked to about the album has cited it as one of their least favourite tracks, 'The Lost Child' holds some of the most beautiful melodies I have ever heard. The piano plays softly and simply, and the introspective melancholy is reminiscent of the same dreary atmosphere Radiohead often evokes. The string section that has been so far lodged in the background is thrust to the forefront, and by the piece's devastating zenith around the five minute mark, there's little to do but sit in emotional shock and awe. Admittedly, the climax's dramatic beauty is offset a bit by the vocals milking the repetition of the words 'save me' towards the end (when you listen, you'll understand), but it's an easy flaw to look past in light of the rest of 'The Lost Child's quivering beauty.
'Internal Landscapes' ends what I consider to be the album of the year thus far on a somewhat mixed note. Although the pleasant ambiance ultimately builds up into a song, it feels as if 'Weather Systems' may have been better with the same concise melodic brilliance that defined the early half of the album. Instead, the first few minutes plod softly along, with some spoken word sample concerning life-after-death and redemption playing overtop. Although the rock-centric meat of 'Internal Landscapes' offers 'Weather Systems' a just and powerful ending, the sparse moments of 'Internal Landscapes' where so little is happening is the only time I would daresay I feel bored when listening to the album. Normally, this less-than-climactic finale would rob an album of being called a masterpiece, and while 'Weather Systems' doesn't see ANATHEMA quite reaching an inhuman perfection with their music, the significant proportion where the music does become inhumanly perfect is reason enough to give it the highest recommendation. Although ANATHEMA do not challenge the listener with this music, they excel at doing what music is most meant to do; evoke emotion. It's easy to say that music is emotional, but when listening to an album can change someone's mood so profoundly, it's reason enough to call it something special.