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We're here because of a natural disaster - 97%

TheLiberation, April 16th, 2013

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.