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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.