Issue 2012-023: Anathema - Weather Systems - Round Table Review
Tracklist: Untouchable, Part 1 (6:14), Untouchable, Part 2 (5:33), The Gathering Of The Clouds (3:27), Lightning Song (5:25), Sunlight (4:55), The Storm Before The Calm (9:24), The Beginning And The End (4:53), The Lost Child (7:02), Internal Landscapes (8:52)
Dries Dokter's Review
And there it is: the new Anathema album... After the highly acclaimed: We’re Here Because We’re Here and the superb Falling Deeper expectations were high. To me this is THE most anticipated release of the year. I will not build up any suspense: it was well worth the wait. After WHBWH it could not get much better, but it did (kind of).
A large part of this can be attributed to the band’s decision to include Lee Douglas as a full band member. That decision has paid off, big time. Even if you realise that Vincent’s voice has been the watermark of Anathema for so many albums, Lee in a leading role is a splendid choice. It adds even more emotion and depth to the songs. Especially when the 2 sing together on e.g. Untouchable Part 2.
Weather Systems is an emotional album (as are all other Anathema albums) it is however not a cheery euphoric one as We’re Here Because We’re Here. But if you allow it to, it will take you by the hand and guide you through a fantastic landscape of emotions.
Untouchable Part 1 & 2, The Gathering of the Clouds, Lighting Song, were created around the same time as We’re Here Because We’re Here. That does not mean that they are copied off that album, but there is a certain feel to them that echoes the music of WHBWH. It is around the time that the father of the three Cavanagh brothers passed away and this of course influenced their music. Yet those three songs are more soothing they have a comforting reassuring mood.
Sunlight is an track that starts of all acoustic that builds up towards the end with more guitars and small loops of the electric guitar of Danny. Ending in acoustic guitar again. A typical Anathema track.
Storm Before The Calm is a good example of how Anathema will not be tied to one specific type of music but will just do what comes naturally at a certain moment in time (pun intended). The start of the track has a very similar atmosphere as a Pure Reason Revolution track due to the vocal harmonies, the drum computers and the electronic sound. But the second half of the song quickly erases that notion. That second half might well be one of the best pieces of music Anathema ever made... Guitars, Piano, Vocals - emotional lyrics - tying it together with the first part is only something certain bands manage to do, Anathema being one of them...
The Beginning And The End was offered as a free download to members of the Anathema mailing list. This track did set certain expectations for the upcoming album, which is a bit strange mainly because it is very different from the other tracks. It is a track that points back to Anathema’s previous work, around the time of Judgement. This track has quickly become one of my favourite Anathema tracks. Complex in its simplicity, superb lyrics, building towards a climax by intensifying the repeating melody and then finally: the weeping guitar solo. Cooling down to just the piano again.
The Lost Child, is easily one of the most touching songs Anathema have made, a song to sit down to and be overwhelmed by the emotions conveyed. The first time I heard it, sitting on the couch, in the dark, tears rolled down my cheeks. The fragile voice of Vincent, accompanied by a string arrangement. “Save me, Save me, Save me”...
Internal Landscape starts of with the voice of Joe Geraci, who tells the story of his near death experience. And because of that, this track has very personal meaning, since someone very dear to me had a near death experience and told to me that indeed Joe Geraci’s story very much sounds like her own experience. Since then and to me, this track has become about her story. It is how many of the Anathema songs work, becoming an expression of your own emotions. Musically this track has parallels to the last track of WHBWH, and like Hindsight, Internal Landscapes is a worthy closer of a superb album.
The limited edition of this album comes with great artwork, great photographs in the booklet and an extra DVD that contains a 5.1 mix of the album. As with We’re Here Because We’re Here, this 5.1 mix adds new dimensions to the songs. Adding melodies and loops that are not on the stereo version of the album. The good thing is: where songs are meant to be intimate, they stay exactly that (e.g. Untouchable Part 2). The Gathering Of The Crowds works even better in a 5.1 version: all the different vocal lines on different channels really works well. Lightning Song with extra echoes and even clearer strings. Sunlight is the one track that I think suffers in 5.1 as there is a bit too much echo and the vocals too far in the back. Whereas The Storm Before The Calm is another track that becomes richer and more complex in a 5.1 mix, using instruments and sounds that are not used in the stereo mix. The Beginning And The End is very much like the stereo version but divided over more channels, the lyrics are a bit further away in the mix (and it appears a different version). The 5.1 mix of The Lost Child is more open, more intimate and even more impressive. Internal Landscape stays close to the stereo mix too, with quite a different guitar in one of the rear channels.
I started by saying that this album was “kind of” better than WHBWH. “Kind of”, because it is at least just as good, but different, and yes: better. But how can one compare two masterpieces together? After We’re Here Because We’re Here Anathema created another one. When you go out, (not if, when), to buy Weather Systems, make sure to get the limited edition!
Basil Francis' Review
A prog band that's mainstream enough to appear in my local HMV; immediately my cynical brain starts whirring. I carefully place my promo CD into the drive and the disc begins to spin. From the first few seconds of the opening track, Untouchable, I can see exactly how they have managed to achieve this fine balance.
The album begins with fast-paced acoustic guitar picking to enunciate the simple chord progression, accompanied by the mellifluous sound of Vincent Cavanagh's vocals. This all feels quite repetitive, but the stirring background music points to something heavy. Sure enough, by the end of the song, the band are still continuing on the same chord progression, but now they are bursting with energy, the rhythm seeming to send a pulse through one's body. This is all quite pretty, although the production is not quite as crisp as you might like it. It's a good stirring song to start the album.
In quick succession, the second part of Untouchable follows, with fellow singer Lee Douglas displaying her beautiful melodic voice. Yet again, we continue on the same chord progression, and by the end of the song, it gets heavy again, before dying off.
Already, I've started to see a pattern, and sure enough, it continues for the rest of the album. Essentially, Anathema seem to have two dynamic settings: a) building up to a heavy part and b) a heavy part. Moreover, they choose to stick to the same four chords (or thereabouts) within each track, meaning that their song structures are perfectly see through. I like a bit of challenge in my prog, and this just seems a bit too accessible.
On the other hand, it is a sickeningly pretty album. While not absolutely crisp, the production is otherwise very lush, and the string accompaniment goes to good use. The set of four chords used each time rarely fails to bring out a powerful tune, and the rhythm drives it all the way home.
Honestly, this album is a bit of an enigma to me. Like Flying Colors' debut album a few weeks ago, I can't help overanalysing the music rather than listen to the pretty sounds. It's clear that the music is made to be accessible, so it's just a shame that I can't find accessible music that accessible anymore. I can wholeheartedly see the appeal of pretty music, but it's not quite enough to quench my progressive thirst. While Anathema are not anathema to me, they just aren't really my thing.
Erik Laan's Review
Anathema fans can enjoy quite some productivity of the brothers Cavanagh these days. After all, it was silent around this English post-progband for five years in the period 2003 – 2008. After this period in anonymity, in the recent years 2008-2012 they released four excellent albums. Some might say that two of these CDs – Hindsight and Falling Deeper – don’t really count, as they consist largely of new versions of their own songs which were released years ago with entirely different arrangement (Anathema started years ago as a death and doom metal band, gradually lost its “metallic” characteristics). However, artistically also these two “self cover” albums are of a really high level. Especially Hindsight ranks high in my favourite albums of all times.
The same is true for We’re Here Because We’re Here, released in 2010. This successful album finally put Anathema on the radar of quite a larger group of people than, let’s say, DPRP readers. Expectations ran high on internet, from the growing number of Anathema fans, about the next studio album, especially after the band released The Beginning And The End as a very promising freely downloadable appetizer some weeks before the official release of the entire album.
And I must say, Weather Systems does not disappoint. This album feels like a natural sequel to its predecessor. Both albums easily could have been part of one double album. This is also true for the lyrics, which again reflect an interest in issues of life and death. Especially about the afterlife I should add, as exemplified in Internal Landscapes, in which a man tells about his near death experience. Apparently, his testimony, made in a documentary in 1981, is authentic and the band even successfully found the person in question.
Although the music is predominantly sad and intense, the compositions are also about the comfort, company and hope that people can give each other. It’s the melancholic atmosphere, in combination with earthly, warm and acoustic arrangements and nostalgic melodies which grabs you by the throat. An extra bonus in this regard is the emotional but crystal clear voice of Lee Douglas which is especially breathtaking on Lightning Song.
With Weather Systems, you could say that Anathema has succeeded in reconciling their traditional heavy side with their search for warm, acoustic sounds, as they did so successfully on Hindsight. You could even say they developed their own song format. All of the songs start with a simple, acoustic and natural sounding theme – be it a guitar, piano or strings – after which we hear vocals entering on a low tone, the we hear the drums and guitars gradually growing into a crescendo, the vocals go an octave up, supported by increasingly heavy distorted guitars and crashes on cymbals. Then the song ends.
I must say this formula works, but it is more dominant than on former albums on which we had more original outbreaks from the format. Although the psychotic Storm Before The Calm is an exception as well, the rest of the songs are more predictable than we would expect on earlier works. I would have hoped for a bit more innovative and sometimes slightly dissonant tracks such as Sunset Of Age (on Falling Deeper) or the instrumental desperation expressed with the guitar solo on Hindsight (on We’re Here...). It is for this reason that I rank We’re Here... just a little bit higher than the newest Anathema.
Nevertheless, Anathema is still at lonely heights when it comes to delivering convincing, authentic and honest compositions with the ability to evoke emotions to the listener. Again, Anathema has released an outstanding album and I hope it will be rewarded by its fans and end up high in the charts.