Friday, June 8, 2012

Anathema - Weather Systems

Weather Systems
Kscope Music/Snapper Music Label

Liverpool (U.K.) atmospheric/progressive rock outfit Anathema are undoubtedly in their prime at this point in their career. Their last three full-length albums (2008’s ‘Hindsight’, 2010’s ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ and 2011’s ‘Falling Deeper’) have not only seen the band enter a new phase of their lengthy career in terms of direction, but creatively as well, with each one of the above mentioned releases regarded as modern era Anathema classics. Obviously keen to keep the momentum going, and still very much in a creative state of mind, Anathema (Who comprise of lead vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist/programmer/bassist Vincent Cavanagh, lead vocalist Lee Douglas, guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist/programmer/bassist Danny Cavanagh, bassist Jamie Cavanagh and drummer/keyboardist/programmer John Douglas) have returned with a rather quick follow up to their album from last year in ‘Weather Systems’.
Given the direction that Anathema has taken on their last three releases, it’s not all that surprising to see the band remain true to the same direction and mood on their latest effort. But having said that, ‘Weather Systems’ (Their eleventh full-length album) does have enough of its own character and identity to distance itself from their last couple of studio releases, to stand out. The question is - How does it fare against their undisputed run of classic releases of recent times?
And the answer is pretty damn well, with the opening track ‘Untouchable Part 1’ definitely one of the album’s real stand-out cuts. Starting out with the finger picked acoustic guitar work and Vincent’s powerful emotive vocals, the song gently builds up layer by layer with more and more instrumentation (Including the now familiar subtle orchestration (The London Session Orchestra was recorded by Steve Price and produced by Dave Stewart) to really build up the sound), before drawing to a climatic symphonic close. Without a moment’s pause, ‘Untouchable Part 2’ ushers in a reprise of the song’s main melody with Vincent singing over piano, before Douglas joins Vincent out front, with the duo’s harmonised voices adding a real sensitivity to the song to match the acoustic/orchestral musical accompaniment.
‘The Gathering Of The Clouds’ doesn’t stray too far from the format of the opening two tracks, with the dual vocal melodies over acoustic finger picked guitars and lush orchestration creating a dense arrangement that comes across as both complex and simplistic at the same time, while on the former track’s second half ‘Lightning Song’, Douglas takes on the lead vocal role with confidence and class.
Despite a solid performance from Daniel Cavanagh, and coming across as one of the album’s heavier sounding efforts, ‘Sunlight’ is a little unremarkable and one of the album’s least memorable. The lengthy ‘The Storm Before The Calm’ is one of the album’s more experimental efforts with the first half of the nine minute track boasting programmed electronic beats and effects that take on a greater role, which in turn gives the song a darker and colder feel to the band’s more upbeat and emotive material, while the second half is a Pink Floyd-like epic with stunning instrumentation that work in tandem with the understated melodic and classic lead guitar solos.
Outside the former track, the piano based ‘The Beginning And The End’ is another highlight in terms of guitar work, with Daniel given plenty of space to provide an extended solo without being overshadowed, while treading in a similar path is the follow on track ‘The Lost Child’, with its piano led melancholy coming across as a real moment of beauty that could only work in the hands of Anathema.
Finishing up the album is ‘Internal Landscapes’, which not unlike ‘Hindsight’ from ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’, is another lengthy track that features some spoken word samples (A spiritual near death experience as told by Joe Geraci) to give the album a heartfelt life affirming message that’s become the centre of Anathema’s lyrical themes these days.
Although a few tracks slip below the standard set by Anathema’s last few albums, ‘Weather Systems’ is still a stunning album on its own, and strong enough to maintain the band’s status as virtually untouchable by fellow acts within the same musical realm.

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© Justin Donnelly