posted on 5/2012 By:
Some bands grow so close it’s as if they’re a family, but Anathema is literally comprised of two broods (three members of the Cavanaugh clan, and two from Douglas) that unite as one distinct element, blending their voices and instruments into one of the most engaging and impassioned sonic palettes ever conceived. Weather Systems is lovely, light-hearted, and the furthest departure from Anathema’s doomy past thus far, and experimental elements fuse almost effortlessly with radiant and resplendent ease. Oh, and it's a pop album. Pure and simple.
“Untouchable, Part 1” and “Untouchable, Part 2” travel the worn path of loneliness, love, and letting go. Clean and deftly played guitar melodies serve as the understated yet integral counterpart to achingly alluring vocals. The style is unmistakably rooted in pop, which can take a bit of getting used to, and the lyrics (which have perhaps always been a bit questionable) are so predictable and stock that I found myself laughing out loud a few times during the album’s tenure. “Lightning Song” contains some of the most saccharine lines, sung by the whimsically honey-voiced Lee Douglas, which include:
“My mind is clear / I have no fear / I shed no tears for you my dear / This world is wonderful, so beautiful, if only you can open up your mind and see.”
The lyrics for this tune are actually so distractingly bad that I had to stop listening to the album for a moment and clear my head of the cotton-candy coating that had seemingly eroded my cerebral cortex. Anathema’s ninth studio album is full of sugary and painfully conventional turns of phrase, but luckily they do not comprise Weather Systems’ entirely. Now that these criticisms are out of the way, let’s discuss what works and works incredibly well.
“Sunlight” doesn’t exactly explore deeper conceptual territory, but it’s a beautiful song that reminded me of what gorgeous and gentle atmospheres Anathema is renowned for. A simple driving pattern on the toms quietly punctuates the finger-picking and the drums crescendo as the guitars adopt layers of distortion. The soothing vocals push to the surface like blossoming flowers stretching expectantly toward the sky, and the major key melodies are warm and bright.
Shadows fall over the sonic landscape with “The Storm Before the Calm”, and the track’s industrial influences reminded me greatly of work done by Trent Reznor. It builds and buzzes, hums and hisses, drones and drawls, until quieting down into strummed guitar and a minimalist drum groove. “The Beginning and the End” continues the album with a solemn piano dirge intro before being joined by poignant complementary clean guitars. Adding distortion is a surefire way to develop strength, and Anathema combines this with Vincent Cavanaugh’s increasingly mournful vocals to create a heartrending yet oddly hopeful piece of music.
As the album moves along, I found myself opening up to the listening experience, and instead of dwelling on questionable lyrical choices, I allowed the emotion of the music to guide my encounters. Still, there seems to be a gloss thrown over most of the album’s production, which kept it from resonating as deeply as some of the band’s previous material. Some of the complexity comes off as overly premeditated, and I couldn’t help but feel as though the band has taken their “inspiring formula” and whittled it down to a detached sort of science.
“Internal Landscapes” begins with a spoken-word narrative of a near-death experience, and Anathema provides hauntingly hushed background music complete with perfectly timed guitar and drum accents, creating some of their most lingering and stunning atmosphere to date. The song takes a fairly expected structural turn, but as the album closes, there are swells and crashes and devastatingly lush layers of expression that hold the listener’s heart in a bittersweet grasp. The track ends the same way it begins, with sparse instrumentation and powerful narration, concluding with the words, “I could say that I was peace. I was love. I was the brightness. It was part of me.” After this story is shared, the clouds of contemplative gloom slowly part, making way for fragile hope to faintly appear as the album fades into silence.
Anathema still creates exquisite atmosphere, but people who are holding out for another masterpiece in the same vein as Judgement will be waiting until the grave. This is basically a brilliantly executed experimental pop record, and there’s very little justification in calling it metal, post-metal, or even progressive rock. If I had to compartmentalize this album into a genre, I’d say it’s a strange and often melancholic blend of progressive atmospheric pop. Its quality is comparable to the masterful We’re Here Because We’re Here, although I’d argue it’s not quite as strong, and Weather Systems is a familiar-sounding and beautifully textured album that most Anathema enthusiasts will immensely enjoy.
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