Age is a wearying thing. It is a complex process that endears itself upon you the more you experience it. Anathema are undergoing that process now. From beginnings so stratospheric within their chosen genre, a change of pace and scenery could be seen as a meekness, a foetal surrender to the mundane stylings of middle age. But I don't see it as such.
Sure, Anathema were trail blazers in the doom metal scene. However by the time Silent Enigma came along, the heavier sounds were beginning to be replaced with the seeds of post-rock, a road that they travelled till it ran out for them with the release of 2010's We're Here Because We're Here. My personal favourite was A Natural Disaster, sonically they achieved a mint of a compromise between melody, heavy metal post-rock, and lyrical integrity. A balance that is incredibly hard to strike, and probably only comes around once in a bands career.
It's now 2012. The Cavanagh brothers are in their late 30s, and the post/prog/instrumental (whatever the hell you want to call it) rock scene they helped lay foundations for and build brick by brick has seemingly run its vogue. The renaissance of the movement in the early 1990s (on the back of the explosion of grunge) is still chugging away patiently, but beginning to lose ground.
Weather Systems begins with an acousitc guitar, and Vincent harmonising over it. I have grown my hair for nothing! How will I head bang to this? But do not despair. There is much here for the listener with a discerning ear and a love of the melodic capabilities of this band. Stepping out from behind the heavy guitars does not diminish the epicness that these guys can create. The voice of Vincent Cavanagh is an absolute gem on this album, he replaces the need for heavily layered guitars bashing out huge chords with his sheer presence. It transmits such a state of emotion upon the listener, the way in which great post-rock bands are able to do with their instruments. The first two tracks, Untouchable Parts 1 and 2, are perfect examples of where this band has come from and is going. Both start inauspiciously, Part 2 with a slow and subtle piano lick with vocals sliding in strongly, as Vincent asks 'Why I should feel this way, why I should feel the same. Something I cannot say, something I can't explain. I feel you, outside at the edge of my life'. The strings cut in, and an acoustic guitar accompanies Lee Douglas' flawless (yet slightly weaker) voice as she sings back, a duet! The harmony they create when they sing together is actually quite stunning. You may have been concerned you'd hear a similar beginning to their last album, which sounded like a brother and sister from a country town writing farm songs together. Not this time, thank god.
And I'm not at any stage suggesting that these boys have thrown out their electric guitars and resorted to a Mumford and Sons love in. Lightning song teases with a simple drum and guitar combo, with strings skipping merrily along in the background. But it's called Lightning Song. So, at 3:15, the heavens open and the guitars descend with monumental effect. Just imagine walking along a moonlit plain somewhere in the middle of America, getting absolutely drenched with rain, screaming along to the crashing of the guitars. The imagery is still there. Sunlight follows a very similar path, a nicely weighted acoustic riff is impeded by a gently building wall of guitar noise that peaks at.. You guessed it! 3:15.The Storm Before The Calm is the albums strongest track, even if it does feel like a left over song from their previous record. Over the course of the 9 minutes you're taken through at least 3 separate songs, with a brilliant feedback interlude in the middle that introduces the calm. The intensity just builds as Vincent rattles off a series of lyrical pearls, culminating in: 'This beautiful feeling soars over the skies, Moving through my body out my mind, It rises up and floods my brain, This is fucking insane, This is fucking insane' before EXPLODING in to a collection of riffs that Slash would be proud of. Great track, best on the album.
The only criticism that I could level is the rigidity of structure that the rest of the record follows. Tracks 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, and 9 are all different in their own way, but it's this start small and build formula that irks me only slightly. It reminds me of the way Limp Bizkit used to write songs. And that isn't a whole-hearted criticism anyway, I love Limp Bizkit. The thing I loved about A Natural Disaster was the variety of action that Anathema employed. One minute you're flying along with Vincent above the cloud, the next minute you're plummeting to the depths of doom metal, the next you're skimming along the surface of a deep blue ocean with the wind in your ears. You weren't sure where you were going. On Weather Systems, the music is a straight road with a well known destination. It is a destination you like, you've been to many times before and you look forward to going there again, but it's a journey you know so well. This gradual building of tension culminating in an atmospheric release is a difficult skill to nail, but Anathema have absolutely smacked it on the head.
Weather Systems is a great album. When instrumental rock moves emotion in you, you know it is good. Add in to that mix two extremely skilled vocalists who have the ability to balance your emotions on the knife edge of their next words and delivery, and you have greatness. Anathema have progressed. They may have grown, their sound may have matured, but it is all in the name of progression. They may no longer be trail-blazing a path as they did in their late teens but that is of no negative consequence. This album is brilliant and I adore it.
Best tracks: Untouchable Part 1, Lightning Song, The Storm Before The Calm