Anathema are somewhat of a band that has a very distinct two-part career. Their first ten years were heavy rock, crunching guitars and screaming vocals of doom metal. Suddenly a new millennium and a new pitch shift to ethereal rock. “Weather Systems” was released earlier in 2012 and stays firmly in the latter but don’t let this put you off – it is an absolute work of art.
Opening track “Untouchable Part 1” opens up with sublime acoustic guitar over hushed male vocals that slowly envelopes in percussion, bass, female backing vocals and then it bursts into a fantastic kaleidoscope of blurring electric guitars as the track reaches a fever pitch. It’s almost like it hits an epiphany and is born into a new light. It’s this slow building and building to the almighty trashing crescendo that Anathema do so well and its a trait that is firmly splattered all over the album. The outro strings pave way to “Untouchable Part 2” rephrases the four chord structure from before with a piano – something back in the mid 90’s you’d never have dreamt the band would attempt (regardless of how many line up changes you have). The moody duet is then string infused and then embellished into an atmospheric guitar melody for the finale. The two songs sound perfect side by side and really stir the soul.
“The Gathering of Clouds” is the first obvious weather reference complete with storm sound samples as some amazing guitar chops is displayed by the sheer finger picking speed of the acoustic guitar as slow piano and vocal melodies are layered over the top. The juxtapositions of the speeds of the instruments works to great emotional effect for when the rest of the band burst in as the song builds into the sweeping sways of “Lightning Song” which is the first female led song on the album. The interplay of strings and guitars again really push the music up to a real level as each epic song continues to twist the emotional coil. Here its the pulling away of everything but the vocals and strings before the sudden feedback of an electric guitar before the storm of rock takes over the mind. “Sunlight” is equally as beautiful as it is involving with its soft echoes and healing qualities throughout the first half of the track as the drums slowly turn up and then get smashing away in such bountiful joy and rapture its impossible not to get swept in by it and smile in what is obviously such euphoric track. Think Sigur Ros on steroids.
“The Storm Before The Calm” takes a turn for the darker with a much more sinister tone in chords, production and general rockier grit. It’s still heavily reliant on atmosphere and a lot of effects layering instead of chugging out riffs but it’s certainly the most angry the album becomes. It’s also an epic nine and half minutes with an epic final three minutes that feels like something that Queen and Metallica would have put together. “The Beginning And the End” continues the more rockier side of things with impending doom lyrical being waxed over a waltzing barrage of electric guitar as the last torrent of rain thunders down. “The Lost Child” retreats back to the ethereal tendrils of spacious vocals being echoed over downcast pianos and string arrangements. Again by half way the rest of the band are in for a symphonic rock power train of hanging guitar notes, string stabs and crying out vocals as everyone lets their hair loose and rocks out. The closing nine minute track “Internal Landscapes” is a wonderfully ecliptic track of guitar harmonics and keyboards slowly sinking in the background over a gentleman talking about his near death experience. It’s not often that taking a talking sound clip and placing it into a song – not least for two minutes – actually works. Here its given a certain respect and sits perfectly in the sound mix. The slow burning track again showcases what Anathema does best – placing building blocks of instruments atop each other and causing you to distil emotions inside you that take a certain type of music to bring up. It’s almost enlightening.
In some ways, this album reminds me of Iona – only far more rock orientated. It gives me that same peace but without any religious connotations. It’s just peace for being able to live and breathe. That’s life affirming music.