Anathema – Weather Systems (2012)

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For those already familiar with the band, the evolution of Anathema has been a fascinating one to watch — particularly since coming back from a prolonged absence a few years back. Looking over the entire course of their career, Anathema has basically moved away from their humble beginnings as metallic merchants of doom and gloom, to their present-day status as purveyors of a quite majestic and stately brand of melodic prog-rock.

The thing is, you can’t really put the metal label on these guys at all anymore (although some of their more loyal, longtime fans may still choose to defend it). The songs on their upcoming Weather Systems — to be issued on April 24, 2012 — mostly follow a pretty basic pattern. They are all uniformly long and quite ambitious in scope, many of them beginning with an acoustic intro on either guitar or piano, before moving on to wave upon wave of atmospheric, symphonic sweep. They also sound quite pretty — the type of dreamy stuff that goes down well with a glass of wine, or better yet, a nice fat blunt.

Metal? Hell, some of the stuff on Weather Systems downright borders on new age, albeit with more of a focus on vocals. There is also an all-around better sense of songcraft than say, the synthesizer noodlings of vintage Mannheim Steamroller or Tangerine Dream.

But damn, if this ain’t some awfully purdy sounding stuff. The multiple layered harmonies of “The Gathering of the Clouds” is a perfect case in point. Here, the vocals of Lee Douglas and Vincent Cavanagh dance around the acoustic guitars and light strings like the crackling flames of a bonfire just after dusk. The closet thing I can approximate this to, would be Fragile-era Yes on a song like “We Have Heaven,” only with a lot more force of power behind it.

This soon gives way to “Lightning Song,” which starts off with another of those lilting harmony arrangements, before crashing into a rich assault of overpowering guitars and drums — and probably the closet thing to a metal song you’ll hear on this album.

Weather Systems also seems to be some kind of concept album, although outside of it having something to do with weather and the elements, I can’t for the life of me put my finger on what it’s all about. Regardless of that, Anathema’s creative force Daniel Cavanagh appears to have put some considerable thought behind it. The closing “Internal Landscapes,” a nice sounding, partly spoken word, partly sung piece, also appears to be somewhat pre-occupied with the near-death experience phenomenon.

Whatever the case, it’s all pretty deep stuff, and Anathema themselves clearly take it pretty seriously. The care that went into this album shows through in everything from the production to the packaging (the CD booklet features some gorgeous shots of mother nature in all her havoc-wreaking glory). The arrangements of these songs also have a sophistication to them that is really quite unique for a prog-rock outfit like this. The way the tension builds from quiet beginnings to a glorious crescendo of overwhelming sound on songs like “Sunlight” is simply stunning.

In some ways, Weather Systems might be seen as an extension of Anathema’s 2010, Steven Wilson (damn, that guy is everywhere these days) produced We’re Here Because We’re Here. But it’s really much more than that. This a band that continues to grow exponentially with each new release, both in terms of the songwriting of main-man Cavanagh, and in showing off the rest of the guys as world class musicians and arrangers.

Sadly, this album probably won’t move a whole lot of units for the folks at distributing label K-Scope: The market for symphonic rock like this is limited at best these days. But for those of us who continue to pine for the glory days of Yes and Pink Floyd, Weather Systems is a welcome fix for that prog-rock jones.

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Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd

The Something Else! Reviews webzine, an accredited Google News affiliate, is syndicated through Bing News, Topix and AllAboutJazz.com. The site has been featured in The New York Times, NPR.com's A Blog Supreme, the NoDepression.com Americana site, Popdose.com and JazzTimes, while our writers have also been published by USA Today, Jazz.com, Rock.com, Blues Revue Magazine and UltimateClassicRock.com, among others. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Glen Boyd
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