This collection of brothers and friends, the Cavanaghs and the Douglases from Liverpool, have spent the last twenty-odd years receding from bellow to mellow and now instead of touring with war machines like Cannibal Corpse you’re more likely to find them gracing the bill with soft-hearted, introspective proggers like Paradise Lost or Porcupine Tree. Weather Systems, Anathema’s ninth studio album is yet one more step towards complete purification and the final draining of their metal blood. Using similar methods to those used on their last release, We’re Here Because We’re Here, the band slowly add layer upon layer of emotion to reach that moment of true impact, and by doing so manage to make their point in the most subtle of ways.
The two-part ‘Unforgettable’ is something of an ambitious introduction; the first part weaving an upsurging, acoustic guitar arpeggio (an instrument you’ll hear plenty of) around Vincent Cavanagh’s velveteen vocals, and the second a piano-led, melancholic boy-girl duet which brings in more of Lee Douglas’ high-pitched, crystalline singing. Sitting up front the tracks feel like a bit of a sore thumb; the kind of demanding songs that would be far easier to swallow further down the playlist.
The rising panic of tracks like ‘The Storm Before The Calm’ and ‘The Gathering’ certainly get the heart racing. The former features an abrupt change of tack, lifting the pace under a deluge of white noise and programmed industrial touches, and the latter needing the reassurance of a few sideways glances at the bigger picture. Which it gets by rubbing shoulders with ‘Lightning Song’, whose violins and acoustic guitar tug at the heartstrings only to walk us – smack! – into the punch of a muted electric guitar strike.
With each track linking back to the central theme, the album forms one steady circuit of the bases to form an enigmatically absorbing home run. You’ll identify with the central character of the piece when he picks up the baton, running with it across the dark inferences of tracks like ‘Sunlight’, ‘The Beginning And The End’ and between the hackneyed monologue of a near-death experience that weighs heavy upon ‘Internal Landscapes’.
Everything is, of course, open to interpretation, but having recently suffered a family bereavement I couldn’t help but see the album as the slow death of a confused and pained soul; a record that I found in some ways upsetting, as the emotions are still raw. Some of the lyrics may be honest but they seem to cut so deep. Viewed at different moments, though, the music proves complex enough to contain a less brutal side and offers several rays of light, so I may come to take comfort from it in the future.
Weather Systems is most certainly a bold move by the band, an attempt to lay bare, with honesty, the emotions that emanate from the subjects of loss, regret, pain and death. As singer Daniel Cavanagh has rightly pointed out, “This is not background music for parties. The music is written to deeply move the listener, to uplift or take the listener to the coldest depths of the soul”. A mission most definitely accomplished.