Anathema // Weather Systems
Rating: 4.5/5.0 — You can take the dirty hippy out of metal, but you can’t take the metal out of the dirty hippy.
Websites: anathema.ws | facebook.com/weareanathema | kscopemusic.com/anathema
Release Dates: EU: 2012.04.16/18 | US: 04.24.2012
It’s safe to say that you’re attracted to metal for one of several reasons and those reasons aren’t really just ’cause you’re a working class kid who wants to wear a leather jacket. No, it’s probably because of the way the music is constructed. For example, you might love metal because of its epic scope. Metal, aside from classical music and jazz, is basically the last of the non-simplistic music forms left (and the only popular one). Whether you like them or hate them bands like Symphony X or Opeth or Wolves in the Throne Room have in common that they build up epic musical landscapes that move the listener. Guitar melodies and complex harmonies might appeal to you or the pulsing beats of music as it chugs forward. That’s also why metal guys seem to have a surprising amount of overlap in non-metal music as well, like Muse. I certainly didn’t think anyone would love Vienna Teng when I reviewed her album—and I’ve received a lot of feedback from metal dudes who really thought that album was golden, because there’s a progressive intelligence to her music that we as metalheads appreciate.
Anathema, despite no longer really being a metal band, has all of those above qualities in spades. Though, it’s safe to say that Weather Systems, the latest in a string of releases from Liverpool’s finest, is the most ‘metal’ of the band’s releases since 1999’s Judgement. But it’s not metal because it’s heavy per se, but it still maintains the heft of a metal band—it’s like you can take the dirty hippy out of metal, but you can’t ever really take the metal out of the dirty hippy. The first track on the record, “Untouchable, Pt. 1”, exemplifies this perfectly. While the song sports nothing particularly metal in the topic (aw, lurve), the music is a steady build up to a head nodding peak in classic Anathema style. And while its musical counterpart “Untouchable, Pt. 2” does not reach the fever pitch of its predecessor, it still builds out an epic landscape of beautiful orchestrations before tapering off into a delicate Lee Douglas outro.
But this isn’t a fluke: “The Gathering of Clouds” features 16th note finger picking that easily could be transposed onto a double bass kick, while the vocals and build up sad, but beautiful melodies that intertwine and the song builds—like a storm cloud. It’s companion song “Lightning Song” also has some of the heaviest drums on an Anathema song since “Pressure” on A Fine Day to Exit, and I dare say that “Sunlight” follows right along the same tracks. And these epic builds and throbbing rhythmic sections coupled with melancholic melodies and vocals are the trademark of Anathema in their new era, but there’s something that pulls me back to their older material and (thankfully) a lot less to Coldplay than they’ve sounded.
All of this is not to say that they’re not the same post-metal, progressive band that they have been since the late 90s. Their love of Pink Floyd screams through on tracks like “The Storm before the Calm,” where the guitar solo at the end of the song in the context of the orchestral build reminds me of “Comfortably Numb” something fierce (the feel, not the melody). “The Beginning and the End,” “The Lost Child” and “Internal Landscapes” go hand-in-hand with We’re Here Because We’re Here—particularly the closing track’s voice over about a near death experience: “I can say: I was peace, I was love.” This is more along the lines of what we have come to expect from the band and which works fantastically well.
For me, the biggest downside of the record is that it starts out very quickly with these building, epic songs and almost an urgency that its more stormy, calm second half doesn’t quite live up to. One could almost have reversed the order of songs (the last 5 first and then the pairs last) and the record would flow more like one would actually expect it to. And, to be fair, I do get kinda bored with the first half of “The Storm before the Calm,” even if the second half is majestic. But that’s a pretty minor complaint in the scheme of things, this album has everything I love in my metal: epic orchestrations, building song structures, emotional poignancy and vocal performances that one can latch onto. It shows Anathema coming back into their best, I think. And any old or prospective fan of the band should check it out. Fantastic.