ANATHEMA: WEATHER SYSTEMS (2012)
1) Untouchable, Part 1; 2) Untouchable, Part 2; 3) The Gathering Of The Clouds; 4) Lightning Song; 5) Sunlight; 6) The Storm Before The Calm; 7) The Beginning And The End; 8) The Lost Child; 9) Internal Landscapes.
We got the point last time, but perhaps we were not fully convinced, so here are the born-again Cavanaghs with yet another heavenly oratorio on your front lawn — and this time they unleash the full force of the Light upon your unholy skeptical ass. From beginning to end, Weather Systems is as straightforward an album about the temporary nature of earthly life and the immanent nature of heavenly existence as they come: and if you needed scientific proof of that, they even enlist Joe Geraci, an original survivor with a near-death experience, for a brief recital on the last track. It's a more or less routine story of experiencing white light and transcendental beauty before being brought back to life, and the only thing it does is to reinforce the impression that the Cavanaghs are no longer content with constructing the musical equivalent of Eternal Bliss, but that they actively believe in it and want you to believe in it, too.
The problem is, it would be easier for me to get manipulated into this if it weren't for that subtle, but pervasive aspect of cheapness that has always accompanied every single Anathema album, from the early doom metal days all the way to this «let the light eternal chase away the darkness supreme!» transformation. In their zealous verve to make us all fall on our knees and pray to the Great White, even if its name is Nameless rather than Jesus, they forgot — or, rather, they probably did not even begin to remember — that the best recruiters are those that work over their prey in indirect ways, rather than going for one frontal assault after another. Thus, although they still take plenty of cues from the post-rock movement and they might be technically getting better at this with each new record, I still find far more genuine spirituality in the ambiguous soundscapes of Sigur Rós or Godspeed You! Black Emperor than in Anathema's pompous chorales ("Love is the life breath of all I see / Love is true life inside of me").
Musically, we are still on the same level — largely static compositions, revolving around one endlessly repeated phrase, often with a crescendo effect achieved in the same manner as GY!BE do this, but with less diverse instrumentation. This time, the emphasis seems to be more firmly placed on swift, perfectly picked acoustic arpeggiated chords, starting with the very first track (ʽUntouchable, Part 1ʼ) and reappearing quite frequently: a good sound, but neither innovative in any manner nor responsible for any particularly memorable themes. Piano-based songs (ʽThe Beginning And The Endʼ) are more rare, but that does not in any way improve their quality (all the piano playing is extremely simplistic and, more than usual, seems to be getting in our face: «see? we're playing piano! not any of these darn Casios! accept no substitutes for classically-approved heavenly beauty!»).
I count precisely one track whose musical features managed to attract my attention: ʽThe Storm Before The Calmʼ, allegedly an allegory of the death experience, after a tense, cold introduction transforms into an instrumental jam with a cool use of electronics, as the main piano/bass/drums track is enhanced with buzzing electro-static tones and wind-imitating white noise. Midway into the song, it goes away and is replaced with the usual boring attempt at an orgasmic crescendo, but that three-minute part in the middle is arguably more sonically inventive than any other piece of music created by Anathema in the I-saw-the-light period: as a musical analogy of a «storm», it is quite original, making you feel trapped in an electric field that just went crazy on you.
Other than that, it's just spiritual business as usual. Interestingly, they let Lee Douglas take more lead vocals than usual: she even takes solo lead vocal on ʽLightning Songʼ, and is generally more audible on tracks where she duets with Vincent — strange that they did not do this before, since her vocal tone certainly correlates better with «heavenly» than Vincent's (she is no Sandy Denny, though, and she usually stays in a lower range that is perfect for folk-rock, but probably not for Heavenly Exaltation). This, and the increased function of acoustic picking, and the occasionally inventive use of electronics all suggest that the band is still searching, which is a good thing: I do retain the right to be generally unimpressed by their methods of search, or the territory to which the search is confined — but I also have to admit that, by their own standards, Weather Systems is a small step forward rather than a clear-cut case of creative stagnation, so if you are already a fan, and if textbookish images of Paradise™ suit your feelings just fine, this record will be as indispensable to you as, say, Time Out Of Mind would be to a Dylan fan.