The way Anathema have become one of the best-loved bands in the modern progressive rock domain must have provoked knowing smiles from their long-term fan base. Although their initial recordings placed them firmly within the underground metal bracket, the Liverpudlians were proclaiming their love of more adventurous sounds as far back as the early 90s. Once they covered Roy Harper’s Hope on their third album Eternity in 1996, it was plain that this was a band that owed far more to Pink Floyd than to Slayer, and that their pursuit and mastery of musical beauty, profound emotional statements and a sound that is as uplifting and powerful as the sweetest of sunrises sets them apart from every other band of their generation.
There’s something special about Anathema, so the tsunami of critical froth that followed the release of 2010’s We’re Here Because We’re Here seemed well-earned and thoroughly appropriate. Given that Weather Systems arrives hot on the heels of such a universally lauded masterwork, fans could be forgiven for expecting more of the same.
To some degree, this does tap into that same wondrous well of inspiration, again employing their instinctive ability to express love, loss, happiness and heartbreak via exquisite melodies and shrewd arrangements. Opening two-parter Untouchable is mesmerising: its first half is a rush of nimbly picked acoustics, surging rhythms and a tune the size of Jupiter; its denouement, a fragile, heart-rending ballad constructed from the same chords and melody but rendered with breath-thieving lightness of touch.
The elegant Lightning Song, featuring sublime vocals from Lee Douglas, harks back to the serenity of WHBWH’s Dreaming Light, with stirring strings and the thump of crescendos both musical and emotional. In terms of creative evolution, however, Weather Systems does offer plenty of evidence that Anathema are still growing.
Album centrepiece The Storm Before The Calm injects a dose of disquiet. Its skittering groove expands and twists for nine unnerving minutes; Vinnie Cavanagh’s repeated refrain of ‘It’s getting colder…’ jabs like a gleaming blade emerging from the shadows to draw blood from cherished certainties. Better still, the closing Internal Landscapes marries an unsettling monologue about a near-death experience with a stunning, graceful miasma of shimmering keys, sparkling guitars, poetic pathos and yet another towering melody.
In a cultural era so often sullied by superficiality and lowbrow cynicism, Anathema continue to make music that glows with meaning and a love for art’s eternal power to touch the soul. Still special, increasingly extraordinary: the band and this album will be cherished.