Giving the Cavanagh brothers as much leeway as possible, their last batch of songs (2010’s interminably-delayed We’re Here Because We’re Here) was one of the weakest of their career. Even if you dig the relentless positivity, you’ve got to admit that cliché lyrics and tirelessly homogenous riffage got the better of that album at times. It also suffered purely due to anticipation; Anathema was on a hot streak up to and including 2003’s A Natural Disaster, and then they were suddenly mired in non-music-related problems for years, releasing a half-finished track here and a classics-rehashed album there, but no actual new album for seven years. It felt exhaustively pored-over, a band trying really hard to Make A Good Album. Now, in less than two years, Weather Systems, and a band sounding effortlessly like itself.
There are still cheesy moments, the same kind that made Journey awesome. “Lightning Song” in particular, and the somewhat labored weather theme in general, are at first distracting enough to harm your overall listening experience. Then you think back to, say, “Anyone, Anywhere” (from Anathema’s best album, 1999’s Judgement) and you realize that there has been a bit of unrepentant--possibly even unintended--cheese in this band’s music practically since the beginning. It’s just who Danny and Vincent are, and you love them for it. Then you can really sink your teeth into this whole album.
Chief among new developments is the song “The Storm Before The Calm” (how clever, right?), which begins as a cross between an evil ambient Phish jam and the tail end of a Nirvana “Endless, Nameless”, then ends in a pulsing happy chorus akin to Porcupine Tree (the end of “Mellotron Scratch”, for instance). On a sometimes blindingly glossy album like this, “Storm” is pretty out there, and overall it’s a powerful mid-album catharsis. Weather Systems never quite gets back to that level, and the effect of the last three songs is very similar to the end of We’re Here, but these songs are simply way better, and producer Christer-André Cederberg does a much better job of capturing the joy and heartache contained in the band’s simple message of hope than Steven Wilson managed on the last album. The brothers have reinfused their guitar playing with the jagged darkness that the band was built on--not too much, but enough to provide a counterpoint to the high tide of faith and optimism that defines the album.
This thing is kind of like a modern-day Big Generator, the Yes album that’s widely disparaged by fans of the band’s 70s heyday. If there were no Close To The Edge, perhaps people could’ve appreciated Big Generator for what it is: the cheesiest slab of pop-prog perfection ever created. And sometimes you have to face facts and bow down to cheese, because like it or not, truth is cheesy. Love is cheesy. Life and death are totally fucking cheesy, and by navigating that salty-sweet path earnestly and expertly, Anathema has made the heroic swing from the brink of self-parody back to vitality.