Is this album a masterpiece? Of course. A worthy successor to We're Here Because We're Here? Most certainly. In fact, I might even stretch to saying that I consider it a better album. There is certainly a heavier rock presence to be felt, and the orchestration is simply stunning. It is a different emotional beast; while We're Here ... was tentatively upbeat, sorrow, anguish and even anger flow too through the vocal tenderness of Vincent Cavanagh and, with a far greater presence than on previous albums, Lee Douglas.
Lee's feminine counterpoint to Vincent's vocal style works really well. The parts she sings alone are beautiful, and when the two come together, the duets are superb. Her rendition of Lightning Song makes it a highlight of the album.
The songs that makes up Weather Systems flow together to provide consistency, but the songs themselves lift and soften, quiet for a calming introspection, building to breath-taking crescendos before falling again. It is, in truth, a very exhilirating album to listen to. While the dips are tranquil, almost soporific, the anticipation of the next stirring peak is energising and, when it arrives, immensely satisfying.
The Storm Before The Calm is the longest, most interesting song on Weather Systems. At just over nine minutes, it's a complex, multi-faceted, progressive beast of a track. And it is where the aforementioned anguish and anger shine through the most. Opening with a trippy, echoey introduction backed with an even paced, pulse-like drum beat, it builds in whirring, buzzing electronic noise giving an unmistakeable impression of a mind in turmoil. The confusion is palpable, the sounds, melody and beat whorling through the listeners mind before, suddenly, it stops, shifting to a softer vocal, a piano melody, and a moment of clarity. The song builds, the orchestra picking up and lifting it to a pinnacle of emotional outburst, then slowly trails off. Not so slow as to drag, nor so quick as to finish too soon. It drifts to a gentle, natural conclusion, a feather-light descent to a peaceful ending.
While Weather Systems is a spiritual successor to We're Here Because We're Here, it has a different aesthetic entirely. In some ways, influences from other genres seems evident. As the music flows, with its lifts and falls, the impassioned intensity reminds me of the works of Sigur Rós. The back and forth between Lee and Vincent's vocals at the end of The Storm Before The Calm is reminiscent of Arcade Fire's interplay between Win Butler and Régine Chassagne. Arguably those two bands should be embraced as much by the prog community as the indie rock community, the breadth and complexity of their work being far greater than their counterparts.
Weather Systems ends with a voiceover describing a near death experience, tying together the emotional weight of the record and bringing it to a peaceful, contemplative and altogether philosophical close, whether you believe in such things or not.
This album represents a tour de force of progressive rock. It is a culmination of Anathema's journey from Hindsight to We're Here Because We're Here, to the reimagination and reorchestration of Falling Deeper. It is an oustanding musical achievement.