A Natural Disaster
2003, Peaceville Records
Genre: Doom Metal
Reviewed on 2007-10-10
Upon listening to Anathema's A Natural Disaster, it's difficult to imagine the band as one of the pioneers of the doomdeath movement, alongside fellow giants My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost. But many bands mellow out a bit as they age, and fortunately for us all, this too is the case with the rockers from Liverpool.
Each successive album from Anathema has moved further from their metallic roots, and A Natural Disaster is the latest evolution of their progressive, atmospheric rock. Pink Floyd comparisons are inevitable, although a more apt parallel might be Tiamat's outstanding A Deeper Kind Of Slumber and Skeleton Skeletron albums. A Natural Disaster is still too far from the mainstream to ever get picked up by Clear Channel, but it's the kind of adventurous rock album that would do well on college radio.
The Cavanagh brothers open with "Harmonium," which starts off innocently enough but gradually builds into one of the few hard-hitting metal tunes on the album. It's a formula that any fan of prog rock will recognize, and one that Anathema puts to good use--utilizing a wide dynamic range provides contrast that complements the emotional intensity of Vince Cavanagh's powerful vocals. Next up is "Balance," a reflective musing on our place as individuals in society that wouldn't sound at all out of place in rotation next to Radiohead.
As on all of the band's recent releases, the emotional interplay between Vince's vocals and the guitar progression carry the day, especially on songs like the powerful "Flying" and love ballad "Are You There." But it's Les Smith's atmospheric keyboard work and Danny's touching lyrics that really makes Anathema stand out from the dime-a-dozen generic rock bands out there. This is where the band's roots as a doomdeath outfit remain; the guys have a knack for creating complex arrangements in a song's background that perfectly match the mood and emotion conveyed in the lyrics.
Another nice thing about A Natural Disaster is the album's pacing and the coherent narrative crafted throughout the sequence of tracks. Midway through the album, we're treated to the ambient meandering of "Childhood Dream," and you can almost picture Danny walking off stage for a quick water break, building the anticipation of the crowd to a fevered pitch as the band prepares to launch into a firestorm with "Pulled Under At 2000 Metres Per Second," the only legitimate headbanger on the CD. Afterwards, we get the title track, a disconsolate and mournful song about losing someone special, followed by "Flying," which carries a glimmer of hope that life can still go on.
A Natural Disaster is just such an emotional rollercoaster, and has such energy even in its quieter moments, that it makes for an exhausting listen. The only low point is perhaps "Childhood Dream" which, while it bridges the gap nicely between "Are You There" and "Pulled Under," sounds more like a filler track that can't stand on its own--indeed, the song was used as the background music for the menu of the band's DVD release Were You There.
Anathema has always done things their own way, and A Natural Disaster is no exception. Continuing to strike out in the direction forged by 2001's A Fine Day To Exit, they have crafted an exceptional journey through a life's worth of love, loss, and redemption.