[17 March 2014]
Over the past seven weeks, I’ve explored how and why Anathema’s latest opus, Weather Systems, is the most beautiful and touching album I’ve ever heard. Every one of its first eight sections is a luscious commentary on the sorrows and hopes that affect the human spirit. Be it the vast power of “The Gathering of the Clouds”, the universal truth of the “Untouchable” duo, or the crushing duality of “The Storm Before the Calm”, Weather Systems proves its immeasurable worth with each declaration. However, none of these efforts match the overwhelming emotion, reliability, and magnificence of the record’s last track, “Internal Landscapes”. A final reflection on the bond we shared with those who’ve left us, it’s among the most powerful pieces of music I’ve yet experienced. In fact, it’s one of only two songs that have literally left me frozen in place, speechless and shedding tears (the other being “Heartattack in a Layby” by Porcupine Tree).
Unsurprisingly, Vincent Cavanagh says that he came up with the title, adding that it “fit everything to do with the weather systems idea.” Actually, it feels like the spiritual successor to “Presence” from We’re Here Because We’re Here, as both feature a spoken word passage that revolves around life and death. In this case, speaker Joseph Geraci recalls his near-death experience with great humility and closure. Cavanagh recalls that the interview came from “a documentary by Kenneth Rings…I think it was made in the early 1980s, [so Joe’s] in his late ‘70s now, I think, and he’s doing well…[he’s] a true creative spirit and a really deep spirit. He’s got such a wonderful command of expression.”
He adds that the band knew immediately that they had to use the sample because it fit so well within the context of “Internal Landscapes”:
“We were already making the song in the studio, and it came out of a jam based on an old riff that I’d forgotten about. It was in the vault somewhere and I dug it up and said, ‘This is how we’re going to play it. Danny, you play this riff. Here’s the drum beat.’ I sort of directed it all and brought it into life. When Danny put Joe’s speech on it, it gave it direction and meaning. It really inspired us to make the whole record. Once we made that song, we knew we had to make a full record. It was too big, too epic. Much bigger than anything else on the record. And the lyrics were inspired by the experience.”
Finally, Cavanagh admits that Geraci’s remarks changed his outlook on life:
“One of the most beautiful and striking things about that story is that he put all of his effort into saying, ‘goodbye’, to his wife, who was there with him. That taught me exactly how I feel about life, really. The people in your life are all we really have at the end of it all. Everything else, like your work, your so-called legacy—I’ll be proud of what I’ve done and I’ll look back at all of my achievements and think, ‘Okay, that’s been good’, but that’s not really going to mean shit to me. All I’m going to want to do is see the people I love and I hope that I get that chance when it my time comes. That’s what it’s all about; everything else is just decoration. It’s nice, but it’s just decoration. That’s one of the things about Joe’s story that really stuck with me.”
“Internal Landscapes” starts off calmly, with a dreamy atmosphere (including piano notes, cymbals, and tactful acoustic guitar strums) providing a backdrop for Geraci’s frank tone. His confession is a revealing and heartfelt look into what it would be like to watch your spouse pass away, as well as how we may try to rationalize the moment of our death. He says,
“I remember trying to hold on. I’ll be ok, I’ll be ok. And it got to the point where I just couldn’t…I can remember with every ounce of strength I had I wanted to say goodbye to my wife; it was important to me. And I did, I remember just turning my head, looking at her and saying, ‘I’m going to die. Goodbye, Joan.’ It was then that I experienced… what we call a near death experience…It was a total immersion in light, brightness, warmth, peace, security…I just immediately went into this beautiful bright light….I could say that I was peace, I was love, I was the brightness…”
It’s a sublime opening. As he finishes, the music evolves into a full backing track, with Daniel Cavanagh’s warm guitar arpeggios taking center stage. Vincent Cavanagh and Lee Douglas once again share vocal duties, singing the same melody with pride and comfort. She sounds more delicate and angelic, while he sounds robust and commanding. Their lyrics are equally majestic, with combinations like “Goodbye my friend / Love will never end” and “And I know you somehow / As I hold you in my heart” assaulting listeners’ souls with brilliant subtlety. This combination makes for the ultimate closure; it’s as if the struggles that plagued the vocalists throughout Weather Systems have finally been resolved. There is only peace, understanding, and acceptance now.
Eventually, Cavanagh takes over lead vocals, uttering “There’s a fire in the sky / And I know it’s you / There’s a light that’s so bright / And I know it’s you” while Douglas’ repeatedly says “Senses following me” behind him. His voice soars to sing, “And I dream like you / And I believe in truth”, and the music is appropriately gripping and heated. What follows is themost intense moment on the LP: Cavanagh erupts into what could only be described as an emotional climax, screaming, “For I was always there / And I will always be there”. He has never sounded better, and words can’t describe how well he captures that “if only” feeling that comes with looking back on a moment regretfully. He speaks for anyone who’s ever wanted to go back in time and capture what’s been lost.
Geraci returns to conclude the track, saying the following as the music dies down: “And it’s just so beautiful / It was eternity / It’s like I was always there / And I will always be there / That my existence on earth was just a very brief instant / I could say that I was peace, I was love, I was the brightness / It was part of me”. The way he repeats what Cavanagh just sang makes the piece feels even more personal overall. The opening atmosphere returns in the final moments; it’s a lovely way to go out, as it echoes the theme of life being a constant cycle in one way or another.
“Internal Landscapes” is more than just a song; it’s a journey into your heart and mind. It forces you to reflect on those you’ve lost, not just in terms of their absence, but in terms of what you shared with them when they were alive. Every special moment and every stupid disagreement is brought to the forefront of the listener’s mind. In this way, it’s both the most cathartic and the most painful song I’ve ever listened to, and it’s guaranteed to have a similar effect on you. Don’t believe me? Try pairing it with your most tragic memories, such as the love interest who got away, or that one deceased family member who meant the most to you. Imagine you could face them again, in this very moment, and say, “Goodbye. I know you’re with me in spirit, like a fire in the sky. I was always there [for you], and I’ll always be there.” Powerful, isn’t it? That’s the magic not only of “Internal Landscapes”, but of Weather Systems in its entirety.
Once you hear it, you’re never the same again.