Scanning the Skies for Solace: Anathema - "The Gathering of the Clouds"
The third track from Weather Systems offers extremely beautiful and intricate vocal arrangements, as well as heavenly musical complements.
Music is most powerful when the result is greater than the sum of its parts. There’s something wondrous about the way a combination of sounds can create an entirely arresting and therapeutic experience; you can analyze each element and deconstruct every formation (as I’ve promised to do in this series), but like the miracle of life, knowing how it all works doesn’t quite explain the magic of why it works so well (if that makes sense). As I’ve said before, such is the case with Weather Systems, a record on which every moment is just about perfect.
While the first two songs on the album -- “Untouchable Pt. I” and “Untouchable Pt. II” -- do an amazing job exemplifying how a combination of instrumentation, lyrics, and production techniques form a elegantly poignant journey, the full-length’s third track, "The Gathering of the Clouds", is on a different level entirely. It’s arguably the album’s most intricate offering, as well as the first of several ingenious weather metaphors that tie together most of the songs. “The Gathering of the Clouds” never ceases to make my jaw drop.
Delving further into the aforementioned metaphors that blanket the LP, Vincent Cavanagh says:
“It started with the song titles themselves, really…I guess it was just a metaphor that was heavily in the air at the time. It was just a perfect metaphor for the internal landscapes that we inhabit, the internal storms of the mind and soul that we go through. It just fit. [Several of the songs] came up around the same time and we knew that they were connected. We couldn’t split them up; they had to form the basis of something.”
Indeed, “The Gathering of the Clouds” feels like a prophetic statement shrouded in vast yet focused arrangements.
Surprisingly, the first bits and pieces of the song emerged years ago:
“The melody and the chorus were written years ago, when we were very young. It was just something that hung around in the ether, unused. We always knew that we wanted to do something with it. A few years ago—well, around 1995—we were on tour in Hamburg. Danny had a really rough night. He was still drinking in those days and he was having a hard time focusing on the gig the next day. I helped him through that. I sat with him and spoke about everything that he was going through. He had an acoustic guitar with him and he started plucking this arpeggio. I said, 'That’s great! Hang on a minute.' And he pretty much wrote the lyrics and the chords right there and then. I was so blown away by it because it was so heartfelt and real. It was exactly what he was feeling at that moment. It was just pouring out of him. That night, we actually played it live and it brought down a storm. It was the only time we’d ever played it before Weather Systems. It was incredible. There was such an outpouring of emotion that came from nowhere. We basically arranged it a bit during sound check and then gave it to the audience for the very first time. It went down really well. The chorus wasn’t there at that time; it was just the theme riff. The chorus came along later and tied it all together.”
Thunder and rainfall merge with wailing strings as the piece begins, signaling spiritual devastation (in addition to the start of a new chapter in the Weather Systems narrative). Thirty seconds later, those sounds fade away as more strings meld with an exceptional acoustic guitar arpeggio (somewhat recalling the opening of “Untouchable Pt. I”) and purposeful piano accompaniment (a note is struck every so often to heighten the drama). Vincent Cavanagh and Lee Douglass eventually create an absolutely stunning vocal row on top of it; their synthesis bursts with impassioned hopelessness and desperation. The juxtaposition between their voices (his, a vulnerable yet strong outcry; hers, a bittersweet slice of empowerment) is utterly gripping.
Of course, their singing wouldn’t be nearly as enthralling if not for their lyrics; luckily, they’re as revealing and honest as any other offering on the album. It’s easy to picture Daniel Cavanagh’s aforementioned mental and physical state as he wrote the following verse (which Vincent sings): “Searched the whole world / Found I can’t compare”; meanwhile, Douglas’ countermelody offers a clever bit of conceptual continuity, as her phrase – “But we’re here because we’re here / And there’s nothing to fear”— refers directly to the group’s previous record.
In regards to this connection, Vincent Cavanagh says that it was a logical choice:
“Anyway, I mean these songs are connected anyway, you know? All of these ideas and experiences are connected. It’s all real. It’s all come from these people and their similar experiences. Why shouldn’t they be referenced like that? I dare say we’ll do it again. Some of my favorite bands used to do it and it made them seem deeper. I’d listen to is and think, 'Wow, that’s so cool. They’re stringing together all of these parts and albums together from different years.'”
Afterward, Douglas takes the spotlight with a modified plea; she sings, “Time it not what it would seem / The life we live is like a dream”. Underneath her, Cavanagh utters, “All that I’ve seen / All that I feel / All I could be / Is happening to me” with enveloping thoughtfulness. His opening part then acts as a quieter complement to his lead vocal, on which he sings more inspiring words: “Fight for what you believe in / Dare to live your dream / In this life don’t be afraid of yourself / Don’t be afraid”. Again, it’s the way that these vocal lines dance around each other over the increasingly heavenly music that makes it such a profound listening experience.
As the song progresses, it’s clear that Anathema is building toward an awesome crescendo, and when that moment finally comes, its solace is spotless. The various constructions continue to intertwine and swell as the track comes to a close, and in those final moments, both singers join to express an absolute sentiment: “Release belief / Let it wash over me / Let love reveal what I feel / What I feel / What I feel”. The orchestration engorges their presence, ending the track with a swift and beautiful rapture that leads into the next track, “Lightning Song”.