Scanning the Skies for Solace: Anathema - "The Storm Before the Calm"
The sixth song on Weather Systems is likely the most schizophrenic track Anathema has ever recorded, and it's a fine example of how inventive and diverse the group can be.
These days, it seems like bands are too content to repeat the same formula throughout their discographies; rather than offer something new with ever release, they pick an [un]original aesthetic and—for lack of a better phrase—simply drive it into the ground as their career developments. As I discussed in the introduction for this series, Anathema more or less does the exact opposite of this. The group consistently aims to implement as much innovation and surprise into its formula as possible, and the sixth song on Weather Systems, “The Storm Before the Calm”, is excellent proof of it. As its name suggests, it’s both a chaotic exploration and peaceful reaction to defeat. In fact, it’s arguably the most schizophrenic track Anathema ever recorded, as it feels like two distinct pieces blended together impeccably.
Considering how involved he was with it, it’s not surprising to learn that “The Storm Before the Calm” is Vincent Cavanagh’s favorite choice on the LP (well, technically it’s tied with “The Lost Child”). He calls it his “baby”, adding that he “did a hell of a lot of that song, on all of it. I’m a big collaborator with John [Douglas]. That song means a lot to me, and I love the way it’s about nine minutes and it goes through different phases. It’s one of the most interesting tracks we’ve ever done.”
As for its juxtaposed construction, he says,
“I think we came up with both parts at the same time, but the second half was definitely done first. Not so much the vocals, but the music. The first half came later on, but it was always there conceptually. We just had to flesh it out and add the vocals. Then it all made perfect sense. It was a long process until we realized what felt most natural to the track. Then it was easy. An experimental song like that depends on the right flow so it feels natural from start to finish. It does actually suck you in because nothing feels out of place. That’s the trick. It’s all in the songwriting; there’s a lot going on in that track. Loads of synths and all that. But ultimately it’s in the songwriting, in asking yourself, ‘Does that vocal go with that tune?’ It’s that simple. If it does, you’ve got a song.”
The piece’s emphasis on electronic production is immediately apparent, as the introductory rainfall and guitar work are complemented by beats and other synthesized percussion (don’t worry—Douglas uses real drums too). In this way, it feels a bit like a lost selection from A Natural Disaster. The voices of Lee Douglas and Vincent Cavanagh appear almost ghostly in the midst, as their simultaneous outcry—“Never / Ever / Worry / I will always be there for you…getting better, better, better, better”—is sparse yet haunting as it overlaps the increasingly boisterous music.
Lyrically, their chorus further investigates the mental troubles of the speaker, with the key phrase—“It’s getting colder…Let it get colder until I can’t feel anything at all”—showcasing isolation in its most biting essence. From there, the music evolves into a tornado of rock instrumentation decorated by mechanical, whirling effects. It’s overwhelmingly dissonant and chilling, making it a strong auditory representation of inner conflict and psychosis. Best of all, the sheer power of this first half makes for a brilliant contrast to the serene wonder of its second half.
After the frenzy winds down, a thoughtful and somber electric guitar chord progression (that transforms into piano mimicry) paves the way for angelic harmonies. Afterward, Douglas’ drumming emerges carefully as Cavanagh repeatedly says, “The shadows”, with increased volume until a stunning and euphoric chord change brings a ray of light to the mix. From there, he declares his verse—“It ebbs and flows and comes and goes / And rips you up and lets you go...This beautiful feeling soars over the skies / Moving through my body and my mind / It rises up and floods my brain / This is fucking insane, this is fucking insane”—with as much passion and splendor as he’s ever conveyed. These are among the most poetic and visual words on Weather Systems, and he ushers them in gorgeously.
Following this, Douglas and Cavanagh offer a subtle yet equally virtuous call and response cycle; she asks, “Am I still here? Am I still alive?” while he answers, “As one with the fear” every time. It’s incredible, as is the concurrent music, a rapturous blend of hope and joy represented by elegant orchestration placed over a revitalizing, heavy foundation. It’s sonically orgasmic, really, and easily one of the most blissful and emotional moments on the record.
Like most of the songs on the full-length, it dissolves into a lull by the end, setting the stage nicely for the grave outrage of the next song, “The Beginning and the End”.