For the past 4 or 5 albums, Anathema has solidified their craft in delivering moody, atmospheric musical landscapes that combine elements of old Pink Floyd space rock with modern post-experimental bands like Porcupine Tree and - on this album – a there’s a huge nod to Radiohead.
We must remember that Anathema used to be a death metal band and they’ve all but shaken off the die-hard followers of that style, and brought many more from the Neo-progressive movement into their snare. But Anathema are NOT a Neo band. “A Natural Disaster” rekindles some of the edgier hard rock from their transitional albums like “Eternity” and “Judgment”. Some songs rock hard and with a vengeance – the band does not forget its roots and the return to rock in places is counter pointed with some of their most ambient, mellow music they’ve ever created. Hence, “A Natural Disaster” is an album of extremes.
The UK band is fronted by Vincent Cavanagh on Vocals and Guitar, Jamie Cavanagh on Bass, Danny Cavanagh playing guitar and Keys, John Douglas on Drums and finally Les Smith also doing Keyboards.
“Harmonium” starts things off with a building rock intensity and sound that’s not too different than their last couple of albums. “Balance” follows and is a dead-ringer track for a Radiohead album, but in this reviewer’s opinion, much better. “Closer” follows with some pretty spacey voice effects and experimental loops that would not be out of place on a Hawkwind album. The sound pushes the envelope without losing the melodic style the band has honed so astutely on their recent albums.
“Are you there?” combines the modern with the past, rekindling Roger Waters’ EMO style circa “The Wall” and “Final Cut”. “Childhood Dream” is a moody, textured acoustic track leading to a more traditional Neo track “Pulled under at 2000 meters a second” is a blistering hard rock tune that sounds melodically like Arena until it pulls out the rock chops, then it’s purely Anathema in all its intensity and anger. There is so much edge to this track it almost lapses into death metal at times.
The title track follows. Starting out moody and quietly, with the sultry female vocals of Lee Douglas, this track would not be out of place in the alternative rock world of Portishead. While this is not necessarily a good thing for a prog-rock band, the song has the chops to satisfy whichever side of the boat you’re on. Between this and the Radiohead sound, this should be the break-through album for Anathema.
“Flying” follows. Here is another track that displays the quiet intensity of recent albums. And what it climax it builds up to! “Electricity” and “Violence” end the album in a somewhat quiet manner, occasionally throwing in a crescendo or two along the way. The latter spends almost ten minutes in a hypnotic piano droll that borders on King Crimson’s “Moonchild”. That’s not to say it’s wanking – it’s simply a beautiful way to end an excellent album.
By now you might be convinced that I liked this album. The truth is, I wasn’t sure at the first listen because moments sounded similar to previous work; and then there was the Radiohead/Portishead thing that could make one think that the band was selling out. But this isn’t the case. There are many fine, progressive and experimental passages in “A Natural Disaster”. There is plenty of haunting, melodic beauty and scorching hard rock to recall the glory days of Genesis.
It is the best Anathema album to date. Mature, consistent and full-bodied. If you have not tried out this important band yet, here is the place to start.