Three years ago, Liverpool's former power metal act Anathema issued A Fine Day To Exit, a wildly experimental change in direction from their gloriously punishing doom excesses. The set was a lushly produced nod to bands who explored the melodic fringes of dark, futuristic rock & roll -- Radiohead, Coldplay. While it took off from the tempered strategies of Judgement and proved an interesting ride, it ultimately failed to captivate not only the band's faithful, but also to win any new fans; it was lost in its excesses and unclear in its direction. On A Natural Disaster, Anathema looks down the road further, this time glancing back once in awhile to its strengths, and hones its focus. The end result is the quartet's finest outing since Eternity, which it touches upon in its quest for emotionally expressive music that doesn't shun experimentation, with the lush textures of keyboards and spatial ambiences, but embraces them as part of an expansive, gripping, and all-encompassing rock sound. This is the kind of genre-toppling ambition that Radiohead has been seeking to fulfill for a couple of years (how odd that something they inspired is the very thing they cannot seem to grasp) where a marriage between the textures and esthetics of Pink Floyd meet the modern weariness of British Isles melancholy, and the deep melodic richness of after-it's-over pop. "Are You There" with its gorgeous female backing vocals traipsing through Vincent Cavanagh's resigned, yet yearning croon is buoyed by keyboards, mirage-like single string guitar lines, and airy echo chambers, which open onto a vista that is open and broken, where guitars and drums skitter and shimmer in the muggy warmth of its grief-wrenched body. The gurgling electric piano that ushers in "Balance" is merely the warning shot before a thudding drum allows Cavanagh's vocals to soar and swoop -- á la Thom Yorke at his most expressive and unpretentious -- all before a bank of whispering keyboards opens out onto a wail of guitar fury complete with overdriven riffs. The vocoders in "Closer" might be disconcerting for a moment, until they are woven into a braid of ethereally heavy atmospherics where Danny Cavanagh's guitars course through the middle, lifting up everything in their path. The feminine Celtic blues of Lee Douglas on the title track allows the vocalist a languid space in the wondrously silky, yet bleakly seductive din woven by the Cavanagh Brothers' guitars. Simply put, these Liverpudlians know how to make a dark rock album; it's full of alienation, honest emotion, tense, suffocating theater, and stunningly beautiful textures. These are songs of longing, separation, loss, and blissed-out agony, played by a band who have arrived at single-pointed concentration and turn their heaviness inside out, never forsaking it, yet weaving it seamlessly into a new incarnation that would win legions of new "alterna-rock" fans, if the punters were given a chance to hear it. Misery has never sounded this beautiful.
A Natural Disaster Review
by Thom Jurek