In many ways A Natural Disaster feels like the tonal and musical success Anathema were shooting for with Alternative 4. After moving into more alternative and post-rock with Judgement and A Fine Day To Exit (the sound of which I always thought was “what if Coldplay and Radiohead had a baby and it preferred metal?) the band shifts back to something darker and more reflective. It’s a thick, lush record that stands as one of the strongest in their discography.
A large factor in my love for the album comes from the vocals. This is Vincent’s strongest vocal performance to date, his voice rising to fragile registers on “Balance” but still able to rip the grit on the massive “Pulled Under at 2000 Meters a Second.” But this is also the album where Danny Cavanagh shines, taking lead on two tracks, including “Are You There?” which is hands down one of my favorite Anathema songs. And although she had been featured on records as early as Judgement, Lee Douglas gives her strongest performance to date as well on the title track. Listening back to it now it feels like a forgone conclusion she would join the band as a permanent member come We’re Here Because We’re Here (my pick for the best Anathema album); the sound of Anathema has come to be defined as that exemplary interplay between Douglas and Cavanagh’s vocals.
But coming back to the music of A Natural Disaster: this was the first CD I picked up that was “new” from the band. I first bought A Silent Enigma after hearing about the band around 1999, when A Fine Day to Exit was in rotation. So A Natural Disaster was my first chance to experience the band’s music fresh along with everyone else. I first gravitated to the heaver moments, but over time it was how the entire album flowed from one track to another – to this day the run of “Harmonium,” “Balance,” and “Closer” feels like a single track that slowly evolves and permeates around itself – but unlike Alternative 4 it doesn’t get lost, or feel aimless or toothless, even though it’s not nearly as “heavy” as that album.