Anathema: The Optimist – album review
Anathema: The Optimist
CD/DL/vinyl/deluxe hardback book/blu-ray
Released 9 June 2017
The shift from their early days of dark metal to genre defining alt proggers finds the present day Anathema toying with the enigmatic in what they believe to be their darkest, most challenging and unexpected work.
Anathema have followed a recent course which some feel has seen them frankly tread water albeit in a series of acoustic styled gigs in some rather splendid cathedral settings, documented on the A Sort Of Homecoming release. However, with The Optimist, they’re back to doing what Anathema (or as the cover mysteriously labels them ana_thema) do best.
Having teased some new material live in the UK at the end of 2016, the follow up to 2014’s Distant Satellites can’t come soon enough. The run that began with the award winning We’re Here Because We’re Here seven years ago continues and whilst the promise of unexpected rings true, there’s no denying they’ve hit a winning formula. The album comes packed with their trademark of quality contrast of quiet emotion combined with passionate and overwhelming cathedrals of sound.
The Optimist is an album too where questions are posed (why the ana_thema re-titling on the cover for one) and opportunities given for resolution as they return to their 2001 A Fine Day To Exit album as a starting point. Backtracking to the album artwork the question arises; the mystery of “the guy who disappeared – you never knew what happened to him, did he start a new life? Did he succumb to his fate? It was never explained.” That character’s unresolved destiny becomes the starting point in an attempt to bring closure to that story, a closure which is ultimately decided by the listener, the result of a series of clues peppered through the narrative.
Conversely it’s a new narrative fed very much by digging deeply into the at times troubled psyche of the band’s own personal hopes and fears in a curious surrogacy. They’ve talked about the opening track title as “the exact coordinates for Silver Strand beach in San Diego – the last known location of The Optimist – shown on the cover of A Fine Day to Exit.” It’s also a brief minute and a half that will have listeners straining to pick up on the snippets of Anathema themed clues, providing an immediate hook and one that gives an indication that immersion in the unfolding journey of The Optimist is essential.
It leads straight into Leaving It Behind, another indication of the growing electronic influences – the sort that the Distant Satellites title track grooved on – an influence that ebbs and flows against a tide of breakneck intensity before a suitably sudden ending. A silence broken by the first appearance of Lee Douglas casting her divine vocal over piano and distant strings that evolve into prime Anathema, the calm before the storm, a crashing pinnacle reinforced by the repetitive “the dream I created” line. The title track sees Vincent Cavanagh and Lee’s voices combine for the first time – a lyric which has them running for their lives whlie fans will have been lapping up the pre-release tease of the dreamy Springfield which gradually emerges from a hypnotic groove into an overpowering spectacle.
It’s a dreamy vibe further explored by Ghosts as the ongoing narrative comes to a head with the ostensibly lengthy Back To The Start – an open invitation to do exactly that. They go all Floyd with the “they don’t understand” refrain, thoughts of coming to make peace, coming to see the light, back to the stars saturate the lyric. Naturally there’s a great big orchestrated finish with their Liverpool Beatle-y roots revisited with an influx of brass reminiscent of some Lennon/McCartney/George Martin arrangement. Uplifting and bringing a sense of satisfying closure. Or is it? – the music fades and we’re left with a cryptic four minute playout which involves the closing of a car door, a knock on a door that opens with a “how are you?” greeting and a long silence followed by sounds of a domestic scene which emphasises the Sixth Sense-ness of The Optimist.
It closes the payback of an album where the ending sets of the chain of immediately starting a fresh playback to help formulate and clarify the thoughts and do as the band have asked. The only thing missing is a Twilight Zone style voiceover inviting you to put the clues together and draw your conclusions. An album not just to marvel at, but one to explore and dissect. Anathema return to fulfil hopes.
You can watch the video for Springfield here:
The Anathema website