9th June 2017 – KScope Records
01. 32.63N 117.14W
02. Leaving It Behind
03. Endless Ways
04. The Optimist
05. San Fransisco
08. Can’t Let Go
09. Close Your Eyes
11. Back To The Start
noun: optimist; plural noun: optimists
1. a person who tends to be hopeful and confident about the future or the success of something.
2. a person who believes that this world is the best of all possible worlds or that good must ultimately prevail over evil.
Anathema are a band that require no introduction. If you’re a fan of progressive rock then I can guarantee that at some point in their twenty seven years of being, you will of heard at least one of their eleven records. Their captivating soundscapes have not just continued to progress over their almost three decades, but they’ve maintained a reputation of being a progressive band that continue to rejuvenate their sound with each and every release – from the death metal-stained bleakness of Serenades to the cinematic and captivating Weather Systems.
The Optimist picks up following the events of their 2001 effort A Fine Day To Exit, which in itself makes the title of this new offering decidedly ironic due to the depressing narrative in that first part of the story. Opening track “32.63N 117.14W” is a mix of radio clips and electronic beats that continue into “Leaving It Behind“, and the up-tempo motion of this track and its memorable guitar lines are a great refresher of what make Anathema such a special band.
The Liverpudlian sextet really come into their own when their sound is stripped back to the barest bones. This heart-on-your-sleeve approach works incredibly well with Lee Douglas’ ethereal vocals at the front and centre. As these inimalist intros build swirls of strings, drums and guitars around these vocals commanding you to “Hold on, for dear life”, it’s almost counter-intuitive to not just let the current pull you under into “The dream I’m creating”. The duality of vocalists Lee Douglass and Vincent Cavanagh lead a back and forth that is just as emotionally driven as ever.
Title track “The Optimist” is the Rosetta Stone for this whole outing: its slow opening builds charismatically into heavily textured, crashing instrumentals which make the best of the live-style recording Anathema have utilised for the release. Strings again compliment what is a spectacularly mesmerising riff, while the instrumental “San Francisco” brings back the electronic pulses from the beginning of the record, whilst continuing to shine ever brightly over the piano lines that are the very veins of the album. That being said, despite this clever use of syncopated electronics and swelling synths, the emotional payoff doesn’t really justify its five minute run time, but it is enough time to grab a brew and sit down in time for The Optimist‘s second half.
Lead single “Springfield” suffers from the same fatigue as its predecessor, in that it looks and sounds like everything you’d expect an Anathema lead single to be, but it lacks the emotional punch of its follow up, “Ghosts“, which falls within the list of the best songs Anathema have ever released. Douglas leads this string-swept track with an utterly heartbroken moan; the fragility in the composition is truly heart rending, and paired with the ghostly “Close Your Eyes” you’ll find yourself swept away by its pure, emotional currents; currents that find time to inject a beautifully soothing jazz serenade, complete with brass instrumentation.
On their eleventh outing, Anathema have not only managed to maintain and upward trajectory; they’ve in many ways raised the bar. The Optimist isn’t weighed down by the emotional fragility of Weather Systems or Distant Satellites, but instead takes it’s time in delivering a much more considered offering with unparalleled song writing and an attention to detail that really has become a trademark of the Anathema sound.