Album review: ANATHEMA – The Optimist

ANATHEMA - The Optimist

K-Scope [Release date: 09.06.17]

Having moved on from their dark metal roots into progressive rock loveliness with the wonderful ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ album in 2010 and its magnificent follow-up ‘Weather Systems’ in 2012, Anathema somewhat divided opinion with their last studio album ‘Distant Satellites’ – its clicks, beats and programming not sitting well with many of their newly garnered fans.

And now here is ‘The Optimist’, surely destined to divide opinion again – but this time only by starting arguments as to whether or not it’s their finest work.

Yes, the beats and clicks are still there, but fewer in number and now being integrated into the essential fabric of the album along with Anathema’s anthemic template and the forward projection of Lee Douglas’s fabulous voice to provide the fulcrum around which this moodily magnificent piece of work revolves.

Word on the street suggests that ‘The Optimist’ is a belated follow-up to the band’s 2001 album ‘A Fine Day To Exit’ which was based on the concept of a man parking his car by a beach and ending it all in the sea.

In fact the album begins with ’32.63N 117.14W’ which is apparently the location of the beach pictured on the cover of ‘AFDTE’ which, together with the sound of waves crashing on a beach and a car driving away plus other little clues scattered throughout the album suggest that may be the case.

As a fellow Scouser however, I know how good it feels to wind up the media and I suspect that is what’s at work here – but who knows? You’ll have to ask Vincent.

Things truly get started with ‘Leaving It Behind’ whose clicks and beats intro is mercifully killed off quickly with a great riff and the scene is thus set for an album that is both epic in its scope yet staggering in its musicality and attention to detail.

‘Endless Ways’ with its beautiful piano intro and Lee Douglas’s ethereal vocals provide an early highlight as does the title track – a more up-beat if not up-tempo track with another killer riff at the end.

The slightly repetitive instrumental ‘San Francisco’ provides a temporary diversion before the fabulous ‘Springfield’ sidles its way into your subconscious with its gentle guitar/piano intro building up through complex layers of sound to a thunderous crescendo that then lets you down gently at the coda – all underpinned by another superb Douglas vocal and drumming of the highest quality by Daniel Cardoso.

I first heard this track on a YouTube video with the band in the studio and just thought “wow” – I still feel the same.

Other highlights include ‘Ghosts’ – as ethereal as it sounds with Lee Douglas almost using her voice as another instrument, the West-Coast sounding ‘Can’t Let Go’ and the smoky jazz overtones of ‘Close Your Eyes’.

Album closer ‘Back To The Start’ is a curates egg of a track – atypical of the album as a whole, the beginning brought to mind The Pineapple Thief but once the strings kick in it almost sounds like, dare I say it, Oasis. Oh, and (spoiler alert here) there’s a gap of around three minutes which, despite evidence to the contrary, is not the dreaded hidden track but a home recording of bass player Jamie Cavanaugh singing to his daughter.

An odd finish, but take nothing away from it, this IS Anathema’s finest hour. The piano and guitar work of Vincent and Daniel Cavanaugh is exceptional throughout and Lee Douglas has upped her game and stepped forward to prove she’s up there with the finest female rock vocalists around.

It’s all coalesced beautifully to deliver one of the albums of the year.

Moodily magnificent barely does it justice.  *****

Review by Alan Jones

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