While some fans still cling despairingly to the hope that this group will return to the doom-ridden death metal of the early 1990s, Anathema continue to move forward on their own musical path.
Taking its inspiration from the cover of their 2001 game-changer A Fine Day to Exit, this eleventh album is a journey that goes back in time while remaining resolutely in the present.
The Optimist is a darkly emotional album, an extremely dark one that belies its title. Its songs are laden with loneliness, loss, sorrow and grief, longing and despair. The haunting vocal harmonies of ‘Wildfires’ as they are overwhelmed by crashing chords like a drowned man, the piping yearning voice of Lee Douglas in tracks like ‘Endless Ways’ and the outstanding ‘Springfield’ – all evoke an eerie, nagging melancholia that is only given relief in the surging pianos and strings of the final cut.
Conceptually, this is among the darkest of any of Anathema’s albums, frightening even, in its ability to inspire feelings of harrowing and lingering sadness one moment and soaring euphoria the next. The aforementioned ‘Springfield’ is at the core of The Optimist’s creativity; simple piano melodies, Douglas’ ethereal vocal, a minimalist beginning that builds tension into droning guitars flowing on an undercurrent of morose melody as it writhes toward a climax, highlighting the spirit of ambiguity that The Optimist presents in its deliberately vague, dreamlike story telling.
Lush and deeply-layered, The Optimist offers not only familiar, electronically-enhanced ambience but jazz-flavoured, lounge-like moments such as ‘Close Your Eyes’ and the pure driving pop of ‘Leaving it Behind’, each turn only enhancing the album’s almost claustrophobic atmosphere of woe. This is an epic album that requires deep immersion, a thoughtful and meditative release of immense emotional power that could well be Anathema’s masterpiece.
1. 32.63N 117.14W
2. Leaving it Behind
3. Endless Ways
4. The Optimist
5. San Francisco
8. Can’t Let Go
9. Close Your Eyes
11. Back to the Start