Latest release: The Optimist (KScope)Website: www.anathema.ws

With the release of their eleventh album Anathema is returning to a fatal shore they last visited 17 years ago. The tale of The Optimist continues the story depicted by the artwork of 2001’s A Fine Day to Exit, probably the band’s final departure from the ragged doom/death of their embryonic period.

“It felt the right time to take the story up again,” explains guitarist and vocalist Vincent Cavanagh. “It was really a story about the artwork, about this guy disappearing for good. What happened to him? We sort of left it unresolved. We never found out what happened to him. Which is why we pick it up on this one.”

The sleeve art depicted the view through a car windscreen of a beach strewn with a man’s clothing as he leaves a track for the surf, to apparently end his own life. The actual conclusion to that sad tale was, however, never revealed. The Optimist is an attempt to further the story, taking up from the exact location where Exit’s cover was shot, and at the same moment.

“The artwork of that album told the story of a guy who had reached the point of his life where he had to make the most drastic decision: basically fake his own death and disappear,” Cavanagh suggests. “What happens here is that it starts at the beach where he is, he gets back in the car, starts driving and over the next couple of days it’s all told, the story of what this guy goes through. He finds himself in the resolution making a decision the opposite of the one he expect to take. But it’s actually the one he should have taken in the first place. It’s right for him. So it’s a very, very dark time that he’s having.”

Darkness and enigma being so close to the heart of everything that Anathema touches, it should come as no surprise that Cavanagh goes further. The story perhaps still isn’t finished. Things might not be what they appear.

“It’s still not resolved, in my mind,” he says. “You could think of it as happening in reverse! It could be going back to what led it to go there, or it could even be, let’s say, the guy drowns and this is happening in flashback in the last couple of moments of his life. We don’t really say. We don’t really want to give it away.”

Cavanagh is at pains throughout the interview to explain that The Optimist is not a concept album, but there is a definite over-arching theme, like the soundtrack to a film. He describes it as “a visual story more than anything else”, which is an unusual thing to say about an audio medium. Anathema has taken the project extremely seriously, developing an accompanying artwork package that precisely traces the protagonist’s journey along the west coast of the US. They have gone so far as to shoot clips in the geographical locations in which the songs are set.

“It doesn’t have a literal, written narrative that follows any kind of linear timeline,” Cavanagh offers, after denying for a third time that The Optimist is not a concept work. “It’s psychological, and it’s a visual story more than anything else, which is why I think the artwork is the ultimate companion piece to this record. You may have seen some of the videos for this album already on Facebook. They were all shot on location. It’s a really interesting way for us to present this because, to us, the songs are still autobiographical but we’ve chosen to use this character as a surrogate for ourselves.”

The optimal presentation of The Optimist, of course, will be in the live arena. The band is promising a very special visual accompaniment to their performances when the tour in support of  the album begins a little later this year. As announced, Anathema will be in Australia for the third time in December, and by then, Cavanagh says, the spectacle will be in full swing with The Optimist played in full for the first half of the program.

“Part of what we’re trying to develop now is the whole show, with the visuals and everything and also more of the real experience,” he says, explaining that the time in between their current tour and the next will be used to bolt everything in place. Anathema have become known for extended live shows, and with The Optimist running at almost an hour on its own, fans can expect quite a lengthy performance. Of course, if Vincent Cavanagh and the band got their way, The Optimist would become even more special.

“The ultimate way to do this show would be on location,” he says. “It starts off in San Diego and goes north along the west coast. So it would be great to track the Optimist’s actual journey and play a few shows on the way and make some kind of road documentary. That would be cool.”

For Anathema devotees, that would be certainly be exceptional.