Album Review: Anathema – The Optimist

Anathema 2017

I miss getting lost inside Anathema albums. I miss snaking down dark pathways, guided only by meandering Vincent Cavanagh’s quaking falsetto, not knowing when or where I’ll next see the sun.

The Optimist comes from a strange new evolution from the safe, comforting Anathema we’ve grown to know over the years. It follows 2014’s Distant Satellites, a record which hinted the path the Liverpool-based band would pursue on their next effort. On The Optimist, Anathema have adapted a sound darker than their previous work to highlight a fundamental shift — a sound that’s aggressive even when compared to the group’s early efforts.

Reminiscence is definitely strong here, however. Melodies are proud and distinctive in a way they weren’t at any point on Distant Satellites — a component particularly true of the vocals of Cavanagh brothers and Lee Douglas.

Anathema - The Optimist

The Optimist’s vigour erupts from its start, with the ominous intro, intelligently titled “32.63N 117.14W,” which introduces “Leaving It Behind.” The deep, groove-laden synth-drums are welcome a component of the new album that’s fully incorporated throughout the record, along with the electronic infusions that were introduced on the band’s past albums. “Endless Ways” kicks off with a piano-driven melody and Douglas’ soothing voice; it’s straightforward, memorable, and full to the brim with wildly fluctuating vocals, whirlwind strings and war-like drums. Tracks like “The Optimist” are, in some respects, classic Anathema — they’re grand and emotional, with choruses that make you sing along in your head after a few listens with words you likely don’t know or understand. In their instrumentation, however, they’re different beasts entirely. Neither the drums, guitars or synths are ever understated, lo-fi or polite – throughout, they’re devastating, taking control of the band’s poppier sensibilities and lighting vicious fires beneath them. It’s as “San Francisco” and the lead single “Springfield” swell to its blistering climax that you comprehend the extent to which Anathema have here dived into the epic waters they’ve been dipping their toes in and out of all these years, and marvel at the unfaltering consistency of the resulting work.

This is dark, progressive music for dark, adult emotions. There’s little that’s whimsical or playful to it, and yet it’s still, somehow, pop music — despite being quite unlike anything else currently in the global mainstream. It’s music that concerns the elements, of imposing forces of nature, of beautiful things that move the earth in ways we can’t control. It’s a perilous adventure, as organic as a thunderstorm, leading eventually, with the treacle-thick piano and possessed velvet strings of closing 11-odd minute track “Back to the Start,” to a final, blissful sleep from which you never wish to wake up.

In comparison to its recent predecessors The Optimist is frightening, but it’s frightening in a way that’s primally, morbidly fascinating. This comes, however, with the unavoidable fact that, despite its accessibility, one wouldn’t take it on unless the mood, surroundings and general state of mind were all totally in the right place. The Optimist is a record you play for the sheer catharsis of it — a work of art to plug into when grey buildings and greyer skies tower too densely around you, and you wish for nothing more than to close your eyes and feel the terrible greatness of nature swallow you up.

The Optimist is out on June 9th via Kscope.

Tracklist:

01. 32.63N 117.14W
02. Leaving It Behind
03. Endless Ways
04. The Optimist
05. San Francisco
06. Springfield
07. Ghosts
08. Can’t Let Go
09. Close Your Eyes
10. Wildfires
11. Back To The Start

Line-up:

• Vincent Cavanagh – vocals, guitar, keys
• Danny Cavanagh – guitar, keys, vocals
• John Douglas – acoustic/electronic percussion
• Lee Douglas – vocals
• Jamie Cavanagh – bass
• Daniel Cardoso – drums

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