Anathema - 'The Optimist'

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Anathema - 'The Optimist'

A fine example of Anathema at their best.

For the uninitiated (and there can't be many of you left) Anathema produce moving, soul-baring, genre-spanning music of the highest order. Since 2010's 'We're Here Because We're Here' they have been at the absolute top of their game, with 2012's 'Weather Systems' and 2014's 'Distant Satellites' driving them in new directions and consolidating their reputation.

'The Optimist' continues their fine run of form and the subtle evolution of their sound. Pre-release chatter promised an album of dark, challenging and unexpected music, and the band has duly delivered. Conceptually, the new album blends fiction with the deeply personal, taking as its initial inspiration the cover art and conclusion of 2001's 'A Fine Day To Exit'. The title of the opening track '32.63N 117.14W' provides the exact co-ordinates of the protagonist's mysterious disappearance (the Silver Strand State Beach in San Diego). What happened to him has never been explained... until now, with Daniel Cavanagh noting "we put sound, feelings and, crucially, our own hopes and fears into another person and made him the subject of the songs".

Musically, '...Optimist' is introspective and emotionally stirring, unerringly hitting the mark as the narrative unfolds. The power and darkness of 'Leaving It Behind', for example, contrasts strikingly with Lee Douglas' gorgeous, yearning vocal on 'Endless Ways'. Douglas' contributions are superb throughout, notably on the "Jazz Noir" of 'Close Your Eyes' and the brilliant 'Springfield', which builds wonderfully from a simple keyboard motif with all the intensity and ethereal beauty one has come to expect from Anathema.

From the hypnotic Electronica of 'San Francisco' to the strings of 'Ghosts' and the Alt Rock pathos of 'Can't Let Go', there are twists and turns throughout. That said, it's such a consistently good album that it's hard to pick out highlights. Album closer 'Back To The Start' is uplifting in the extreme, building to a rousing crescendo that puts responsibility for the story's end (and our own life choices) back with the listener. It's emotionally-charged stuff that poignantly expresses our common struggles with life, love and mortality. Is there a band anywhere that does this more effectively?

'The Optimist' is an album of elegance and depth. It is simultaneously reflective, challenging and life-affirming. It'll get under your skin and become part of your DNA. It's a fine example of Anathema at their best and I'm not sure we could have asked for more.

Michael Anthony

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