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Anathema - The Optimist (2017) - Review

Band: Anathema
Album title: The Optimist
Release date: 9 June 2017
Label: Kscope

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

Anathema,... it really is a special feeling when a band, with which I can say that I almost grew up with, followed them since their first demo tapes in very early 90s, releases something new,... and above all, Anathema, beside two other British giants, Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride, are in major part responsible for the evolution of dark and atmospheric metal/rock music like we know it today. Anathema who are of course one of the most influential bands changed a lot throughout the years, actually even when they completely left the doom/death metal behind them and concetrated on atmospheric metal, later on also on proggy stuff, were always unique, always very consistent, their sound is a trademark no matter what they do. And now they are among us with a new album, The Optimist.

After being steadily on earth with a massive comeback album We're Here Because We're Here (2010), exploring the earth's atmosphere in the magnificient Weather Systems (2012) and then floating deep in the distant space with Distant Satellites (2014), the band now returns maybe with their most controversial, the most ambiental and one of the most emotive albums so far. The Optimist in a way follows the story of their masterpiece A Fine Day To Exit from 2001, the band doesn't hide that and is pretty much evident from the intro and some other insertions throughout the entire album. Yet, if their three albums before were quite optimistic and solar, this one, even if named The Optimist, is the darkest one since their comeback in 2010 and I can say even the most cinematic album ever done by this unique band from Liverpool.

Even though this album is quite well structured, Anathema on The Optimist didn't manage to create such a flowing and soul captivating musical entity like it was for example the magnificient Judgement or Weather Systems, but still, there's plenty of mesmerizing moments and highly addictive songs that can be considered as a highlight of everything that we can call progressive ambient rock. This time the songs are very versatile, with a lot of subtle orchestrations, many gentle yet melancholic piano driven songs, an instrument that plays a big role on this album, there are many breathtaking guitar crescendos, and above all the most important thing for which every fan of the band is crawing for, The Optimist contains loads of melodies that bring shivers down the spine.

The album opens up with the intro "32.63N 117.14W" (these coordinates marks the beach in off the coast of San Diego, where the cover picture of A Fine Day To Exit takes place), and is a direct reference to that very album, but then I expected something grandiose, like ut was "Untouchable" or "The Lost Song" on previous two albums, but the album unfortunately continues with for my taste the biggest and thankfully the only letdown on this album, "Leaving It Behind". This upbeat, groovy proggy jazzy rock fusion, rather turned appart song with Vincent's voice trying to reach the impossible is simply not in the same context with the rest of the album, but ok, even this song sets the dynamics pretty high and yet I'm sure that those of you who like a bit more playful sort of progressive rock will love it. Ok, the things get soon pretty different when the fantastic, highly emotional and absolutely beautiful "Endless Ways" starts to spin. Simply mesmerizing building up in atmosphere song with one of the best ever performances by their female vocalist Lee Douglas. Just listen to those driving guitars in the typical Anathema manner, add here the subtle melancholic piano, symphonic orchestration that create such a rich texture together with those very well inserted electronics.

The album title song is another astonishing and emotive piece that in a strange way brings forth the memories of their previous album, Distant Satellites. In the absolutely delicate Anathema manner it nicely builds in tension but constantly setting the pretty melancholic mood with the similar approach like the previos one, but this time with Vincent's vocals in the frontline. Followed by two connected songs, the instrumental "San Francisco" and dark atmospheric but somehow very shimmering "Springfield", with so very addictive mind blowing guitar lines and hypnotizing female voices. The most emotional song on The Optimist is for sure "Ghosts", in a way similar to before mentioned "Endless Ways", but rather more refined and dreamy. "Can't Let Go" is another rather more upbeat proggy, but still very captivating and highly addictive rock song, not my personal favorite though, but the things get in the right direction pretty soon with the absolutely melancholic, rather too short "Close Your Eyes" with an interesting twist with rather noir-jazzy ending, briliant! Then the things get rather unusual even for Anathema with "Wildfires". Pretty ambiental song with kind of a strong almost industrial rhythm which starts in the second half, backened up with astonishing vocal performance by Vincent. The album ends in an epic way with almost 12 minutes long "Back To the Start". A very dark, yet emotive and cinematic masterpiece with many subtleties and references to before mentioned album A Fine Day To Exit, especially in the hidden part which comes up after some minutes of silence. There's a fantastic and one of the most memorable segments ever created by Anathema, a huge orchestral part with sing-along line, which reminds a bit to something art-rocking and highly evocative born in the 70s.

The Optimist is another piece in the puzzle of ever evolving Anathema. I can't say that this is their best album so far, at least in my opinion it doesn't reach the heights of for example The Silent Enigma, Eternity, Alternative 4, Judgement or Weather Systems, but most certainly is another milestone in the band's discography that transcends the borders of many genres, yet The Optimist reveals some of the darkest, most challenging and unexpected music the sextet have put their name to. The band actually took some risks with it, but on the other side they always do that, and it's necessary for a band that wants to evolve to make experiments and not just looking out to please some close minded metal heads. Even if this album somehow looks back it opens many new doors for future endeavors. With only one song that works rather out of line here, the rest is a perfect sonic journey with very challenging compositions and hypnotic sound. It's one hell of a technically flawless album, it offers an immersive and striking adventure full of drama, unexpected twists, profound lyrics, highly emotional soundscapes wrapped in kind of a melancholic veil.

Review written by: T.V.
Rating: 8,5/10


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