Review Summary: Anathema present a darker vision and increased musical diversity in The Optimist.
Anathema have always thrived on change. After a consistent sounding three album cycle, it should come to no surprise that they have pursued yet another musical direction. Certainly not as drastic as their transition from doom metal to progressive rock twenty years ago, or their incredible comeback in 2010, but it’s noticeable. Because of their massive discography, Anathema now have the ability to revisit a past concept album, A Fine Day to Exit
, and continue its style and narrative for a new project. They have become inspired to continue that story in The Optimist
, featuring the same car and protagonist (the optimist) that was depicted in the album artwork and lyrics of A Fine Day to Exit
. This makes for a darker and more conflicted sounding album than Weather Systems
or Distant Satellites
had presented a few years ago. The main traces of these albums are the electronics they had. These first come up in the album’s opening, after a brief intro track, in “Leaving it Behind,” with busy electronic beats acting as the support for the hard-hitting, rebellious vocals and looping guitar melodies. Despite being more energetic than most of the album, it sets the tone well. While maintaining the grandeur of Anathema’s recent musical direction, the lyrics and mood in The Optimist
are darker and more conflicted.
maintains the atmosphere of A Fine Day to Exit
without retreading musically, mainly continuing that album’s concept and taking it in a new direction. The lyrics are open to interpretation, but the intense inner struggles that plagued the story’s protagonist in A Fine Day to Exit
are continued here, with a darker musical vision to suit the lyrics. The opening intro track titled "32.63N 117.14W" are the coordinates of Silver Strand beach, where the end of A Fine Day to Exit
saw the protagonist escaping to after being haunted by various trials and struggles in his life. Following it and “Leaving it Behind” is the hugely rewarding and diverse run of songs beginning with album highlight “Endless Ways” and ending with “Ghosts,” seeing Lee Douglas on lead vocals in many instances. The presence of three different singers throughout the album makes for an effective method of portraying the various inner voices in the protagonist’s head. In typical Anathema fashion, songs like “San Francisco,” “Can’t Let Go,” and “Wildfires” begin softly and gradually build to a loud, wall-of-sound crescendo to illustrate the din of emotions and thoughts swirling through the protagonist’s head. Most of The Optimist
is a dark journey, with some tracks only having one or two lines of lyrics or spoken monologue. Many of them are short phrases repeating and clashing with one another, owing to the intense inner feelings of the optimist that are translated into the music. The final track, "Back to the Start," and its ending sample imply that the optimist overcame his trials and was able to take his life full circle, giving his story a peaceful resolution.
Most of The Optimist
lacks the epic, triumphant compositions from their albums released earlier in this decade because it's going for a different feeling. The album sounds like another new direction for the group, and hardly resembles A Fine Day to Exit
musically, but instead in tone and narrative. As well as the they do the emotionally impacting, dramatic compositions, it’s refreshing to hear more meditative songs like “San Francisco” and “Close Your Eyes,” both of which also marries jazz with electronica, almost resembling the music of a trip-hop group like Submotion Orchestra. Listening to The Optimist
is an intense experience, and can have wild transitions from one song to the next given how different some tracks are from others. They are able to make it work though, being an adventurous and engaging continuation, and conclusion, of a past record's concept that still sees the band evolving in a rewarding fashion.