Anathema - The Optimist

Year of Release: 2017
Label: KScope
Catalog Number: KScope356
Format: CD
Total Time: 58:16:00

Who are Anathema? Based on this album, there is not a straight line summary one can give on their style. They aren't exactly eclectic, and yet... yes, well, maybe they are. Not quite in the way say Queen were eclectic and just made music they wanted to regardless of what style/genre/label, but you cannot take any single song from this album and say it represents the whole album in style. I come to this familiar with Anathema only by name. Looking back at our previously published reviews, and some internet surfing, it appears that the band started out as a doom metal band, shifted to a more Goth metal sound, and then to a prog rock sound. As Keith notes in his review of A Fine Day To Exit, he detected a bit of a Pink Floyd-like element to their sound, and that A Natural Disaster returned to their metal style.

Well, there is some of Pink Floyd sound here (in the album's closer "Back To The Start," mostly the vocals), but don't leave that as your take away. And there is a bit of metal here and there, but that is also not your takeaway. Neither is prevalent or prominent. In fact, I was going to describe them, on this album, as another example of well-done UK progressive rock, not dissimilar to a number of other UK progressive rock artists - at times both Marillion and Frost crossed my mind (parts of "Endless Ways"), but more as a representative of a larger sample. But then there's the instrumental electronic music of "San Francisco" and it's to Tangerine Dream my mind turns - keys and sequencers providing both the percussive drive and the lyrical notes (my guess, the accompanying visuals would be a drone-view flyover of the city, or watching the red and white lights smear in time-lapse footage of San Francisco traffic and the nightlife). And so, don't get comfortable with a UK prog rock (as a style) as your takeaway either.

"Okay then, what the hell is my takeaway?" you ask, asking me to just get on with it. The takeaway is excellent lyrical, brooding, techno jazz electronic progressive pop rock. "Huh?" Ok, see, the album starts out with ambient sounds -- car driving, sound of the radio (probably playing bits of other Anathema songs**) -- that then meld into the first musical track "Leaving It Behind," which is full of fluttering drums and ringing guitars, all exploding into a rock piece that takes a lot from the sound of the late 60s/early 70s (an edgier Monkees, Zombies), the retro-rock of the 80s (REM) and that fluttering techno beat (so 90s). But then "Endless Ways" follows it, at first stripped down and bare, chanteuse/pop-diva vocals and sparse piano, but soon plucked guitar sounds and crash symbols (a la Marillion) transition us to explosion of frenetic beats and colour. "The Optimist" sounds a bit like Coldplay - piano and vocals (both Vincent Cavanaugh and Lee Douglas); it even builds from this understated mood to soaring heights that I have found Coldplay's music does.

"Ghosts" is more atmospheric and spacey, given wider expanse by the orchestration in the background, while the track that follows, "Can't Let Go," is 80s goth that mixes the gloominess of the keys and vocals with cheerful guitars and a snappy beat that could be best described as The Cure meets A-ha, or The Church. It's a toe-tapper despite the gloom, but I thought that about some of Cure material, too. (And I also thought of Katrina and the Waves, in the drums that open the track... just sayin').

"Springfield" was the first single released from the album. It is mostly a quiet, languid piece of acoustic guitar, piano, light percussion with Douglas' sweet vocal tones floating in and out dreamily, though midway through electric guitar comes in like a muffled scream (the repeated lyric is "I don't belong here..." and the guitar just amplifies the pressure and the feel of being trapped. If "San Francisco" was the hustle and bustle of the big city, "Springfield" is the slower pace of the countryside (mostly).

Let's then come to this conclusion - The Optimist is a travelogue, as we traverse both the sonic and natural landscape. While the sequence of the tracks won't necessarily mirror your road trip across the US (US only because SF and Springfield are US cities*), it does have enough elements that reflect the sound of the road (the fluttery percussion in "Leaving It Behind," the lulling sequencer rhythm of "San Francisco") that you will want this as your soundtrack as you escape to elsewhere... According to the press release at Kscope's website**, this album is a follow-on to the storyline in A Fine Day To Exit: "The idea for The Optimist was born from the front cover artwork of [...] A Fine Day To Exit; Daniel Cavanagh explains 'I suppose you might say the album is semi-autobiographical because this time we used a surrogate,' he says, of the character that is The Optimist 'We put sound, feelings and crucially, our own hopes and fears into another person and made him the subject of the songs then weaving my own internal monologue into the narrative of The Optimist. It was John's idea to write a narrative, so I took A Fine Day To Exit as the starting point.' Vincent elaborates [...] The guy who disappeared -- you never knew what happened to him, did he start a new life? Did he succumb to his fate? It was never explained. The opening track title is the exact coordinates for Silver Strand beach in San Diego -- the last known location of The Optimist -- shown on the cover of A Fine Day to Exit [...]'."

I can see why Anathema are well regarded in the progressive rock community. This is a marvelous album from performance to production; just stellar. I know I was taken in upon first hearing "Springfield," and now hearing the full work, I have to say this is a terrific album. For all its different shades and colours, it is cohesive and flows well together. My tour through 2017 releases has really just begun, so it's too soon still to say whether this is my top release of the year, but it's certainly in the running now. Fabulous, fabulous release.

As an addendum of sorts, I'll share my notes on a couple of other tracks: "Close Your Eyes" - moody jazz-like piece, perhaps the element of brass is why I think jazz (with a tone that makes me think of Chicago, however brief). "Wildfires" - goes from dreamy to bombastic - a spark to a conflagration, as it were, I guess.

The album was released in various formats: single CD; CD/DVD-V, where the DVD part is a DVD-V 5.1 surround sound (24/96 DTS) and hi-res stereo (24/96 LPCM); Blu-Ray - DTS lossless in 5.1 SS (24/96 DTS) and hi-res stereo (24/96 LPCM); a deluxe 4-disc edition (2CD/1DVD-V/1BR) with 40-page hardback book - bonus tracks on CD2 are a mix of live and demo versions of the album's tracks; and lastly, on vinyl across 2 LPs.

*there is a Springfield, CA, which is roughly a 130-150 miles northeast of San Francisco; something I looked up only because of the note in the Kscope quote I reference. When I first watched the video for "Springfield" in April, I naturally thought of the Springfield, Virginia (well, naturally may not be an apt word, but that was the first Springfield that came to mind), and very well could be the Springfield referenced (who knows how far The Optimist travelled?).... there's one in Illinois, too... (and maybe wherever there's a spring...and a field).

**that I viewed after already theorizing this as a travelogue, I'd like to note. But knowing this fact post "sound of the radio" comment, I'll put here that necessarily those bits are from AFDTE rather than more random Anathema tracks.

32.63N 117.14W (1:18) / Leaving It Behind (4:27) / Endless Ways (5:50) / The Optimist (5:37) / San Francisco (5:00) / Springfield (5:50) / Ghosts (4:17) / Can't Let Go (5:00) / Close Your Eyes (3:40) / Wildfires (5:40) / Back To The Start (11:48) (song ends at 7:35, after 3 minutes of silence, unlisted/hidden song begins at 10:35)

Daniel Cardoso - drums
Daniel Cavanagh - guitars, vocals, keyboads, bass
Vincent Cavanagh - vocals, guitars, keyboards, programming, bass
Jamie Cavanagh - bass
John Douglas - drums, keyboards, programming
Lee Douglas - vocals

The Crestfallen (EP) (1992)
Serenades (1993/2003)
Pentecost III (EP) (1995)
The Silent Engima (1995/2003)
Eternity (1996/2003)
Alternative Future (EP) (1998)
Alternative 4 (1998)
Judgement (1999)
A Fine Day To Exit (2001)
Resonance: Best Of Anathema (2001)
Resonance 2 (2002)
A Natural Disaster (2004)
Hindsight (2008)
We're Here Because We're Here (2010)
Falling Deeper (2011)
Weather Systems (2012)
Untouchable (2013)
Universal (2013)
Distant Satellites (2014)
A Sort Of Homecoming (2015)
The Optimist (2017)

A Vision Of A Dying Embrace (VHS/DVD) (1997)
Were You There? (DVD) (2004)
A Moment In Time (DVD) (2006)
Univseral (DVD/BR) (2013)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: June 18th 2017
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 5428
Language: english


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