Anathema – “The Optimist” (2017)


Label: KScope

Review by Warren Mayocchi

In 2001 Anathema released an album called “A Fine Day to Exit”. On the cover was the dashboard of a car, the view through the windshield shows a sandy beach with a trail of discarded clothing leading into the water. “The Optimist” is the sequel to this scene. The first track is named “32.63N 117.1W” – it is the location for the car, abandoned clothing, and almost peaceful ocean. Appropriately the sound of water greets us on this opening track as we then hear laboured breathing and stumbling steps up the sandy beach. A car door opens, the ignition fires, and our lead character is back inside his car. He adjusts the radio to find a suitable track and it turns out to be the second track on the album. “Leaving It Behind” begins the sequence of scenes our character travels through as we listen along. There is nothing terribly explicit about the detail in the songs, the listener’s imagination is left to fill in the detail of our mysterious traveler. Anathema record the traveler’s movements, and they have a considerable reputation and back catalog of material. “The Optimist” furthers their legend and has already been awarded 2017 Album of the Year at the Progressive Music Awards. Obviously, there are a lot of people who already have the album, love the album, and perhaps there are a few who have already stopped reading and are on their way to obtaining the album right now. Is it worthy of the adulation – certainly, there is a wide variety of styles on the album – cool jazz (“Close Your Eyes”) to bubbling pop (“Can’t Let Go”) – through it all the melody and musicianship shine. There are a few songs which are mostly instrumental, however none of them are the sprawling masterpieces one might expect from a progressive album. Here the band seem to be focused on experimentation within the bounds of distinct songs. Typically there is a five minute track length – even the final song with a 11:43 reported length. The length overstates the duration of the song, it is one of those pieces with an annoying end – a portion of the song’s end is silence with a little ‘surprise’ at the extreme end. In my mind the entire album is best heard as one continuous experience, but the songs are definitely strong in themselves. My favourite is “The Optimist”, it combines elements from most of the other songs, male/female vocals, piano driven first third, with occasional strings to add an expansive mood, the finale then has the full band gradually joining in as the whole effect tends toward heaviness. “Ghosts” and “Springfield” have video clips which demonstrate the stunning material you will find on the album. The story of the mysterious traveler is interesting, though more in the way of a hidden surprise. “The Optimist” is an exceptional piece of art, each song is powerful and unique, the backstory fades in the reverie.

Rating – 95/100



  1. 32.63N 117.14W
  2. Leaving It Behind
  3. Endless Ways
  4. The Optimist
  5. San Fransisco
  6. Springfield
  7. Ghosts
  8. Can’t Let Go
  9. Close Your Eyes
  10. Wildfires
  11. Back to the Start


Line Up

  • Lee Douglas – Vocals
  • Vincent Cavanagh – Guitars, Vocals, Programming, Keyboards, Bass
  • Danny Cavanagh – Guitars (electric, acoustic), Bass, Vocals, Keyboards, Piano
  • Jamie Cavanagh – Bass
  • John Douglas – Drums, Percussion, Keyboards
  • Daniel Cardoso – Drums

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