The cover of ANATHEMA's 2001 release "A Fine Day to Exit" depicts a car in an empty beach at day, a car in a road at night. Now with "The Optimist", the group's eleventh album, it has picked up that concept again, doing so right off the bat with the opening track, "32.63N 117.14W". These are the actual coordinates for San Diego's Silver Strand beach, which is the last known location of the storyline's character known as The Optimist, a personification of the band members' hopes, fears and thoughts. Less experimental than previous album, 2014's "Distant Satellites", "The Optimist" is more organic by design, and decidedly so, as the band recorded it together as a unit live.
The result is a significantly more fluid take on the approach and sound it has grown toward over the years. The group is completely unrecognizable from the death/doom band it once was, but its subsequent flirtation with gothic metal underscores its approach to emotional, sedative rock music, notably on the title track. Luscious, layered guitars weave in and out of pulsing electronics in a hypnotizing way. ANATHEMA can take listeners into a dreamlike state, and with great subtlety, the band builds crescendos that can take one's breath away, nearly pulling your heart strings right out of your chest at times, as they do with "San Francisco", for instance. The proceedings seem to drift along midway through the release, however, with the plodding nature of "Ghost" standing out at as the releases low point. This is before the up-tempo swing of "Can't Let Go" saves the day with elegant vocals and soothing, seesaw guitar lines that shimmer and shine in a way that might appeal to fans of Post-Britpop.
"The Optimist" requires patience to fully appreciate, yet there is an immediacy to the songs unlike ever before. In terms of the narrative, the album starts with the sounds of someone walking out from the ocean, trudging through the sand and gasping for air before getting in and starting a vehicle. The album concludes with the sound of a car door closing followed by an individual knocking on a home's door. After The Optimist is let in, a significant amount of time lapses before the sound of a baby and adult voice connect with one another in the way that's unmistakably characteristic of familial bond. There's an ocean of ambiguity in the possible meaning at hand, yet there is indeed an overriding sense of optimism concluding the album, true to its name.