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Album Reviews : Anathema – The Optimist

By on June 25, 2017

This British institution has been around for decades, and as a fan of progressive rock and metal, they are a band that have intrigued but eluded me for a long time. Whenever I actually sit down and listen to them in earnest I understand that elusiveness.

My tastes in progressive music are mainly centred around bands that are explosive in their approach, bands that pick you up, smash you around the head and throw you around the room, before pulling back in a dynamic manner. These guys do the opposite. They hold back, playing within themselves across much of their output, only coming out of their shell and letting rip on occasion. It’s a little frustrating, because when they do let it all hang out, it sounds amazing.

These guys (and gal) are a band you need to be patient with, and after relentlessly digesting the Rush’s, Opeths and Dream Theaters of the world, it’s patience that these ears simply do not possess. Any momentum built up by the relatively frenetic opening track proper Leaving it Behind (after the quiet, sound effect-driven intro of 32.63N 117.14W) is immediately lost in the lengthy piano-based ballady moments featured in Endless Ways and The Optimist, and it is never really regained.

Now I have nothing whatsoever against quiet, piano-based music. I listen to a lot of quiet, mellow music myself. And I’m sure that this band’s fans will say that this is just their style, it’s just what they do, and that is absolutely fine as well. It seems that Anathema just aren’t for me.

All of the above is definitely not to say that there are not some great songs on The Optimist. The aforementioned Leaving it Behind is compelling in setting things up, Springfield builds beautifully to an epic climax before backing off to sweet ambience again, and they really do save the best til last: Back to the Start closes proceedings in true triumphant style.

Anathema may not be my exact cup of hot Twinings, but if you dig the more languid, laid-back, introspective approach to progressive rock, this album is absolutely for you.

Band: Anathema
Album: The Optimist
Year: 2017
Genre: Progressive rock
Label: Kscope Music
Origin: England


Rod Whitfield is a Melbourne-based writer and retired musician who has been writing about music since 1995. He has worked for Team Rock, Beat Magazine,, Heavy Mag, Mixdown, The Metal Forge, Metal Obsession and many others. He has written and published his memoirs of his life and times in the music biz, and also writes books, screenplays, short stories, blogs and more.