Tag Archives: The Optimist

Half-way through 2017 – the best so far – Part 1

The Blog of Much Metal is nothing if not predictable. But, what it lacks in spontaneity, it makes up for with quality writing, brilliant wit, incisive articles and a bucket load of irony and modesty.

As a result, I return with my usual mid-year round-up of the best music that has been released between January and June 2017. As with last year, I remain a one-man show and so I have not listened to everything that has been released in this period. I have a family and a career to fit in as well. However, I have listened to more albums than ever before (or at least that’s how it feels), so I am content that very little of any note has slipped the net. And if it has slipped the net, I still have six months to put things right. Of course, if I have missed anything out, I shall leave it to you, my dear, loyal reader, to tell me.

Everything in this round-up has consequently been reviewed on this blog already, so I don’t intend on going in to great depth with each pick here. Instead, I’ll provide a few up-to-date thoughts, a quote from the full review and then a link to that review should you wish to check it out. Wherever possible, I will also provide a link to a different track to the one posted with the review. Well, I have to try to give you some value for money, don’t I?

And so, in no particular order, I give you:

VOYAGER-GHOST_MILE-coverHIVoyager
Ghost Mile

If you were to tell me that there is a band out there creating a bigger buzz in the metal world right now, then I might consider calling you a liar. For a band that had been toiling away for a number of years, gathering a small but select band of cult followers, things have now taken off massively. But then it’s hardly surprising given the quality of the music that they are now creating. Unique, assured and intense, Voyager are the whole package and ‘Ghost Mile’ demonstrates this 100%, no question.

“Voyager today is an even more tightly honed entity. More focused and more self-assured than ever before. That rising stock I mentioned a moment ago? Expect it to go through the roof upon the release of this record, mark my words.”

“In my opinion, Voyager sound like no-one else. They have worked hard over the years to craft their sound and perfect their own vision, to the point where comparisons are impossible and, in any case, are utterly pointless. Their output blends progressive metal, prog and pop-like melodies with a quirky and often atmospheric sheen. Put simply, the music sounds like…Voyager.”

“The only problem with ‘Ghost Mile’ is that it is a stealer of time, a thief of moments. I listen to this record and immediately feel compelled to listen again. Before I know it, huge chunks of my life have disappeared. However, at this precise moment, I don’t care. All I know is that ‘Ghost Mile’ is a very special record from an equally special band and…damn it, I need to listen to it again.”

Read the full review here.

pain_of_salvation_-_2017_coverPain Of Salvation
In The Passing Light of Day

Do you know that feeling when a band you’ve almost given up on delivers a killer album? Well, that’s the feeling I got from Pain of Salvation with ‘In The Passing Light of Day’ way back at the beginning of the year. It seems like forever since I first heard it and given the amount of music around at the moment, it is testament to its quality that I still find myself gravitating towards it. More than that, it still has the ability to send chills down my spine and bring a tear to my eye at times.

“What also works well is the way in which the music sounds fresh and vital but also isn’t afraid to borrow from the band’s past either. As well as the ‘Road Salt’ echoes, there are passages where I also hear elements of the ‘One Hour By The Concrete Lake’, ‘Remedy Lane’ and ‘Be’…”

“2017 may have only just begun but Pain of Salvation have laid down the marker for all others to reach. After a few releases that didn’t move me, ‘In The Passing Light of Day’ has redressed the balance and then some. If this is what intelligent and emotional progressive metal sounds like in 2017, I don’t want the year to ever end.”

Read the full review here.

coverPersefone
Aathma

I’m still wondering just where this album came from – it is definitely the surprise of the year for me so far. I was never the biggest fan of Persefone but the Andorrans well and truly did a number on me with their latest effort, the incredible ‘Aathma’. It is progressive, technical death metal, the likes of which I have rarely heard, especially to this level. It is like the sextet took everything to a whole new level, from the collective songwriting to the individual performances. And it all sounds so rich and cohesive, with enough accessibility to keep me coming back for more.

“I absolutely love music when it offers a challenge and isn’t afraid to go in directions that it wants, rather than what convention dictates it should do. I don’t mind saying that Persefone have produced an absolute masterpiece with ‘Aathma’ – it is the work of six supremely talented musicians at the top of their game. Short of a miracle, I cannot see any other extreme progressive metal albums topping this during 2017 or beyond. Spectacular.”

Read the full review here.

KSCOPE351-COVER-20cm-1024x1024Anathema
The Optimist

If ever there was an album release that raised my expectation levels to completely new heights, it was this one. The last two, ‘Distant Satellites’ and ‘Weather Systems’ are musical perfection, so I hoped upon hope for a third killer record. After a difficult start, where disappointment initially reigned supreme, I have grown to love ‘The Optimist’. In keeping with previous Anathema albums, it is a deep and emotional rollercoaster of a ride through some dark landscapes that only reveal their beauty with time, effort and an open mind.

“Put simply, Anathema are a band that speaks to me. They are a band that seem to know instinctively how to press my buttons and touch me whatever my mood. From euphoric and uplifting, to fragile and poignant, they cover the gamut of emotions, leaving me exhilarated one minute and sombre the next, frequently with tears as my constant and ubiquitous silent companion.”

“‘The Optimist’ is yet another shift in Anathema’s own personal evolution. Whilst the core ingredients of atmosphere, emotional depth and lyrical eloquence are present and correct here, the output framed loosely by alternative/prog rock, has a much darker feel to it in general. There is also a more pronounced use of loops, electronic sounds and percussion that were hinted at within the title track on ‘Distant Satellites’.”

“Once again, Anathema have delivered an album that is more to me than just a collection of beautifully and lovingly-crafted songs. It is an album that lives and breathes. It has a vibrancy, an intense raw honesty and a human depth that many strive to deliver but that very few succeed in achieving.”

Read the full review here.

15826722_1705409859485158_999859890853457012_nPallbearer
Heartless

It takes a lot for doom metal to feature in any top lists with me because in general, doom is not one of my natural, favourite genres. However, I had not reckoned on the new album from Pallbearer. This is doom metal but it is so much more besides. ‘Heartless’ is a near-perfect blend of styles and sounds, making it transcend genres to a certain extent. Instead, when I listen to ‘Heartless’, I find myself being thoroughly absorbed in some of the most exciting, engaging and mature music I have heard for some time.

“…having since had the opportunity to listen to this album at length, I am going to stick my neck out and say that right here, right now, ‘Heartless’ is the best doom metal record that I have ever heard. Yes it incorporates a number of different influences to create a rich tapestry of sounds, textures and moods. However, at its core, ‘Heartless’ is pure doom metal, born and bred.”

“The injection of more overt progressive tendencies alongside some sumptuous melodies and assured, ambitious song writing means that with ‘Heartless’, Pallbearer have created what I think might very well be my favourite doom metal album ever. Meaningless hyperbole this is not, because ‘Heartless’ delivers in every facet. This is a doom metal masterpiece and my life is richer for hearing it.”

Read the full review here.

Anathema – The Optimist – Album Review

KSCOPE351-COVER-20cm-1024x1024

Artist: Anathema

Album Title: The Optimist

Label: Kscope

Date of Release: 9 June 2017

Anathema is one of my top 5 bands of all time. As such, their new full-length release, ‘The Optimist’ is easily my most highly anticipated album release of 2017.

Put simply, Anathema are a band that speaks to me. They are a band that seem to know instinctively how to press my buttons and touch me whatever my mood. From euphoric and uplifting, to fragile and poignant, they cover the gamut of emotions, leaving me exhilarated one minute and sombre the next, frequently with tears as my constant and ubiquitous silent companion.

I have always liked Anathema, discovering the Liverpudlians via the magnificent ‘Eternity’, back in 1996 as a teenager. However, it was with 2010’s ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ and 2012’s ‘Weather Systems’ that my admiration grew into a full-blown love affair, further cemented by ‘Distant Satellites’ in 2014.

To some extent, timing was everything. ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ was born less than two years after the heartbreaking passing of my younger brother. And so, when the song ‘Presence’ delivers the spoken word lines of ‘Life is not the opposite of death. Death is the opposite of birth. Life is eternal’ atop a gorgeously ethereal soundscape, I was floored. I know it sounds nonsensical but I felt like Anathema knew me and had put this into the album just for me to help ease my own inner turmoil.

‘Weather Systems’ was released just two years later. Stronger human beings might have moved on from personal tragedy better than I but truth be told, I was still struggling. As such, when I heard ‘Internal Landscapes’ with another powerful spoken word intro delivered by a man who had suffered a near-death experience, I was hit once again. Was this written for me? Of course not, but the conflicting emotions that it stirred in me made me think so. From despair at my loss to the comfort of gaining a little insight into what my brother might have felt as he slipped from us, this masterpiece within Anathema’s undeniable tour-de-force continues to have a huge and lasting impact.

And then, if that wasn’t enough, along came ‘Distant Satellites’ in 2014. I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Daniel and Vincent prior to its release. The guys graciously listened to my babblings as I tried to ineloquently describe the importance of their music to me. To my eternal gratitude, the brothers then gave me the gift of a whole new perspective on ‘The Lost Song, Part 2’. Already an achingly gorgeous song, their words made this composition even more important, further cementing the bond between Anathema, my brother and me.

Given all this history, it is very difficult for me to remain entirely objective where Anathema is concerned. And naturally my expectations will be massive ahead of the release of any new material.

And, to begin with, I struggled with ‘The Optimist’, the eleventh album of the Liverpudlian’s career. Never ones to shy away from experimentation, ‘The Optimist’ is yet another shift in Anathema’s own personal evolution. Whilst the core ingredients of atmosphere, emotional depth and lyrical eloquence are present and correct here, the output framed loosely by alternative/prog rock, has a much darker feel to it in general. There is also a more pronounced use of loops, electronic sounds and percussion that were hinted at within the title track on ‘Distant Satellites’. If I’m honest, whilst I love that specific track, I had my doubts and concerns should Anathema venture further down this musical avenue.

The fact that they have done just that perhaps explains why my initial thoughts on ‘The Optimist’ were not overly favourable. The selfish side of me wanted ten more close variations of ‘The Lost Song Part 2’ or ‘Internal Landscapes’ and I felt disappointed that together, Vincent Cavanagh (vocals, guitars, keys), Daniel Cavanagh (guitars, keys, vocals), John Douglas (acoustic/electronic percussion), Lee Douglas (vocals), Jamie Cavanagh (bass) and Daniel Cardoso (drums/keyboards) hadn’t indulged me.

Anathema-promo-2017-1-1024x683 Caroline Traitler

Credit: Caroline Traitler – http://www.carolinetraitler.net

With the benefit of time and perseverance though, I can now admit that it is not the music on ‘The Optimist’ that was at fault, but my own issues, my own limitations and my selfishness. ‘The Optimist’ is not an instant fix, an immediate score of your favourite musical drug. What it is instead, is a multi-layered, multi-faceted record that demands time and effort on behalf of the listener to unlock its true potential. And when it unlocks…wow!

Interestingly the band have married this latest step forward sonically with a thematic step backwards. In 2001, Anathema released an album called ‘A Fine Day To Exit’ which told the story of a man who wanted to escape his life and the modern world. ‘The Optimist’ reprises this story and in so doing, provides closure to a story that was left unfinished. In typical Anathema style however, the conclusion remains deliberately ambiguous, inviting personal interpretation by the listener.

This thematic decision explains the somewhat strange title of the opening track on ‘The Optimist’, namely ’32.63N 117.14W’. These are in fact the co-ordinates for the beach in San Diego where ‘A Fine Day to Exit’ concludes and which, I assume, adorns the cover of that album, a cover that becomes quite emotional with closer scrutiny. I’ll admit that this is in no way my favourite album in the Anathema back catalogue but I had often thought about that cover and the family photo that sits on the dashboard of the empty car wondering how this story ultimately played out. And now I can.

This opener very much has the feel of a concept album introduction. The sound of waves lapping on the shore, footsteps crunching on the beach, a car engine starting and then station-hopping on the car radio. It is more a scene-setter than a piece of music per se but it then segues rather seamlessly into ‘Leaving It Behind’ and we’re off. And we’re off at some pace, because this is a massively up-tempo, loud and abrasive piece of rock music. The electronic aspect is present from the beginning but with a bit of listening, it really enhances the track, adding an interesting slant to the composition, particularly in the brief atmospheric mid-song break down. As the song develops, the intensity increases as guitars begin to build up into walls of jangly sound whilst the drumming from Cardoso is relentless, ably assisted by bassist Jamie Cavanagh. To my mind, it is the perfect way to introduce an album that has deliberately and consciously been recorded ‘live’ in the studio, because the resulting energy is palpable and thoroughly infectious, pulling the listener along for the heady ride immediately.

As ‘Endless Ways’ begins quietly with just a lone piano and plaintive melody, I’m still catching my breath a little. But as Lee Douglas enters the fray for the first time, accented by some lush orchestration, my attention is well and truly undivided. The melodies and angelic vocals are more reminiscent of the last couple of albums, even if Douglas has parked the vibrato which characterised previous performances. Here, as the song majestically builds from humble beginnings into a powerful and heartfelt outpouring of emotions, Lee demonstrates that she is one of the shining lights in rock music today, whilst Anathema demonstrate that they haven’t lost their mercurial spark, whatever I might have first thought. And yes, you guessed it, the tears flow as I find myself being emotionally nourished by the incredibly important rock in my life that is Anathema.

“Hold on, hold on for dear life
And run, and run all night
For you are loved in endless ways
Stay with me, please believe
I can be your memory

My world will never be the same
And my heart is never going to regret
For you are loved in endless ways
Are loved in endless ways”

This wasn’t written for me, just as previous lyrics weren’t. But they could have been. These words resound with me, they touch me and they comfort me.

More piano introduces the title track, but it is Vincent that initially joins in vocally, joined by Lee at times but only fleetingly. Delicate melodies that are pure Anathema begin to work their charm after a few listens and further orchestration embellishments help to propel the song to a new level of sophistication. The track ebbs and flows, toying with the listener’s moods, but as with its predecessor, there is a subtle build-up towards a crescendo where there’s a hint of a wailing guitar in the vein of songs like ‘Anathema’.

‘San Francisco’ is a bit of an odd one. It is an instrumental that is dominated by a rather repetitive yet strangely beguiling melody, a reprise of sorts of ‘Endless Ways’ if I’m not mistaken. It is then accented by atmospheric synths and electronic sounds which help to set a completely different tone, one that I warm to more and more as time goes by.

In keeping with the concept vibe, the sounds of a train in full flight acts as a pause before ‘Springfield’ is introduced, almost shyly and reluctantly via a quiet and delicate guitar melody which is quickly taken up by the piano. Electronic sounds make a subtle return but it is the insistent rhythmic beat that makes the biggest impression in the early stages, driving the song towards what ultimately becomes an imposing wall of post rock-inspired sound led by urgent guitars and topped off by Lee’s serene voice almost pleading to the heavens. The track then falls away to conclude in a minimalist manner accompanied by the sounds of waves, distant sirens and the whispers of a male voice.

Anathema-portrait-1-MEDIA-640x967

Credit: Caroline Traitler – http://www.carolinetraitler.net

‘Ghosts’ then offers one of the most poignant and immediate melodies on the album which is enhanced by a beautiful string arrangement and a beat that together suggests something reminiscent of a film soundtrack. By contrast, ‘Can’t Let Go’ ups the pace and features arguably Vincent’s strongest performance on the entire record. Once again, drummer Cardoso provides the drive to a track that begins in bold fashion but which builds sublimely through a clever injection of rich and vibrant aural textures.

We return to another snippet of action from the central character before we delve into the murky world of ‘Close Your Eyes’, which evokes images in my mind of a dark and smoky backstreet jazz club. I can appreciate the composition and I don’t dislike it but it is by far and away my least favourite track on the album. The fact that a trumpet plays a significant role no doubt feeds my apathy as I continue to fail to warm to brass of any kind in my music.

Any lingering misgivings are short-lived however as ‘The Optimist’ ends in genuinely commanding fashion courtesy of ‘Wildfires’ and the fittingly-titled epic closer, ‘Back To The Start’.

The former has a dark, eerie tone created by the haunting, echoed vocals of Vincent atop the ubiquitous piano which for large portions of the track delivers something monotone, incessant and deliberately uncomfortable. But it works, as does the controlled explosion of sound before another swift descent into a minimalist, thought-provoking abyss.

The album is then brought to a close by the near 12-minute ‘Back To The Start’ and it is nothing short of magical, the perfect way to round out this impressive body of work. The sound of waves gently lapping onto the beach ushers in an aching and gorgeous melody that, when coupled by some devastatingly honest lyrics, threatens to reduce this grown man to tears yet again. I’m not normally someone who likes choral vocals, especially when they have a vague gospel ‘happy’ feel to them, but here, it just sounds right. Perfect in fact. The combination of voices, orchestration and lyrics as the song builds and ultimately reaches its climax is truly epic and a feeling of barely contained euphoria washes over me, bathing me in a warm glow. It’s all too much, so when the final act of the central character follows, I get tingles, chills and all manner of conflicting emotions.

Once again, Anathema have delivered an album that is more to me than just a collection of beautifully and lovingly-crafted songs. It is an album that lives and breathes. It has a vibrancy, an intense raw honesty and a human depth that many strive to deliver but that very few succeed in achieving. Whether or not it ultimately surpasses the last couple of records in terms of my overall enjoyment, only time will tell. For now though, I am content to lose myself in ‘The Optimist’ via its aural magnificence and the emotional succour that it provides to this fragile and damaged soul.

The Score of Much Metal: 9.5

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day