Journeys and travels are often the subject of many great stories. Whether movies—perhaps The Book of Eli—or novels—Cormac McCarthy’s The Road comes to mind—paths and the travels they accommodate are simply entrancing. Why is it that they so easily ensnare the listener? Because everyone—whether past or present—knows the feeling of standing in the middle of life’s road unsure of which way to go. You know the feeling: a stomach full of uncertainty and a head full of doubt, as what seems like the entire universe is hunched over your shoulder, whispering conflicting opinions into your ears. For those moments—for the doubt-filled and indecisive, the lost and the scared—there is Optimist, a Georgian melodic hardcore band, and their debut release, Odyssey. Much like Homer’s epic poem, Odyssey forces the listener to embark upon life’s journey with a heart filled with fire and a head harder than diamond—and due to the band’s punchy, pounding songwriting and use of immersive, unique interludes, Optimist don’t just send the listener on their way, they make sure they’re headed in the right direction, to boot.
Maybe you’d lost the road and only needed to rediscover it. Perhaps you hadn’t even embarked upon your journey yet. However, by the time Odyssey’s subtle opening track “Comatose” is complete and “Pressure” is pushing down on the listener’s ears, their journey is all but guaranteed to have begun. “Pressure” does a stunning job of letting the listener know what Optimist’s instrumentation is all about: hard-hitting, booming drums, snapping, dominating bass and ebb-and-flow guitars which can strike as towering tidal waves or refreshing splashes. “Parallels” highlights the flexibility of the fretwork especially, as some of Odyssey’s heaviest and most overbearing moments kick the track off, only to slowly and subtly fade into atmospheric, serene plucks and strums. Likewise, the percussion is able to flex, bend and stretch to fit whatever mood needs to be set; whether it’s cymbal-heavy, splashy background effects or pace-setting, kick-drum heavy pummeling and pounding, the drums can gallop, run, walk or float with the best of them. Where Optimist’s musicianship differs from that of their peers is the heavy mixing of the perfectly poppy and snappy bass guitar. Never boisterous or petulant but always audible as either support or lead, the bass guitar roars alongside the other instruments, adding a low, catchy heavy end to every aspect of the band’s dynamic—a dynamic which is fleshed out by a stunning vocal performance.
Typically, crooned clean vocals are a death knell for hard hitting, crunchy hardcore bands. However, Optimist are anything but typical—this aspect is no different. The journey that is Odyssey is riddled with a variety of vocal styles: a grating, harsh mid-range shout, a bellowed, grizzly low and a soft, serene yet emotional croon. Each of these styles is not just okay or fitting, but excellent in its own right. “Parallels,” particularly, features a stunning vocal variety which covers every base Optimist have in their ball-park. This includes a spoken, verse-styled rap which blends and transgresses into a hard-hitting, ear-splitting scream which hooks the listener like a fish, and reels them in for the slaughter. “Absolution” is another track which makes a brilliant dialogue between the clean and harsh vocals, neither adhering to cliché nor becoming boring and stagnant; the vocals set the pace in this track, not the instrumentation. Throughout Odyssey, the vocals are a constantly intriguing element in that they can function as nearly any component of the band’s sound. They can blend into the background and allow the instruments to shine, or they can bum rush the listener, knocking them flat out of their chair.
The truly brilliant things about roads and the illusion of the “linear” journey of life is that the lives we lead are far from linear. Practically impossible to predict, there are any number of obstacles and hurdles which can appear from thin air—Odyssey reflects these with a series of short but stunning interludes which at first seem contrived, bordering on pointless. However, after repeated listens, these interludes are anything but boring; they bait the listener, keeping them anxious and at the edge of their seat waiting for the next lacerating blow or soothing grace with which Optimist will bestow unto them. In this aspect, while these interludes seem to fit perfectly between tracks, popping up where the listener least expects them but fading back into nothingness before they become overbearing or dull. This reflects the transient nature of life’s problems; as long as the listener keeps pushing and refuses to yield, invariably, they will be rewarded with another leaf of Odyssey’s endless wisdom.
Should you find yourself in the midst of one of life’s seemingly unsolvable quandaries, turn to Optimist, and take a lesson or two from the pages of Odyssey’s wisdom. While initially (and misleadingly) ambitious in length, Odyssey is an in-depth and addicting depiction of life and struggle which will ultimately motivate the listener to live a life worth ten of Homer’s epics.
For Fans Of: Counterparts, Motives, The Ghost Inside, Atlas, Artisan, Edenborn
By: Connor Welsh