Review Summary: A concise summary of rock music spanning the bridge between psychedelia, Britpop and the modern progressive metal movement in one convincing package.
Porcupine Tree used to be a moniker for a one-man band comprised only of Steven Wilson. His earlier outings were marvellously psychedelic, revelling in Floyd-esque techniques to lure the general public to his music. But as his influences grew and Porcupine Tree began to have more full-time members, and quit being a Wilson solo project, the band slowly changed towards a more rock and progressive sound that would dominate their later releases.
In Absentia is one such release and it showcases a lot of variety. The Pink Floyd influences are not altogether gone from the scene, they definitely have remained, in such Pieces as Lips of Ashes or .3, but Steven Wilson's genre has become more refined and explored different types of music. In Absentia truly has metal riffs, which can be attributed to his work with Swedish metal giants Opeth, and some other riffs (like the one in Blackest Eyes) are very reminiscent of Tool's staccato guitar techniques as well. Many bass lines in songs seem to fit in very well with Awake/Falling Into Infinity era Dream Theater, parts of Strip The Soul being very reminiscent of New Millenium. The band somehow manages to combine those harder influences, with the Pink Floyd sound already mentioned, and mixes in some Oasis and Coldplay touches for good measure. Trains is very reminiscent of Wonderwall in its guitar sound and songwriting (not in the riffs, it just generally fits in with that song), and the album's closing track Collapse The Light Into Earth is nearly plagiarising Coldplay's The Scientist and Politik.
However, despite the various influences of the band, the whole album holds up as coherent and solid without Steven Wilson managing to look like a thief. The core elements of the Tree sound are still there, and despite the band leaning towards a more rock-sound in general, there are some excellent quiet moments on the record. Heartattack in a Layby is a beautifully arranged, yet eerie and creepy ballad, haunting in its scope and just scary overall. Trains is despite its clear Oasis overtones a very catchy and solid track overall, and Collapse The Light Into Earth achieves what Chris Martin never could: a solid, coherent and beautiful emotional piano ballad. Coldplay's songs have never convinced as a whole, but Porcupine Tree really sound more honest overall. Plus the violins add a serene touch to the song, something Coldplay never would have thought of.
Another slab of evidence that Porcupine Tree are never going to change to a mere commercial whim is evident on the track The Sound Of Muzak. As Wilson croons about how "one of the wonders of the world is going down", and nobody cares enough, he subtly underlines that the music industry despite all its influences on the people is a stealing and lying bitch, cheating you behind your back with the mass-produced songs it has released over the past. Without being a political statement or sounding like a gruff punk band without any sort of nuance, the band has chosen clever criticism and subtlety as its methods of attack, which is commendable, as they can keep their heads down in public and still know there is the satisfaction of a job well done.
Next to these softer sounds Porcupine Tree also display they are also worthy of being ranked next to the big names in prog metal these days, due to the fact that Wedding Nails, a gripping instrumental with some clearly metal riffs, and The Creator Has A Mastertape, of which the vicious guitar barrages in the chorus recall Nine Inch Nails' best moments, are qualitatively comparable with the best work of bands such as Opeth or Dream Theater. Musical variety and songwriting skill is not something the band is short on. .3 contrasts these riffs with some haunting bass lines and Pink Floyd-esque ambient background music. Gravity Eyelids, despite going on for way too long, also achieves those haunting background layering qualities with grandiosity, again sounding like a modern and evolved Pink Floyd, albeit lyrically a little different (the song seems to be about sex.)
This means that overall the band has done a great job with this effort. It manages to combine old 70s psychedelic ambient music with modern exponents of the progressive metal movement without sacrificing an inch of catchiness and remaining listenable at almost all times. You don't need any Pink Floyd records or Opeth songs anymore. With this disc, you can have them all summarised in one, sweet, seventy minute long musical orgasm. What would you want more? Finely crafted, this may well be one of the best pickups in modern rock possible. Do yourself a favour and get this, it's worth every penny.