Review Summary: Darker, louder, better, and pensively reflecting on society; Steven Wilson has crafted an opus of social adolescent criticism whose message will ring true for years to come. Superb.45 of 48 thought this review was well written
A lonely teenager sits on a couch, watching the TV and zapping with his remote. He's just gamed his fingers to death with his new Xbox. His parents try to talk him out of his lazy habitual lifestyle. He does not respond. They try again, but he ignores them no matter what, his eyes blank and still staring straight at the electronical screen before him. Eventually his parents just give up, leaving him to wallow in his own self-absorbed terrible way of living.
This is the picture of youth Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree sketches in the opening track of his latest release, Fear Of A Blank Planet. His decidedly haunting lyrical poetics set the tone for what now already is about to become one of the best albums of the year, not in the least because of the strengths of this album, which lie where they have always lain for this band: the invoking of atmosphere and a sense of psychedelia, layered with thick bass lines, complex drum patterns and melodic guitar riffs.
The aforementioned riffs are definitely what make the atmosphere on this album. Wilson chugs out riffs that are louder, darker, more atmospheric, harder, just overall more evil than they usually are. Aided by some cutting edge lyrics of angst and harsh social criticism interwoven in the songs, the album's moods range from melancholy to raging to clinically depressed. This is the first Porcupine Tree outing ever that I have seen that has gone full throttle on the dark side of life like this. The whole disc retains this atmosphere due to the lyrical content of the album being themed around one thing: the sorry state of youth. It is a miserable ride through destroyed teenage lives all the way through.
And his riffs are not just atmospheric or moody. They can be plain monstrous at times. If you have been impressed by Opeth or Dream Theater riffs, just wait till you hear the musical orgasm that is Anesthetize. Containing all the core elements of the PT sound in one seventeen minute plus epic, it begins in a psychedelic mood more reminiscent of Pink Floyd with too much mellotron-esque feel. It slowly moves on and on, until it breaks into a middle part which shows a panorama of metal riffs that would make Mikael Akerfeldt accuse Wilson of blatant plagiarism, that's just how badass and evil this piece is. And it's not just Wilson who shines on here. The band brought in Alex Lifeson (yes, the famous Rush guitarist), who delivers a top-notch guitar solo in the song, and additionally, Gavin Harrison's drumming is just jaw-dropping. It's incredibly tight too; when at the eleven-minute-mark Wilson throws open the guitar sound full throttle it sounds like all hell breaks loose, but due to the drumming not a second of this outburst of violence can be regarded as misplaced. To put it in one word: astounding.
Next to Anesthetize and the title track, which show some of the heavy sides of the band, Porcupine Tree know that they are not a complete all-out metal band destined to kick your ass. They let down the tempo on two tracks. While My Ashes is a decidedly dodgy ballad in the sense that it tries to be Trains, but fails, Sentimental is a more than adequately upgraded version of Lazarus. A great ballad that allows you a breather in between two of the heaviest tracks of the band's impressive catalogue. As Wilson croons out how he doesn't want to really go anywhere and sees that he can't blame his parents for his mistakes, he inadvertently conveys the message of hopelessness and emptiness that besets the whole album.
He follows that up with the plainly disturbing Way Out Of Here, which begins with a soundscape from another guest (Robert Fripp of King Crimson fame), but also turns out to have some lyrics that would make Cobain's sense of angst hide in fear of being called a wuss. Especially the verses are heartbreaking and flow along so nicely with the atmosphere of fear and anxiety that once again weaves its threads all through the song. It may be best illustrated by an example:
"I can't take the staring and the sympathy
And I don't like the questions:
"How do you feel?"
"How's it going at school?"
"Do you wanna talk about it?"
The prime example of an alienated teenager right here folks, and without a mention of self-harming activities. We don't need explicit imagery to show us how just how messed up we actually are. Just an insight into a troubled mind refusing to answer to the essential questions of life will do, and excellently at that.
The album ends on a decent note with Sleep Together, which comprises the end. It's not bad by any means, but here I have the feeling that it's something I've already seen before, but the chorus more than makes up for it; even if Porcupine Tree are not going to get a gold star for originality they will at least obtain an award for sheer consistency and class.
So if you are ready for a ride through the dark side of the adolescent mind, spend your bucks on this baby, and sit back and enjoy. Steven Wilson and companions have no doubt created the album of the year with a deftly crafted, varied, yet continuously haunting at atmospheric disc that will leave you begging for repeat plays for weeks after and continually referencing when dealing with teenage angst. Just one last warning: if you're not down with modern metal, this album just may be a little too much to digest. Nevertheless the lyrical concept and the atmospheres still ring true in a world which just exemplifies the stage the band subtly sets. Ergo, I still believe this could be a timeless album due to its relevancy, and I recommend you pick this up first thing in the morning.