Review Summary: A musical journey more than worth taking.... again and again
Steve Knight of Flipsyde said about his band’s music that it was like fluid; it could become anything that they wanted it to, take any shape they desired it to. I liked that statement for some reason. I liked the way this guy looked at his music and that statement stuck in my head. Now I do not know if Flipsyde’s music is like fluid in actuality but this statement is
true of a few bands like Fates Warning, Opeth, to an extent Ihsahn, Incubus and possibly the jewel in that crown, Porcupine Tree.
The brainchild of singer-songwriter-producer Steven Wilson, these guys have been around a long time now (around 16 years if I’m not wrong) but really got mainstream attention after In Absentia happened. When they started people thought they were psychedelic and now have been pigeonholed into prog rock but that’s the thing. They’re too diverse to slot into any one genre. It would be utterly misleading.
The album in contention is their 2005 release, Deadwing
. Now, one must understand that prior to Deadwing two important things happened that influenced heavily the sound of the album: In Absentia
and …… Damnation
– that’s right Opeth’s Damnation
that Steven Wilson produced and played the synth on. The sound on their current release sounds a direct progression of a marriage of the sounds in the two albums. How?
Well for one, PT’s sound in In Absentia
has been carried over to the new album. For example, the first song (title song) has the same mix of dark riffage, pseudo dark verses and slick interludes that Blackest Eyes
, the first song of the previous album, had. There are major changes noticeable also though. For one, the songs sound much more haunting (in the same way Damnation was), the riffs are darker and somewhat Opeth like and even some of the lead guitar work seems to have a tinge of Akerfeldt’s touch.
The one strongest point about the album, I think, is the songwriting and man behind that is Steven Wilson. This album truly lets one appreciate what a limitless songwriter he is; from 4 minute riff heavy rockers (Shallow
) to 12 minute epics (Arriving Somewhere but Not Here
), he does it all and he doesn’t disappoint. The songs never outstay their welcome and never seem to get long for the sake of being long. As such it becomes apparent that the philosophy seems to focus on what is to be conveyed, not writing a song with a structure in mind and then just filling in the blanks.
And what’s more, the album has a concept; a concept that Steven Wilson and friend Mike Bennion have penned down as a Deadwing screenplay, hopefully to be converted into a movie. The story hasn’t found any source of confirmation but the fans believe it is about a guy (possibly schizophrenic) who is haunted by the ghost of a girl he was in love with and then killed (that’s where the schizophrenia comes in apparently).
The other surprise that the album has in store is the dynamics in the songs; both within songs and between songs. Many diverse genres can be seen interspersed through the album: from alt rock to punk, indie pop and rock, classic rock, prog rock, psychedelic and even thrash and heavy metal influences (like in Deadwing
and in the middle of Arriving Somewhere But Not Here
) – as such the album has a very diverse and a very fresh sound to it; it’s not likely one would have heard a lot of music like this.
A special mention here would probably be Mellotron Scratch
, which starts out as a haunting melody over some electronic percussion and acoustic guitars and then, by the end, morphs into something else entirely ending with beautiful vocal harmonies that would have done Queen proud.
The instrumentation, throughout the record, is a pleasure to listen to. Gavin Harrison is an excellent drummer and it shows throughout the record, from thrashy banging to jazzy pop playing with subtlety, he does it all. The bass here deserves a special nod. Throughout the record, the bass is the glue that pulls all the songs together, pretty much like RHCP and allows the other instruments (guitar and synth) to diversify their sound. A lot of jazzy bass grooves fill the album and give it that much of an edge. These two form possibly one of the better rhythm sections in rock today.
Steven Wilson handles his duties on the guitar, synth and vocals more than admirably. He has a tiny bit of help though – in the form of guest musicians: Adrian Belew from King Crimson and Michael Akerfeldt on backing vocals and guitar lead on one song. The guitar ends up being the most diverse sounding instrument on the record – from all out riffage (Shallow
) to staying in the background just to fill in the chord (Deadwing
verses) to acoustic strumming (Mellotron Scratch
) to arpeggios, leads that remind one of Tom Morello, Kirk Hammett (slides a la Turn the Page) and to an extent Akerfeldt himself; the record can read like “Stuff the Guitar Can Do”. The extensive use of synths in the background helps add a lot of depth and atmosphere to the songs, many times enhancing the haunting quality of the songs.
Vocals are also beautifully done on the album Wilson ends up using his voice as a fifth instrument and as such many different vocal stylings are apparent throughout the album, including what can be closest described as rapping (on Deadwing
). Vocal harmonies (some with Akerfeldt) also can be found scattered across the album.
The album, too, flows very well overall, mixing the slow ballads, the harder faster numbers but again, the main philosophy is the what has to be conveyed and how it has to be conveyed. This ends up arranging all the songs very nicely. The fast songs are catchy and the heavier sections may even get one headbanging and slow songs truly feel heartfelt. All the songs run through a gamut of emotions with some sections of the album sounding really uplifting (Lazarus
) but it is very apparent a dark melancholy runs quietly throughout the album and is often amplified by the synth soundscapes over real life sounds (like a running train at the end of Lazarus
and the intro to Deadwing
) and also adds to the eeriness factor.
Overall, the latest album is very nearly a masterpiece. It’s not a classic and not the best PT has to offer, but that doesn’t take anything away from what is a great record, a rewarding listen and a musical journey that one can’t help but take again and again.