Every musician tries to attain perfection within his music. They try to play better, more crushing riffs, or use more intricate melodies, smashing vocal lines, whatever is the artist or band's style. Music is continually driven by a search for perfection, leading to radical departures in a band's sound or sometimes the more subtle nuancing of previously muffled elements in a band's sound. Steven Wilson over the years has embodied this musical sentiment, and let it culminate on his band's 2005 outing, Deadwing.
And whatever can be said about this album is, one of the things you can never claim here is that it contains no variety. Deadwing spans almost the entire musical spectrum, going from ambient background noises to cute pop ballads to crushing metal riffs only to return for some rocked out grooves. The band got pigeonholed with the progressive rock movement, which the band itself has denied, but in the very definition of the word lies the true meaning, and the implication of moving forward and thinking outside the boundaries is something that Porcupine Tree embodies to the full extent.
Opener Deadwing is already a brilliant example of this musical kaleidoscope the band seems to want to attain. In fact, Steven Wilson has said he actually has to limit himself to genres, since his music taste is so varied that if he tried to inject everything into it the band would become so eclectic it just simply wouldn't fit. However, this song contains just enough elements for it to work. Electronic noises open the song only to give way to a nicely conceived rock groove, which enhances the atmosphere just to bow into some metal riffing reminiscent of famed death metallers Opeth. The band continues to surge forward and backwards on the whole song, making the nine minute opus always interesting to listen to as every new twist and turn brings another previously unheard sound to the table.
Of course, you can't have an album that contains 6 of such 10-minute monsters, and sometimes Steven Wilson and comrades forego their epic musical scape in favour of concise metal anthems (Shallow), dreamy pop ballads in the vein of Coldplay (Lazarus), or Pink Floyd-esque senses of etherealism (Glass Arm Shattering). The band even manages to marry those Floydish influences with crushing metal riffs recalling Swedish math-metallers Meshuggah, on their 12 minute monster Arriving Somewhere but Not Here. And surprisingly, the dynamic qualities of the song, going from slow mellotron parts to full out instrumental blasting, work so well the sense of duality in velocity is given a new meaning.
Steven Wilson himself has said he does not fancy himself as a musical virtuoso despite the tendency of the band to be labeled prog rock. And indeed, despite guest appearances from prog heroes Mikael Akerfeldt (who provides some guitar solos and backing vocals) and King Crimson's Adrian Belew, the definition of prog in the sense of instrumental virtuosity does not fit the band's album. Indeed, most songs tend to be rather restrained in the sense of epic guitar solos and 3 minute long indulgent keyboard excersises. It is rather, the songwriting that qualifies this band as a progressive one: the songs never degenerate into a display of musical showoff artists, but pride themselves on always giving way to exactly the right riff or melody at just the right moment, without repeating it ad nauseam.
And that is why this album comes so close to perfection in its own simple way. It is not merely a technical display of musical proficiency. It is also not over-reliant on one musical formula honed to perfection. It does not rely on pure glossy production to cover the shortcomings of the band. Instead, it marries appropriate technicality, excellent songwriting and intelligent dynamics with different musical branches and a perfectly mixed and well-produced sound to form one coherent musical whole which indeed, when looked at, becomes more than the sum of its parts. And that radical reinvention of the so oft misleadingly thrown around word "progressive" is what elevates this album to bigger heights than their previous ones, and in fact, many other bands that share this subgenre. And in that sense, Porcupine Tree and album are more representative of the term than any band that previously shared the tag.