Review Summary: Steven Wilson and co. release some b-sides from the "Fear of a blank Planet" recording sessions that can easily stand by themselves as solid Porcupine Tree recordings.
Porcupine Tree are a fascinating outfit on many levels. They have been around in some form with Steven Wilson at the helm in some form or another for a whopping seventeen years but it is only the comparatively recent albums "In Absentia", "Deadwing" and earlier this year "Fear Of A Blank Planet" that have pulled them into the international spotlight. This was I believe for two main reasons, firstly that Steven Wilson's direction for the band changed to a more structured intent with "In Absentia" and secondly Wilson's involvement (both producing and singing) with the metal juggernauts Opeth made him instantly have a higher profile. This involvement with Opeth
has seemed to influence Wilson with the band moving towards a heavier sound overall. They recently toured with Dream Theater
So now very suddenly this CD/EP entitled "Nil Recurring" appears and is being sold sparingly at gigs until full release later in the year. Consisting of four songs, it explores some similar territory to "Fear.." but explores some brand new ideas that keep the listener interested. All of the songs are over six minutes long, the last track "What Happens Now?.." clocking in at around eight minutes. The album opens with the instrumental "Nil recurring" and gives a reasonable indication of the material contained within the next three tracks, movements between delay drenched heaviness and slower breakdowns. There is no "My Ashes" or "Lazurus" on this EP. Each song moves through the delay drenched heaviness and slower breakdowns mixed with jam moments; there is no complete slow song. Nil Recurring has guest guitar from Robert Fripp and is gloriously flowing. The syncopated rhythms of the song push it along at a very nice tempo. This song is the most original on the album, seemingly using no material from "Fear..".
The next song "Normal" is like an extended, heavier version of "Sentimental" with the same chorus used and guitar riffs. There is notably no piano introduction, this track is guitar led and is much longer than sentimental. For a lot of fans Sentimental wasn't exactly the highlight of "Fear.." and this version which does have several different and new vocal lines along with very different backing music gives the song a brand new edge and is a good listen. It shows Wilson's vocal range off very nicely as well.
One thing you will notice in the final three tracks on the EP is rhythmic elements that are in the 20 minute "Anaesthetize" from "Fear". You start to realise how much work went into making that album. The next track "Cheating the Polygraph" has a great drive to it that pushes it along and seamlessly links this heavy/melodic breakdown techniques with keyboard leads. Around six minutes in you notice some of the rhythms from "Anaestehtize" creeping in but the method through which they are applied puts the listener in a different mindset to that frame.
The last song "What happens Now?" has some of the lyrics from "My Ashes" slotted into it. It is once again a completely different song, more of a slow burner that builds up to a splitter/distortion effects laden end to the EP. This song is my personal favourite from the EP and finishes the set of songs very competently.
The overall mix of the EP is a little rawer than Steven Wilson's signature polished sound that you can hear on any of Opeth or Porcupine Tree's recent full lengths. The EP differs from "Fear.." in a few key ways. It is less claustrophobic to listen to, with some of the songs moving more toward jam sessions and flowing a lot better. The constraint put on songs like "Sentimental" that I heard isn't found here at all. Because the songs are all reasonably long, they seem to have less emphasis on conventional rock structure than on "Fear.." and this allows for a more varied feel to the EP. If you are a fan of Porcupine Tree's music and you can get your hands on this piece you will find it is a worthwhile addition addition to the collection of a band that is constantly experimenting with change.
Porcupine Tree are:
Richard Barbieri (keyboard)
Steven Wilson (vocals and guitar)
Gavin Harrison (drums)
Colin Edwin (bass)