Review Summary: Metanoia should be seen as two parts with Mesmer being atmospherical and Metanoia being the progressive element.
Porcupine Tree has an extensive and expansive catalogue. Their albums range from novelty eight track recordings (..On the Sunday of Life) to the Pink Floyd inspired (The Sky Moves Sideways and Voyage 34) to progressive rock inspired (Signify) to almost metal (In Absentia/Deadwing). Therefore there is a lot of range and scope for saying which their best is. Most would say that Signify is their greatest achievement to date as it encompasses their progressive element which they are renown for. However, In Absentia/Deadwing brought new ears as they created an almost metal album helped by Opeth frontman Mikael Akerfeldt. It was during the Signify era where Porcupine Tree decided to create an improvised piece called Metanoia.
Metanoia should really be split into two parts. Part one being Mesmer I/II/III and part two the Metanoia I/II/Insignificance songs. This is mainly due to the fact that these were recorded in separate times and therefore shouldn’t be regarded as an album as a whole. The Mesmer parts and Door to the River were recorded in Cambridge in July 1995. Metanoia I/II and Insignificance were recorded at the Doghouse in March 1996. Milan was recorded in 1997 and should be seen as individual song as should Door to the River as they are basically fillers. However, enough with that, I’m sure your actually just wanting to know what the music sounds like.
The Mesmer parts are elegant as they use a lot more atmosphere to generate their sound. Richard Barbieri uses synths to great effect as they are spacier and more organic. It also adds to the progressive element which is prominent throughout the album. Mesmer III has the only vocals (besides Milan) on the album as Steve Wilson (guitar and additional keyboard) uses a radio to generate voices. At the start they talk about recording without Colin Edward (bass) as he is late, apparently. It adds to the improvised effect. The drumming of Chris Maitland is fairly loud in the mix which would normally be a bad thing. However, he doesn’t take much of the limelight from any of the other members. Richards’s synth work floats around the drums as they create a mystical and are largely atmospherical on the Mesmer songs. Door to the River was recorded at the same time but was enhanced in the studio. It is of the same caliber as the others but more polished and refined which would be expected. They have a nice aura about them as they are more for relaxing.
Metanoia starts off in the same vein as the Mesmer songs. However, it slowly moves to be a lot more keyboard driven. The keyboard is very snyth-like as it is similar to that of Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra. Steve Wilson plays both keyboard and guitar like previous songs, although, now he is more dominant as they are not recording with Richard Barbieri. They don’t create the same soundscapes or atmosphere as any of the Mesmer songs. Metanoia is lot more instrumental based as there are more bleats and blops throughout. This creates a proggier feel as a whole because it is very keyboard laden. Chris’s playing is very tight and never goes overboard as he keeps a beat to contrast the keyboard of Steve Wilsons’. There is a lot more texture to these songs and this gives a good contrast to that heard on Mesmer. Insignificance should be counted as a Metanoia song as it bridges the gap between the first and second song (said in notes by Steve Wilson).
Milan is a little song which has Steve Wilson and Richard Barbieri (I think) talking in a restaurant in Milan. It adds a nice dynamic to the album as it showcases what they do in real life. Milan is basically them talking about what they look, what they are eating, etc. It would also be a nice opener as well as closer because it gives a different dynamic to the album. It gives a little insight into Porcupine Tree.
Metanoia should be seen as two parts with Mesmer being atmospherical and Metanoia being the progressive element. It is a good improvisation album as they create different textures and contrast very well.
I recommend it for progressive fans of Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra, King Crimson’s In the Court of Crimson King and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.