Review Summary: A disappointing album from musicians capable of so much more.
As much as I admire Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree and Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth (one of my favorite bands), their hotly anticipated (and long overdue) collaboration album under the moniker Storm Corrosion made me leery. Supergroups are always a gamble; for every Down there’s a Hellyeah, for every Them Crooked Vultures a Chickenfoot. We always hope pitting great minds together will yield something unique and timeless, but just as often such a situation becomes a breeding ground for clashing egos.
However, neither of these expected outcomes occurred – the respective geniuses of Åkerfeldt and Wilson manage remarkably not to clash in an ego battle; in fact, they’re largely absent. The self-titled album sounds like an unfinished, cut and paste series of song ideas that at times hint at something more but always manage to fall flat. Sonically the album reflects their shared love of 70’s progressive rock music (as loosely as this can be called “rock”), and is largely percussionless. Delicate fingerpicked guitars, high pitched vocal harmonies and King Crimson-esque pseudo-jazz fusion flourishes dominate the album’s 6 tracks. That said, very little actually happens for the album’s full 47 minutes – each song plays like an intro track, never taking much time to develop or build into a cohesive song, preferring to flirt with idea after idea until the song eventually ends, listless and climaxless. While this lack of a linear song structure isn’t something inherently bad (in fact I love plenty of bands that eschew such conventions), the material fails to deliver in terms of atmosphere, evocative power or emotional panache.
The listless nature of the songs is particularly frustrating considering the compositional excellence and emotionally captivating body of work of Porcupine Tree and (especially) Opeth. It’s not a simple desire for the death metal bombast of Opeth or the hard rock accessibility of Porcupine Tree that leaves so much to be desired in Storm Corrosion, as both bands have proven themselves capable of producing music just as subdued, and in some cases entire albums (see Opeth’s excellent album Damnation for such an example) that are miles away from such limp, half-baked mediocrity.
Opening number “Drag Ropes,” while sporting some odd, almost eerie fingerpicked guitar, is nearly 10 minutes of pure buildup – all tease and no climax. Despite the crystal clear production (as is typical of Wilson) and the lushly layered arrangements of flutes, keyboards, acoustic and electric guitar, (sparse) percussion, bass, and a multitude of vocal tracks, at no point does the song sound like anything more than a glorified jam session that was chopped up, run through Pro Tools and garnished with some symphonic bells and whistles. The rest of the songs more or less suffer from similar issues – the title track, while opening with beautifully delicate acoustic guitar and vocal melodies courtesy of Wilson, ultimately spends all of its bloated 10 minute running time either preparing for an actual song to start or uselessly building an atmosphere that simply isn’t there – it’s hard to tell where the song (or any of them for that matter) was ever intended to go. “Happy,” “Lock Howl” and closer “Ljudet Innan” continue down the same path, with the latter sounding like stock music to be played quietly and on a loop as the soundtrack to an Animal Planet documentary.
Granted, I really don’t hate Storm Corrosion at all – with a little bit of the cohesion and focus Wilson and Åkerfeldt are more than capable of, Storm Corrosion could have easily achieved something great instead of merely hinting at it. Unfortunately I think I’ll have to stick with Blackwater Park and Deadwing to scratch that Åkerfeldt/Wilson itch when it arises.