Review Summary: How much do you like '70s prog?
Being an avid admirer of vintage progressive rock, it was of no surprise to anyone that Steven Wilson's latest solo album would present itself as a formulated collage of his various influences within the genre. Musically, The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)
is a collection of songs that offer typical flaunts of exuberant instrumental virtuosity, atmospheric passages, and melodious ballads. Each song even encompasses its own lyrical tale of supernatural fantasy, which adds a sense of thematic storytelling to the listening experience. Needless to say, this album practically aspires to epitomize every paradigm and cliche that has ever been associated with progressive rock. And as if that wasn't enough to convince the audience that this is his serious endeavor into traditional progressive epics, he even hired Alan Parsons to aid him engineer the album. A living legend in his own right who has worked with other renowned acts like Pink Floyd and as well his own group, The Alan Parsons Project. It's obvious that Steven Wilson did everything he could to orchestrate an album that would live up to the compelling dynamism of classics like In The Court Of The Crimson King
, and even Alan Parson's Tales of Mystery and Imagination
. I'll confess now that though this album is certainly faithful to the sounds that were thriving throughout the 1970s, the idiosyncrasies of Steven Wilson's previous works are still more than evident throughout the entirety of The Raven That Refused to Sing
. It's actually what makes this album such an alluring performance; his ability to fuse the ideologies of his inspirations, as well as his own concepts, in a manner that sounds both intriguing and gloriously prolific.
The album opener, "Luminol", is one of the most meticulously composed pieces in the Steven Wilson catalogue. It's a very entertaining song and not just because it's an extravagant spectacle of creativity, but because it also offers prog-heads the opportunity to play a beloved musical pastime, 'spot-the-influence'. "Luminol" kicks-off with an enthralling demeanor that really brings Yes' "Roundabout" to mind, even managing to deploy some Chris Squire-esque bass grooves that dominate the lively rhythmic pace. The entire first half of "Luminol" is pretty much an elongated jam between the musicians, which even showcases a diverse range of customary instruments like the flute and of course, the glorious synthesizer. Though all of this spontaneous energy only serves as a kind of ascension that takes us into a much more emotive sublimity. As the energy of the first half dissolves into a calming and spacious atmosphere, Steven Wilson directs the piece into a gentle nostalgic ballad. The flute even reappears to play a more prominent role here, giving off a rather beauteous melody that well compliments the already serene environment of this particular movement. Though like various progressive epics in the past, this dream-like serenity abruptly vanishes without warning and leaves us astray inside a much more abstract setting. This latter portion of "Luminol" even has the audacity to incorporate a conspicuously King Crimson-derived mellotron ambience, which is pretty much the final ingredient that was needed to authenticize this potent brew of '70s prog.
"The Holy Drinker" is one of many songs that introduces a whole new level of technical maneuvering from Steven Wilson. It's a jazzy style that may instantly bring Traffic or King Crimson's pre-Larks
' era to mind, but it also draws influence from fusion acts like Return To Forever, whose music often seemed to emulate the sound of progressive rock yet still remained well intact with their distinct jazz roots. The opening segment of "The Holy Drinker" has a very typical fusion repertoire to it. The music is bombastic yet coordinated exquisitely, with each musician taking turns in the spotlight and complimenting each other's vibes. Keyboardist Adam Holzman and woodwind expert Theo Travis are constantly channeling the lead work of jazz legends like Chick Corea and Yusef Lateef to augment the vitality of this piece with just the right amount of funk. Aside from Guthrie Govan's jaw-dropping guitar antics, the movements made by Adam Holzman and Theo Travis should be your main center of focus on this piece because they are jamming like their lives depend on it. The intimate synergy that the keyboards and clarinet melodies are working on throughout the solo breaks are something that will bewilder the senses in awe. This whole entire song is basically just an eccentric voyage through musical passages that are overwhelmed with elaborate virtuosity. "The Pin Drop" is one of the other heavier rock pieces from the album, though to a more temperate degree than the two previously mentioned. This is where the album actually starts to feel
like it was written by the frontman of Porcupine Tree. There's a variety of influences all mingling together at once throughout the song, but the pop aspects from albums like Stupid Dream
and Lightbulb Sun
are the most obvious of all. This is one of the heavier songs that focuses more on the vocal harmonies of Steven Wilson rather than promoting the grandiosity of the instrumental band. It's a very mellifluous piece, and a rather innovative one because it manages to add a wondrous sense of beauty to the aggressive undertones that carry out the rhythm.
Essentially, The Raven That Refused to Sing
pretty much comprises of 3 progged-out songs and 3 folk ballads so as to form a good symmetry of sounds. Though displaying similarities in their tone, each ballad follows its own style and agenda. This gentler side of the album is actually quite reflective of the songs in Genesis' Trespass
and even parts from Grace For Drowning
, because though these songs are arranged in traditional folk music, they certainly dwell into stylistic innovation. "The Watchmaker", for example, is a very traditional piece that is primarily driven by an acoustic arrangement of guitars and flutes, which unionize a soft melody that leaves us sinking deeply within its emotive waves of melancholia. There are also some eruptive outbursts in "The Watchmaker", which also add a sense of excitement to the piece with an array of jazzy solo work. "The Watchmaker" may not contrive any unfamiliar twists and turns compared to other progressive rock songs, but it's certainly an exemplary highlight within the genre's recent efforts. The eponymously named, "The Raven That Refused To Sing", has a much more modern influence than the rest of the songs, and one that particularly nods at Radiohead. The spotlight here is well focused on Steve Wilson as he emulates a pretty good 'Thom Yorke-like' piano ballad. From the way the melody and soundscapes float about in a dreary fashion to even the manner that Steve Wilson delivers his vocals, it's by no means a rip-off, but it does exhibit a diverse layer of sounds similar to an arrangement like, for example, Amnesiac
's "Pyramid Song."
In retrospective, The Raven That Refused to Sing
actually reminded me a lot of Opeth's Heritage
. And not just because of its musical style, which is comparable, but because both albums feel more like a tribute to their influences rather than something organically conceived. This is still 'Steven Wilson doing Steven Wilson' because the album is really another expansion to his love for progressive rock, but his obsession with Camel's invigorating rock deliveries and King Crimson's ever shifting moods has never played a role this prominent in the past. As far as entertainment value goes, The Raven That Refused to Sing
obviously emphasizes on elaborate technical work, but it manages to orchestrate them in a manner that is captivatingly euphonic. The songs themselves are very engaging, but that kind of instant transparency will only be known by fans of progressive rock. It's actually more than likely that the occasional listener may view The Raven That Refused to Sing
to be a bit overblown by its exaggerated dynamics. I particularly recommend this to anyone looking for a quality effort in the genre. Whether or not you're a fan of Porcupine Tree and the solo works of its frontman, rest assured that this is a new Steven Wilson directing this album. His way of thinking might be the same, but the way he executes his ideas are now vastly different. We certainly see him exercising new concepts on this album, and investigating the quintessence of traditional progressive music, but it would be fallacious to consider this a growth as a composer because almost every clever scheme in the album is nothing more than an echo of a moment once conjured up by another musician in the past. Be ready to see a much more focused approach to the musicianship in The Raven That Refused to Sing
than his previous solo work. This album doesn't venture into exploratory scenarios like Grace For Drowning
, and though it's style might be obstinately clinging on to one sole agenda, it's a far more coherent effort because of it. I'll admit that though his ambitions as an artist might be plagued with a fanatical obsession with '70s prog, he's at least able to channel that infatuation into formulating a very well orchestrated and enjoyable homage to his beloved genre.