Review Summary: Porcupine Tree embraces their atmospheric side in an unforgettable experience of vast soundscapes, fantastic production, and sheer emotional power.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: no record in the Porcupine Tree discography sounds the same. Every time you come to a new record in their expansive history it is an entirely new experience. However, as someone who heard Stupid Dream right before this, I didn’t expect this. With Signify, you don’t get the polished sound of In Absentia or the accessible sound of Lightbulb Sun or Stupid Dream. No, what you get is something entirely different and staggeringly more engaging than anything succeeding it. Signify is an amazing experience of catharsis filled with an ominous atmosphere, beautifully written instrumentals, and masterful vocal harmonies. Rest assured, this album is a one of a kind experience from top to bottom.
The band has always had atmosphere, but what makes Signify different is the way that the atmosphere is conveyed. “Bornlivedie” starts off the record with a creepy burst of swelling ambience and strange voice recordings. It sets the tone for the entire album and lets the listener know that the experience will be quite a bleak one. The album soon explodes once “Bornlivedie” transitions seamlessly into the heavy metal title track. The weight of the guitar blatantly apparent as Steve Wilson ruthlessly picks away one of the band’s heaviest guitar riffs and the sound of Chris Maitland drums really adds to the effect. Not to mention that his drum rolls really give their current drummer, Gavin Harrison, a run for his money. Oddly enough, this song is actually a cover of a song made by Neu! and a damn good one at that.
Make no mistake that the brilliance continues into the psychedelic “Sleep Of No Dreaming.” It actually could feel right at home on Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun because it is indeed more accessible than the previous tracks. However, its accessible nature doesn’t take away from the effect of the album’s overall atmosphere. The song is quite sorrowful in its lyrical content and the way that Wilson’s voice sounds in the soaring chorus is breathtaking. Believe it or not, he actually demonstrates a very decent vocal range in this song. His vocal performance it quite fitting for the experience. He showcases more vocal finesse on the beautifully disturbing “Sever”. The song begins with a drawn out guitar note that almost sounds like a horn from a steam ship and believe it or not, it is quite unsettling. The chorus features stunning vocal harmonies and the lyrics are incredibly, well, out there. They are hypnotically delivered and they really come across as describing a world where people are heavily controlled like zombies. “No sense of time/Sever tomorrow/Exitless mind.”
Another fantastic trait of this album is the brilliant use of tribal drum beats. In the cornerstone of the album, “Waiting,” they play an essential part in building the mood. It’s split up into two phases and phase one is the more poppy side of it. Wilson’s sings about yearning for something new to happen and being on the verge of depression and according to the lyrical content, drugs are one of the solutions to this problem. After a few minutes the song then breaks into an absolutely wonderful guitar solo. However, the real stunner actually happens to be the instrumental second half that is phase two. The song is essentially an immense build up with ambience and it utilizes the tribal drums incredibly well. Phase two soon explodes into a crescendo at the four minute mark that you won’t soon forget. Words almost cannot describe how much you will moved at the sound of all of the textures beautifully mashing together. The guitar solo is inspiring, epic, emotional, and borderline tearjerking. It really showcases to sheer and overpowering effect that music can have and if you can listen hard enough, you can hear the very faint strings pecking through that add to the emotional effect.
There are often times on this record where Colin Edwin’s bass guitar is the driving force of the song and he is the real star of the show on “Idiot Prayer” and “Intermediate Jesus”. Once again, “Idiot Prayer” utilizes tribal drum beats and is another build into an extremely masterful bass riff from Colin. He sets the stage for Wilson’s guitar that comes in shortly after. People often say that the bass is just there for the sake of having it, but this is not ever the case with Porcupine Tree because Colin really opens your eyes to how powerful of an instrument the bass can be. His bass riff in “Intermediate Jesus” only adds to the extremely experimental mood of the song. The song boasts provocative voice recordings about religion, psychedelic guitar riffs, and a really jazzy drumming performance from Chris.
The album ends with “Dark Matter” and it is the perfect song to end on because it describes how this has become a full time career for Wilson, but it preaches about all of the hard work it took to get to where they are. The negative side of the song then turns itself around with another inspiring guitar riff until the very end. Once it ends, you will only want to start it over again. The record’s fantastic sound, very vast soundscapes, and sheer emotional power will never leave you and it is truly the essence of an unforgettable experience. This sure has become a full time career Wilson, and for that we thank you.