Review Summary: Exploring their old roots and placing them in a new musical 'environment'.
Writing a review of Deadwing is a bit of a surreal event, as Porcupine Tree were the band that exposed me to the diverse world of progressive rock at a young age. It was a fascinating musical "trip" at the time - considering my knowledge of music back then was limited to Queen, Journey, and beginner-level classical tunes - and the amount of atmosphere and intricacy in the compositions was astounding. Later in my musical journey, as I was looking back on my Steven Wilson memories with rose-colored glasses, little did I know the band's status elsewhere until some research was done... as in, the whole "prog legends" status. Even with such a fondness for their music, it seemed a bit farfetched to give this hyperbolic title to a band that don't seem to be all that progressive in a traditional sense. Hell, remember all that poppy material in albums like Lightbulb Sun and Stupid Dream? However, with more repeated listens to Deadwing - my very first Porcupine Tree album - all was revealed.
The progressiveness and quality lies upon the band's many little nuances; not much is very outwardly progressive or technical, but it doesn't have to be. Whether the music in Deadwing builds at a glacial pace or drives a bevy of riffs right in your face, there's always something beautiful and atmospheric buried within (or put on obvious display). Frontman Steven Wilson has always had a talent for - figuratively speaking - being able to pile many quality ingredients on a painfully plain cake, and it absolutely shows here. That is to say, songs like "Shallow" and "Halo" have extremely simple musical bases, but when Wilson and co. pile on the beautiful piano/synth work and dense "wall of sound" production, everything suddenly seems more weighty and powerful. It all never sounds contrived either, each song's buildup and payoff sounding remarkably well-placed and used to create a strong sense of variation. "Glass Arm Shattering" and "Arriving Somewhere But Not Here" base their entire existences on this concept, the latter eventually transforming into a shockingly heavy (for this band) metal number that holds its own against some of the best contemporaries of progressive metal... before dying down into a soft jazz-esque solo. But of course.
In any case, it's always neat to hear a band explore their old roots and place them in a new musical "environment," which is what Porcupine Tree did perfectly. You've got your psychedelic Floyd-influenced stuff, modern prog metal, alternative rock... the entire thing feels like a time machine through many different prog eras, and yet keeps it own freshness... that's an impressive feat. If a band can take such a commercial-sounding pop ballad like "Lazarus" and make it this beautiful and intricate, or take such a grungy metal tune like "Shallow" and balance its roughness with such beautiful and lush instrumentation in its softer spots, you know you're hearing something great. Deadwing, I salute you.