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Porcupine Tree: In Absentia

Porcupine Tree's major label debut on Lava Records (WEA International) follows a similar formula as on Lightbulb Sun and Stupid Dream, yet ups the crunch factor a bit on a few songs while still retaining the high sense of experimentation and melodic sensibility. Quite frankly, if this release doesn't break this band huge in the US, something is definitely wrong with the music buying public.

Tunes like "Trains" and "Lips of Ashes" are alluring, mysterious pieces with a hint of Pink Floyd influence, as is the catchy "The Sound of Muzak", complete with an irresistable chorus and dreamy keyboard effects. Guitarist, singer, and main songwriter Steven Wilson seems to have taken a liking to some of the nu-metal bands out there, as tracks like "Blackest Eyes" and the thundering "Wedding Nails" take on a force that has yet to be heard on any previous Porcupine Tree albums. In fact, there is so much diversity on this CD that it is at times scary. A song like "Gravity Eyelids" has lush acoustic guitar, Mellotrons, and hypnotic vocals, while "Prodigal" is perfect British pop featuring soaring vocals, slide guitars, and a bouncy rhythm. Fans of the bands more spacey, psychedelic side fear not, as there are plenty of high spots, as on ".3", and the raging "The Creator Has a Mastertape." Wilson's searing guitar work is in fine form throughout, and it's about time for this musician to be recognized for his many talents.

The fact that there are a few tunes on this CD that might have breakout radio/video potential says a lot for the growth of this band. "Strip the Soul" is a chunky metal anthem that might appeal to fans of Disturbed, Creed, or Statix X. While In Absentia might turn off some die-hard prog lovers, it is a major step forward for this fast rising band, who really have put in their time and are ready for a big break.

Added: October 3rd 2002
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Score:
Related Link: Porcupine Tree Website
Hits: 11867
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Porcupine Tree: In Absentia
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-03-27 07:56:14
My Score:

This review is being written after hundreds of spins, and yet I'm still not sure I can do this brilliant album justice describing it. There are so many details, nuances and little secrets hidden on this disc that I'd feel rather guilty if I fail to mention them in my review. Then again, I don't think it's possible to cover all its depths in a single review. This really is one of those discs you need to buy, give time, study its lyrics, pay attention to the excellent production, clever songwriting and magnificent musicianship.

Some Opeth fans think that ever since Steven Wilson has been producing Opeth albums they sound too much like Porcupine Tree in some aspects, especially when it comes to recording techniques and stereo mixing. Well, I'd like to point out that Wilson's collaboration with Opeth has certainly worked both ways; Steven Wilson has definitely absorbed some of their elements and seamlessly injected them in his own music with Porcupine Tree. This is, as many will agree, the heaviest Porcupine Tree album, and it shows right from the first track. "Blackest Eyes" perhaps contains the heaviest guitar riff Steven Wilson has ever played; it kicks in after the moody bass line a bit like a gigantic rock piece. The heavy approach is further developed on other tracks as well. On the longest song, "Gravity Eyelids", which begins really slowly with minimalist songwriting and tribal rhythms, there is a sudden shift of mood as Wilson plays this shuddering guitar riff (in the vein of Opeth) over Barbieri's experimental keyboard arrangement. It's the kind of riff you might hear on a Tool album, except that I'm not a Tool fan, but it works incredibly well here. Buy this album to hear this riff.

Steven Wilson's partner in Blackfield, Aviv Geffen, appears on two tracks, one of them being the highly acclaimed number, "The Sound of Muzak". This is one of those songs that I could identify with right away, because of its challenging bass line and intense shifts of vocal melodies. Moreover, this tune is about the current state of the music industry and its lyrics are terribly ironic, which recall Devin Townsend's "Earth Day" to me. John Wesley, who has toured extensively with Marillion in his career, also graces this album with additional guitars and vocals, and I recommend his solo music to you as well. The band's affinity to Pink Floyd is still evident on some other songs such as "Lips of Ashes" and "Prodigal". They are both outstanding works of songwriting, musicianship and vocals.

There are also two instrumental pieces here. Actually ".3" isn't entirely `instrumental' as Wilson utters a few words, but other than that, it has no vocals. It sounds like this huge orchestra performing psychedelic prog, while "Wedding Nails" is a testimony to creativity. New drummer Gavin Harrison dominates this track as the song delves into many stylistic changes, maintaining its moody and heavy edge throughout. I am utterly amazed at the band's musical performance-every prog band needs to listen to this track to understand it is possible to write long instrumental songs without being too overtly technical. The slower songs add to the album's diversity. "Trains" is a wonderful song built around acoustic guitars that pick up near the end thanks to the majestic drumming, "Heartattack in a Layby" and "Collapse the Light into Earth" both start with sparse piano notes and Wilson singing the most amazing vocal melodies you could imagine, his voice full of passion and intensity.

"The Creator Has a Masterpiece" and "Strip the Soul" see the band going back to its new-found heaviness. They are among the most progressive songs of the album full of schizophrenic melodies, frenetic interplay, some electronics and echoed vocals. Colin Edwin's bass is so integral on these tracks that it's the bass that carries the song's speed. "Strip the Soul" encapsulates a sense of brutal beauty (hence the Opeth element, in my opinion) and another personal favourite.

This review is for the European edition of this album with a bonus disc containing three tracks and a video. The songs are as good as anything else Steven Wilson has written, so if you're a die-hard Porcupine Tree fan, this version is highly recommended. This is a great album that has aged well and stood the test of time.



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