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Wilson, Steven: The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories)

For a guy who basically shot down any notion that he was a part of the progressive rock scene about 15 years ago, Steven Wilson sure is making those statements look bad by releasing one of the definitive prog albums of 2013, The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories). Though he's churned out numerous albums of prog majesty, moody pop, psychedelia, and even progressive metal with his bands Porcupine Tree, No-Man, Bass Communion,and Blackfield, it's with his recent solo career on albums such as Insurgentes and Grace For Drowning that the singer/composer/musician/producer has finally seemed to be hitting his stride. While 2011's Grace For Drowning was a stellar achievement, The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories) basically lays that album to waste, and signals an artist who is more than hitting his creative peak.

Not content to create this latest release all on his own, Wilson (who handles vocals, guitars, and keyboards here) has brought on board Guthrie Govan (lead guitar), Nick Beggs (bass), Marco Minnemann (drums), Adam Holzman (keyboards), and Theo Travis (sax, flute), most of whom have been heavy hitters on the prog & fusion scene for quite some time. The fact that Wilson has handpicked Guthrie to tackle lead guitar duties really says something about how 'perfect' he wanted this album to be, as we all know Wilson himself is a remarkable guitar player. Featuring just six tracks, The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories) is epic in just about every way you look at it, filled with sumptuous musical passages littered with breathtaking vocals, vintage sounding keyboards (Mellotron, Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ, and minimoog anyone?), virtuoso drumming, and tasty guitar work.

I'm not sure I want to get into breaking down each and every track here, as there are so many layers to this album that you'll really need to spend some time with it. Wilson & Co. get into an almost Rush-meets-Jethro Tull-meets-Echolyn groove on the pulsating opener "Luminol", with Minnemann & Beggs laying down some complex rhythms over which Wilson, Gowan, Travis, and Holzman weave their intricate lines around each other. Add in some soaring flute, Fender Rhodes, and ominous Mellotron and you have a wonderful prog/fusion masterpiece. "Drive Home" is a more atmospheric number,with definite Alan Parsons Project/Pink Floyd/King Crimson/Moody Blues influences (Wilson's dreamy vocals are spot on), while the heavier "The Holy Drinker" goes more into King Crimson/Gentle Giant territory with its twisting rhythms and flurries of minimoog, sax, and guitar passages. After the lush and quite emotional "The Pin Drop", which features a killer sax solo from Travis, the pastoral and often times symphonic "The Watchmaker" delivers some of the albums true highlights. Gorgeous acoustic guitar work (that will thrill any fan of Steve Hackett and vintage Genesis) and waves of Mellotron and flute just grab hold of your senses and never let go. It's all punctuated by a sizzling Gowan electric guitar solo that is just unforgettable. The album closes on a bleak note with the haunting piano & vocal dominated title track, as Wilson's emotional voice just grips at your very soul.

Well, I said I wasn't going to get into a track by track analysis, but I guess it was unavoidable. The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories) is without a doubt a magnificent progressive rock album; it's beautiful, it's adventurous, it's dramatic, and it's certainly powerful and brimming with virtuoso musical performances and vocals. In Mr. Wilson's attempts to distance himself from prog he's actually allowed himself to be sucked right back in and is making some of the best music of his career. A perfect album, and a 'must-hear' progressive rock album for any true fan of the genre.


Track Listing
1) Luminol
2) Drive Home
3) The Holy Drinker
4) The Pin Drop
5) The Watchmaker
6) The Raven That Refused to Sing

Added: April 1st 2013
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Score:
Related Link: Artist Website
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Language: english

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Wilson, Steven: The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories)
Posted by Jeff B, SoT Staff Writer on 2013-04-01 20:11:58
My Score:

Although following up a record as masterful as 2011's Grace For Drowning is no easy feat, the multi-talented Steven Wilson has managed to craft yet another stunning masterpiece with The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories). Released in early 2013, Wilson's third solo observation follows a progressive rock template similar to that of Grace For Drowning, but it sounds like a decidedly more band-oriented effort. Wilson has recruited an all-star lineup to complete his vision on The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories), featuring Guthrie Goven on guitar, Nick Beggs on bass, Marco Minnemann on drums, Adam Holzman on keyboards, and Theo Travis on saxophone and flute. It gives Raven a vastly different feel from its guest-dominated predecessor, and while the album should not sound foreign to anybody well-versed in progressive rock, it sports a fresh sound distinct from Wilson's other offerings.

The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) is largely an exploration of classic progressive rock, perhaps in a more symphonic vein than anything Wilson has ever done - the lengthy, fusion jams in Grace For Drowning are replaced by more concise instrumental portions, and a few alternative touches in the vein of Porcupine Tree sneak their way into the mix, particularly in the goosebump-inducing title track and the surreal "Drive Home". That isn't to say that Raven is without killer fusion sections - the firey solos in "Luminol" and the the strangely funky opening to "The Holy Drinker" immediately discredit that notion - but the focus this time around is more on tight band dynamics, rather than long fusion jams reminiscent of seventies' King Crimson.

Whether or not that's a good thing ultimately depends on the listener; personally, I find both Grace For Drowning and Raven to be stunning masterpieces for different reasons. Tracks like the fusion-influenced "Luminol" and the wonderfully symphonic "The Watchmaker" stand as some of the finest songs in Wilson's vast catalogue, and the rest of the album is equally impressive. A fine example of a record with "all killer, no filler", Raven remains strongly engaging throughout its full duration thanks to an abundance of captivating hooks and flawless execution. Though Wilson has worked with plenty of great musicians over the years, the ensemble here is possibly his finest to date. Similarly to Frank Zappa's definitive lineups, the group chemistry here is remarkable - Nick Beggs and Marco Minnemann make for one of the most dynamic rhythm sections in modern prog, and the strong lead instrumentalists (particularly Guthrie Goven's tremendous fretwork) make for an album that is as pleasing aesthetically as it is compositionally.

As expected from anything Steven Wilson touches, the production is held to strict audiophile standards and is given a balanced, powerful mix. Industry veteran Alan Parsons was also brought along to engineer the album, and whilst Wilson would've been capable of doing a tremendous job without assistance, it's cool to hear him collaborating with a talented artist that was undoubtedly influential in his formative years.

One could certainly criticize The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) for being too faithful to the sound of classic seventies' progressive rock, but I think that Wilson's ability to stay within the confines of the genre while still maintaining a strong sense of style and originality is one of the album's finest assets. In my opinion at least, Raven is a deeply emotional masterpiece from start to finish that will likely be a contender for album of the year 2013 for many listeners. Although the future of Porcupine Tree remains uncertain, this album is proof that Steven Wilson won't be falling off the radar anytime soon!



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