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Porcupine Tree: Deadwing

If the ten-minute opening title track "Deadwing" isn't proof enough, then the ensuing remainder of the CD of the same name certainly makes a bold statement that Porcupine Tree is back with a vengeance. 2002's debut on Lava Records In Absentia was at the time the bands boldest, most commercial, and certainly heaviest record to date, that is, until Deadwing. Steven Wilson has fully embraced his love for heavy metal and atmospheric rock music, merging the two styles very convincingly here, surely his relationship with progressive death metal band Opeth greatly influencing his writing style these days.

The title track is a compelling mix of prog rock, catchy alternative, and crushing metal, littered with Wilson's searing guitars and Richard Barbieri's clever keyboard work. However, the crushing "Shallow" is easily the heaviest track the band has recorded yet, with thick beefy guitars, aggressive rhythms, and Wilson's forceful vocals. This is metal with a capital "M"! On "Lazarus", the band switches gears for a gorgeous pop rock tune that recalls Wilson's side project with Israeli singer Aviv Geffen called Blackfield, complete with lush lead & backing vocals and the majestic piano of Barbieri. The melodies and hooks on this one are simply tremendous.

The band mixes symphonic rock with industrial and funk sounds on the groove -laden "Halo", complete with a frenzied guitar solo from King Crimson legend Adrian Below and Wilson's distorted lead vocals. Fans of Porcupine Tree's earlier space rock style will love the 13-minute extravaganza "Arriving Somewhere But Not Here", a tune that scratches the Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream itch quite nicely, yet retains the modern PT sound. Lots of multi-layered vocal harmonies on this, as well as acrobatic and soaring lead guitar work from Wilson, plus many varied keyboard textures. Check out the daring middle section where the band switches from ambient space to down and dirty thrash metal, complete with crashing drums from Gavin Harrison, nimble bass work from Colin Edwin, Wilson's pummeling guitar dirges, and Barbieri's raging organ. If you dug the last Dream Theater album, this tune will put a big smile on your face. The band goes through many changes of tone, mood, and tempo here, and this is easily one of the bands most ambitious tunes in years.

The band travels back to Earth for another pleasant and tuneful pop song with "Mellotron Scratch", which features plenty of engaging harmonies and multi-part vocals. Again, fans of Blackfield, as well as The Beatles, will love this song. The band returns to more riff-based material on the heavy "Open Car", this one a more straightforward rocker that has a catchy verse to go along with some meaty guitar chords. More crunchy guitars meet futuristic and ambient keyboard washes on the complex "The Start of Something Beautiful", a song that sees drummer Harrison lay down some funk/jazz drum licks while Wilson and Barbieri conjure up the perfect meeting of thunder and space. The band returns to the Pink Floyd-influenced soundscapes for a classic Porcupine Tree epic called "Glass Arm Shattering", which sees Wilson's haunting, dreamy, washed out vocals soaring over spacey keyboard settings and liquid guitar patterns. A wonderful end to a wonderful album.

The perfect marriage between prog rock, metal, ambient, and pop music? Perhaps. Porcupine Tree are on a roll folks, and with a slew of solid releases behind them, Deadwing should be the ice-breaker as far as this band gaining world wide recognition and success. Let's hope so, as Deadwing is that good.

Track Listing
1. Deadwing
2. Shallow
3. Lazarus
4. Halo
5. Arriving Somewhere But Not Here
6. Mellotron Scratch
7. Open Car
8. Start of Something Beautiful
9. Glass Arm Shattering
10. Shesmovedon (bonus track-remix)

Added: July 9th 2006
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Porcupine Tree Website
Hits: 14010
Language: english

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Porcupine Tree: Deadwing
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-07-09 11:38:50
My Score:

Deadwing sees Porcupine Tree taking the ideas they employed on their masterpiece In Absentia a step further, while also returning to their earlier, more psychedelic period in some spots. It still retains the heaviness of In Absentia with some songs being their heaviest yet, but overall, I'd give the edge to In Absentia, as it's an album that relies less on Porcupine Tree's space rock era and more on Steven Wilson's new-found love for bands like Opeth, Tool and Radiohead.

This album is actually based on a film script written by Wilson and his friend Mike Bennion, and was described as being "a surreal supernatural ghost story". Given their amazing concerts on their Deadwing tour, with the huge video screens behind the band visualising the concept, this is definitely a darker and more morose album than its predecessor. The songs on it are characterized by despair and terror, as well as fear and paranoia. The ambitious title track will sound immediately familiar if you, like me, have played In Absentia a million times and still can't get enough of it. Yet, the inclusion of vague electronics that begin in the first second and won't let go till the end, which nearly sees the ten-minute mark, suggest Steven Wilson did seek new ways of expressing himself. Without taking too long, a growling bass figure is thrown into the mix which quickly merges with a wall of rhythm guitars and dark synth effects barraging the listener. The vocal harmonies are as brilliant as ever, always leaving enough space for more atmospheric, tranquil passages that are marked by echoic key swells, before being followed by a demented lead guitar solo courtesy of King Crimson's Adrian Belew, reflecting his demented songwriting vision. By now, the soundscapes of Deadwing have already been defined and the listener is in for a real treat.

Unlike the band's more focused and cohesive styles heard on their previous releases, such as Lightbulb Sun and Stupid Dream, Deadwing attempts at a larger scope, combining all of the strongest aspects of Porcupine Tree's earlier albums, as it also opts for heavier and more aggressive musical statements. "Shallow" is possibly the heaviest Porcupine Tree song yet, marked by rock's visceral, groove-based approach to rhythm and an explosive main riff that highlights Wilson's somewhat catchy vocals during the chorus. Much like this, "Halo" is another addition to the heavier songs on Deadwing in that it combines a big, funky bass drive with industrial effects and leads into another guest solo by Adrian Belew amidst incomprehensible spoken vocals and clever drum fills. Similarly, "Open Car" sees the band marrying lighter sounds with more guitar-friendly segments where cascading riffs blend with some of the finest vocal harmonies Wilson came up with before the song returns to its calm, peaceful start and closes with gently strummed acoustic guitars.

Opeth's Mikael Akerfeldt appears on the album, singing harmong vocals on three songs, one of them being the Blackfield-like "Lazarus", a song that encompasses both psychedelic atmospherics generated by slide guitar and poppy vocals that sound perfect over Barbieri's remarkable piano playing. The song has various sound effects at the end, which I assume are related to the script of the not-yet-filmed movie. However, Akerfeldt's presence is most noticeable on the longest track "Arriving Somewhere But Not Here", easily an instant Porcupine Tree classic. Its spacey intro builds up patiently, exciting the listener further with each passing second, as distant acoustic guitars are heard rising and taking the lead, whilst being surrounded by amazing Mellotron sounds. Akerfeldt underpins Wilson's vocals during the pre-chorus (which is a bit evocative of their fantastic duet on Opeth's "Bleak" from Blackwater Park) and the song makes a foray into a punishingly heavy mid-section with thundering guitars, bass and drums joining in order to create anguish-ridden chaos. There are two solos on this piece, the second one being played by Mikael Akerfeldt and displaying his minimalistic blues licks. The ending of this track is particularly striking.

"Mellotron Scratch" is a poignant pop tune, again reminiscent of Wilson's Blackfield project with excellent backing harmonies and a decidedly heavier second half thanks to the addition of drums and bass. This part also features a terrific vocal melody by Steven Wilson. However, "Start of Something Beautiful" may be the second best track on the album, not only because it finds the band returning to their psychedelic roots, but also because it was co-written by Gavin Harrison to let him shine in a very Floydian environment. Great cymbal work glistens over funky bass motifs and Barbieri's exquisite electronic samplings. The song quickly moves into a passage for solo piano before Barbieri also brings in some majestic synth elements creating ever-colourful melodies as Harrison busies himself with gorgeoous jazz drumming. From here on, the same melody is repeated on Wilson's guitar; just like Barbieri, Wilson starts out with acoustics and then drapes cutting lead work on it. Simply put, the compositional quality of this song is stunning.

The album also features a hidden bonus track of "Shesmovedon", that kicks in after the narcotic "Glass Arm Shattering", the only song with equal input from each member. It particularly emphasizes Barbieri's deft piano and Harrison's hypnotic cadences, however.

The artwork, except for the poor quality of paper used, is also amazing by the way, and reminds me of Radiohead's Kid A with lots of twisted imagery and interesting lyrics. After hundreds of listens, Deadwing is still going strong. What's more, it gets better each time. You should not pass on it if you're a fan of progressive music.

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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