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Porcupine Tree: Fear of a Blank Planet

In many ways, Fear of a Blank Planet functions as a parameter to its predecessors, bravely quoting some key themes in order to retain stylistic cohesion. But at the same time, it is also an excellent chronicle of Porcupine Tree's entire body of work, as it is a lot more informed by their spacey, ambient rock leanings, which they have strategically placed into their songcraft. It is considerably less heavy than Deadwing and In Absentia, but the compositions are still nihilistic in tone and carry similar thematic ideas.

Unlike the previous two albums though, Fear of a Blank Planet seems rather uneventful upon the first set of spins, with few or no hooks to speak of. Only patient listens reveal the successful blend of their strongest yet somewhat less accessible parts of their earlier work, initially bringing the listener's focus on the mindblowing performance of Gavin Harrison. This is easily his most realized work; the drumming is uniformly superb, and it is his playing that makes the most vital turns in the music. His full tone, powerful toms, and natural hi-hat taps are stunning to say the least.

Themes of both In Absentia and Deadwing crop up on the CD, namely the main riff of the latter on the title track, a terrific blend of everything that makes Porcupine Tree the amazing band they are. Harrison's encircling snare drums slowly disappear under Steven Wilson's visionary songwriting, introducing the subject matter which gives us an insight into the psyche of a demented kid, devastated by the negative effects of technology, isolation, prescribed drugs, and the generation gap between parents and children. The middle section of the song boasts a nice spacey breakdown where airy synths float across the piece -- Richard Barbieri is absolutely essential to creating this band's sound. Even during the most subtle parts, he lays down a great sonic path for the music to travel on. I also love how he always establishes context for his amazing futuristic sound effects, carefully built around Wilson's acoustic and electric leads.

The apotheosis of the album is "Anesthetize". At over seventeen minutes, it moves from mood to mood in order to help portray the character's restlessness, and also sees a guest appearance by Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson. His soloing on this song is out of this world, recalling his finest moments circa Power Windows. This could be his longest recorded solo in years as well. At one point, the piece erupts into a volcanic outburst thanks to the rhythm onslaught by Colin Edward and Gavin Harrison. Steven Wilson's riffing is intense not to mention his plaintive singing in the final section of the song.

An excerpt from In Absentia's "Trains" resurfaces on "Sentimental", a largely piano-based piece of pop splendour; the smooth transition from the repeated acoustic guitar to said melody is awe-inspiring. Likewise, "My Ashes", easily among the darkest songs Wilson has penned, is predominantly acoustic guitar-based, but what cannot go unmentioned is the inspired symphonic orchestration.

King Crimson's Robert Fripp appears on "Way Out of Here", the only song written by the entire band on this disc. Fripp's trademark "soundscape guitars" are vastly abundant here, defining the song's eclectic flow. The slightly industrial-tinged feel is replaced by machinegun riffery, and the bass works perfectly under Wilson's godly vocal harmony. For more stuff in this vein, only more electronic and experimental, check out Steven Wilson's No-Man project, which also has Robert Fripp on some albums. "Sleep Together" further expands on this style, minimising the heaviness factor. It sees processed vocals a la Frost and wonderful string arrangements by Dave Stewart.

The production is flawless. Steven Wilson has reached the height of his powers; it is sternly disciplined yet rigorously simple at times, particularly during the raucous jamming sections. The recording and stereo mixing is amazing with emphatic surround channels, clever left-right speaker panning, and monstrous dynamics.

Is it Porcupine Tree's best? Perhaps not. But we've heard it only for a month, not years, so who knows?

Track Listing

  1. Fear of a Blank Planet
  2. My Ashes
  3. Anesthetize
  4. Sentimental
  5. Way Out of Here
  6. Sleep Together

Added: January 6th 2009
Reviewer: Murat Batmaz
Related Link: Porcupine Tree website
Hits: 6527
Language: english

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Porcupine Tree: Fear of a Blank Planet
Posted by Ken Pierce, SoT Staff Writer on 2008-10-02 18:05:26
My Score:

While I have long enjoyed Progressive Rock and Metal acts like Dream Theater and Rush along with the legends of the genre such as ELP and Yes, I never quite sat down and took the time to absorb what the band Porcupine Tree was all about until the band's 2007 release "Fear Of A Blank Planet". Going into the group with a limited background was rather exciting because I had no pre-conceived notions or expectations from them other than the learned knowledge that founder Steven Wilson had written the album based on his views of the way in which we are living in the world today. We are still the MTV generation in some sense or at least an Internet and video game console generation when it comes down to it. The constant flow and feed of information and stimuli to our senses end up as nothing more than distractions to actually living ones life and with this framework to build upon, Wilson has delivered that which is being referred to as Porcupine Tree's most stunning album to date.

As I listened I could agree that the band does not fall into any sort of mold or particular genre scope because while Progressive in its roots, there is a healthy dose of conventional Rock as well as touches of Psychedelia going on. This angle comes into play later one, but when the album begins with its title track there is a solid groove that instantly satisfies the need for a rocking number. Wilson's voice is slightly echoed which gives it a fantastic effect and while the guitar work is nice, the drumming of Gavin Harrison is what stands out the most for me under the lyrical drive of Wilson's composition. The songs blend into one another on the release and when it boils down to it this works for the flow and feeling of this being one large piece as opposed to six individual songs. Of course this is the kind of band that you cannot skip around the tracks and hope to know what they are doing and instead you must find the mental space to absorb the whole thing from start to finish. There is no real "single" for the release, but the title track can easily serve as the best means for the new fans to find themselves wanting to learn more. Lyrically it is rather profound as it describes the desensitized youth of today to a tee. The mood shifts to a slower pace with "My Aches" and there are some almost Pink Floyd touches in here to enjoy in this one. "Anesthetize" is the most epic of the bands output here and clocks in at a whopping seventeen plus minutes with much of it led by drummer Harrison while the guitar solo is offered up by none other than Rush's own Alex Lifeson. There is a lot of atmosphere projecting out to the listener and for its length there isn't a boring melody to be found in the track and instead they will find themselves bopping their head to the rhythm and perhaps even doing some drum tapping of their own.

Prog-Godfather Robert Fripp delivers some of his famous soundscapes during "Way Out Of Here" and I really loved the way that the vocals were presented on this one. There is a soaring airiness to them that just appealed to me based on the way the melody was being done. The album ended with "Sleep Together" and while this was another type of driving rock piece, I had to admit that it takes the listener a few goes at the release to "get" the best idea about what Wilson is trying to give us with this one. It's a good thing that it almost forces you to sit through it once again because like the albums subject material we are often so jaded to the world around us based on the speed and simplicity that things are delivered to us. At least with "Fear Of A Blank Planet" we can examine these feelings as an outside observer and hopefully come away having learned something. This was a stand out release for me to experience as a new listener and this was based on it being flawlessly produced just as much as it was profoundly written. The lyrics are delivered to us in the provided booklet and I recommend that one listens to the album first without them and then for the second go round to use them in order to get a better grasp of the concept being discussed.

Fans of the band had recommended that based on my enjoying this album that I look into the album before this one, "Deadwing", and to also dig up a copy of their first-ever concert DVD "Arriving Somewhere, But Not Here".

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