With their eighth studio album Porcupine Tree continue to defy categorisation. Down the years, since their humble beginnings in 1988 when they consisted solely of frontman Steven Wilson, they have been described as psychedelic, progressive and alternative metal.
Wilson has never been comfortable with being pigeon-holed in the prog rock section, perhaps a reason why the albums he has written in recent years have been more Pantera than Pink Floyd. The singer-songwriter and lead guitarist continues that harder edge heard on 2002’s In Absentia with his compositions on Deadwing.
Tracks like Shallow are representative of the modern Porcupine Tree, with a crunching riff replacing the singing guitar of earlier releases. Halo too contains a menacing side, clearly showing the influence of Wilson’s production work with death metallers Opeth, whose guitarist Mikael Akerfeldt makes a guest appearance on this release.
Halo is a track that sees the four-piece tackle the religious themes that they have revisited on many occasions in the past. The theme is that God is everywhere, pointed out with lyrics such as “God is on your cell phone, God is on the net”.
It would be wrong to suggest that the whole album is alternative metal however, as there is so much more to Porcupine Tree than that. Title track Deadwing has a spacey electronica opening before blasting into a flurry of heavy drums and one of those trademark guitar riffs. Despite its heavier edge it is still undeniably PT, especially its ambient lull in the middle before it comes straight at you again with a guitar solo from another special guest, King Crimson‘s Adrian Belew.
Lazarus, one of two ballads on the album (alongside the dreamy Mellotron Scratch), emphasizes Wilson’s improved vocals over the years. A multi-layered track, featuring acoustic guitar, piano, atmospheric keyboard sounds and some of the vocal harmonies which have been a fixture of the band’s sound since their Stupid Dream album, it comes as no surprise that is was the first single to be released from the album, even if it was only in Germany and Poland!
Glass Arm, the closing track on the album, is another harmony laden opus featuring some of Wilson’s gorgeous shimmering sunset guitar as he puts that crunching sound to one side for a few moments.
There is always one long, dare I say it, more proggy track on a Porcupine Tree album, and Arriving Somewhere But Not Here is the one here, clocking in at 12 minutes. It provides the outstanding moment of the 60 minute CD and is classic PT, incorporating all of the essential elements.
Keyboardist Richard Barbieri is not nearly as much to the fore in latter day Porcupine Tree but he is here at the start of this epic providing an atmospheric start in line with some of bandmate Wilson’s recent ambient solo work. The song builds to incorporate some more of those harmonies, a melodic main theme, the return of that singing guitar and some echoey vocals reminiscent of Animals-era Pink Floyd. It’s a song which takes you on a journey, with several twists and turns, and is set to become a fan’s favourite.
Mixed in collaboration with Grammy award-winning producer Elliot Scheiner, Porcupine Tree have come up with another strong release underlining their description in a recent magazine as “the most important band you’ve never heard of”.