Friday, December 6, 2019

Archive Review: Porcupine Tree's Deadwing (2005)

Porcupine Tree's Deadwing
If any band leads the charge, bringing progressive-rock back to the great unwashed masses, it may well be Porcupine Tree. For almost a decade and a half, the English band, led by singer/songwriter/guitarist Steven Wilson, has forged a career by tempering prog-rock tendencies with hard rock sensibilities. Unlike other leading lights in the modern prog movement such as Spock’s Beard or the Flower Kings – bands that take their cue from ‘70s-era progmasters like Yes or King Crimson – Porcupine Tree instead follows a path similar to Pink Floyd. Throw in a strong measure of NWOBM reliance on startling guitar riffs; add elements of lush, ‘90s-vintage 4AD label atmospherics, and stir well with Wilson’s self-taught musical genius and you’ll have the sound of Porcupine Tree.

Porcupine Tree’s Deadwing

The eighth studio effort from Porcupine Tree and only the band’s second album to receive any sort of significant stateside distribution, Deadwing is a magnificent collection of songs with easy appeal to both the mainstream music fan and the diehard prog-rocker. The album opens with the nine-minute-plus title cut, a stunning musical tour de force that never loses steam no matter how many twists and turns the song takes. Infected with an overall moody ambience, Wilson’s somber lyrics are supported by taut leads and blazing riffs, tribal drumbeats and Richard Barbieri’s magnificent keyboard wizardry. The wiry guitar solo in the middle of the song is provided courtesy of Adrian Belew, a well-respected fretmaster with credentials from both the prog-rock and art-rock worlds.

Deadwing gets a little heavier with “Shallow,” a riff-happy rocker that edges into industrial territory, swinging back towards sanity before Trent Reznor comes knocking at the door. Alternately both brutally electric and gently melodic, the song’s theme of technological alienation stands in stark contrast to “Lazarus,” a pastoral composition with fine vocal harmonies and beautifully constructed instrumental passages. “Halo” ventures into horror-rock territory, echoed vocals and monster rhythms counterbalanced by a harmonic chorus with its roots in hard-rocking ‘90s-era grunge.

The band is at its most progressive with the twelve-minute “Arriving Somewhere But Not Here,” the song’s breathtaking instrumentation incorporating elements of swirling psychedelica, Eno-styled ambient electronics and classic, ‘70s-vintage prog-rock song structure. The punchy “Open Car” may be as close to a single release as Deadwing ventures; with its monstrous riffing and larger-than-life vibe the song sojourns into prog-metal territory and would fit perfectly into a modern rock radio format.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Handling vocals, guitars and some secondary keyboards, Wilson’s talents are abundant. Every wunderkind needs players to push them towards greatness, however, and Porcupine Tree offers an impressive collection of instrumental virtuosos. Richard Barbieri, who cut his teeth with groundbreaking ‘80s-era new wave art-rock band Japan, brings a classical element to the band, his keyboard and synth creations providing the underlying structure for Wilson’s complex, extravagant compositions.

Bassist Colin Edwin is more than mere background scenery, his fills and occasional leads providing the band’s sound with a heavy bottom end while drummer Gavin Harrison brings an explosive hard rock mentality to the material. Altogether, the band’s musical chemistry is quite impressive, the foursome creating a tapestry of sound and emotion that is ambitious in scope and invigorating in its results. Poised on the brink of U.S. stardom, Porcupine Tree is ready for you…but are you ready for Porcupine Tree? (Lava Records, released March 25, 2005)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2005

Buy the CD from Porcupine Tree’s Deadwing

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