There are two camps in the British progressive rock scene. In one corner are those unashamedly retro bands that seek to recreate the sounds of the halcyon days of the early 70s before the dark ages of punk. In the other corner stand those bands who combine the spirit of that era with a more streamlined, modern sound. Steve Wilson’s Porcupine Tree are definitely in the latter camp.
I read a review of Deadwing in The Times (London) that described Porcupine Tree as “now sounding like a regular indie band,” which made me fear the worst, as the last thing Britain needs is yet another generic indie band. But my fears proved unfounded; this album is far more metal than indie.
Deadwing’s predecessor, “In Absentia” was notably heavier than earlier PT albums, and this one takes things still further in that direction. Wilson’s work with Scandinavian death-metallers Opeth has rubbed off; indeed, Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt contributes some guitar, as does King Crimson’s Adrian Belew. But it’s not all thrashing guitar riffs; there are also some decidedly non-metal ballads and plenty of Floydian textures to offset the heavier parts.
The nine-minute opening title track starts as the band means to go on, with its powerful guitar riff and driving bass line. The instrumental breaks contrast Wilson’s liquid guitar solo with guest player Adrian Belew’s distinctive angular style. The production is clean and crisp, as you’d expect from Steven Wilson. High spot of the album is the kaleidoscopic 12-minute epic “Arriving Somewhere (but not here),” which manages to go through all the musical styles of the album in a single track; spacey atmospheric intro, gentle ballad building to the fluid guitar solo, then a thrashing death-metal segment, before it all drops away for an acoustic flamenco solo.
The heaviest track is the US single, “Shallow,” with its Zeppelin-style riff. The most indie-sounding songs are probably the excellent bass-driven “Halo,” the UK single, the piano-led ballad “Lazarus,” which doesn’t do a lot for me, although Coldplay fans will probably love it, and “Start of Something Beautiful,” with the beautiful piano solo towards the end.
Overall, this album reminds me very much of the last couple of Marillion albums; if you liked “Anoraknophobia” and “Marbles”, or indeed, Porcupine Tree’s own “In Absentia”, I can definitely recommend “Deadwing.”