I wasn’t really surprised when Steve Wilson recently announced that Porcupine Tree would be going on indefinite hiatus. His two solo albums released since that band’s last album “The Incident” have taken a quite different direction, and it’s looking as though PT’s heavy metal Pink Floyd sound isn’t the sort of music SW wants to make at the moment.
“The Raven That Refused To Sing” features the supremely talented band put together to tour the previous solo album “Grace for Drowning”. It includes virtuoso bassist Nick Beggs, a man whose career progression from cheesy pop star to respected prog muso resembles that of Phil Collins in reverse, plus Theo Travis, Marco Minnemann, Guthrie Govan, and Adam Holzman, significantly credited not for “keyboards” but “Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ, piano and Minimoog”. Guthrie Govan plays most of the lead guitar, while Steve Wilson himself plays all the Mellotron which features heavily on every track.
As the follow-up to “Grace for Drowning”, it’s a similar mix of Canterbury-style jazz-rock workouts, grandiose Mellotron sweeps, pastoral sections with layered vocals, and passages of heavy sax-and-Mellotron, with the spirit of 70s King Crimson never far away. But the whole album is far more focussed and concise, a much tighter single album rather than a sprawling double.
The album opens with “Luminol”, with an opening section with jazz-inflected drumming and fluttering flute line recalls Ozric Tentacles before taking off in another direction entirely. The gorgeous “Drive Home” wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a mid-period Porcupine Tree album, and features a great solo from Guthrie Govan. There is some of the dark intensity of Grace For Drowning’s “Raider II” in both “Holy Drinker” and “The Watchmaker”, and early part of the latter also has a touch of Storm Corrosion’s spooky atmospherics. Concluding title track finishes off the album with a glorious soaring Mellotron-drenched ballad.
It’s probably fair to say that this is an album that wears its influences on its sleeve, and just doesn’t care. But it’s all done so well that it doesn’t really matter.
There was a feeling that the last Porcupine Tree album was the sound of Steve Wilson constrained by the expectations of how an album released under Porcupine Tree’s name ought to sound. In contrast, The Raven That Refused to Sing is the sound of Steve Wilson free to follow his muse, backed by a band skilled enough to bring that vision to life.