Storm Corrosion is the much anticipated Anglo-Swedish collaborative project between two of the biggest names in the contemporary progressive rock world, Opeth mainman Mikael Åkerfeldt and Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree and myriad side-projects. While initial expectations might have been that they were going to do something along the lines of the prog-metal of their respective bands’ recent work, they soon made it clear it was going to be something altogether different.
The lengthy, atmospheric and sinister-sounding opener “Drag Ropes” sets the tone. With dominant sounds of acoustic guitar and mellotron plus piano, strings and woodwind it comes over as a soundtrack of a particularly spooky film, probably shot in grainy black-and-white. The film probably has subtitles, and everyone dies at the end.
It’s a record that owes as much to classical and folk music as it does to rock, and manages to combine a stripped-down minimalism with an ambitious cinematic scope. Save for one clattering outburst on “Hag”, accompanied by the only powerchords on the entire album, there is very little in the way of conventional rock drumming. But despite those dissonant strings and even the odd outbreak of pure white noise, it’s by no means an impenetrable record. It does need a few listens to fully appreciate it’s subtleties, which means it’s something you can listen to many times and keep discovering something new. It’s a work filled with moments of delicate beauty, whether it’s vocal harmonies or the sparse acoustic and electric guitar work.
There are elements of both musician’s other work, from Steve Wilson’s solo work to Opeth’s “Heritage” and “Damnation”. Parts of the instrumental “Lock Howl”, built around a rhythm loop and swirling keyboards recalls mid-period Tangerine Dream before giving way to percussion loops and disturbing discordant strings. There is also something of Talk Talk’s classic “Spirit of Eden” in it’s eschewing of conventional song structures in favour of soundscapes and textures, and that comparison is especially apparent on the dreamy closing track “Ljudet Innen”. There is also a bit of the spirit of Radiohead’s “Kid A” in it’s refusal to make any compromise towards commerciality or pander to audience expectations. In the unlikely event that you were still expecting Blackwater Park meets In Absentia, this is not the record you were looking for.
What we have is the sound of two of the progressive rock world’s most talented individuals following their combined muses wherever it takes them. It takes them and their listeners through some strange and exotic sonic landscapes, and it’s a more than worthwhile journey for anyone who chooses to follow. Bold and experimental, but still remaining accessible, it’s a genuinely progressive record in the true sense of the word.