With its dark, brooding sound full of massive riffs, wispy vocal harmonies, and transient Floyd-esque space rock, the last Porcupine Tree album, in absentia, absolutely knocked me on my flabby white buttocks. It was as accessible and commercial as it was creative, a very rare commodity. But that was three years ago.
With Deadwing the tenured band returns for more of the same ... and some of the old. While not nearly as dark or heavy or creepy as the last album, Deadwing sounds like a cross between in absentia and their previous albums, which were just as adventurous but lacked the crunch of heavy guitars. It’s almost as if this album should have come between their prior work and in absentia, somehow getting lost in the shuffle of time and being released five years after its inception.
The ambitious 10-minute title track is a compelling mix of prog, alternative and crushing metal, with guest Adrian Belew adding a quirky signature guitar solo. “Shallow” is easily the heaviest song the band has ever recorded, with fierce guitars grunting to a poppy chorus melody. In the words of author Steve Wilson, it’s “the equivalent of a big, dumb rock song, but in the way that people who are not dumb would do.” A similar song is “Open Car,” where muscular riffs in the verse contrast with spooky, clean vocals in the bridge, taking on the guise of a straight-forward rocker. Atmospheric, acoustic, and melodic, “Lazarus” is a gorgeous pop tune, a throwback to their earlier albums and a nice respite from the distortion.
“Halo” picks things back up with a full, round bass driving this groove-laden fest of frenzied guitar, symphonic rock, NIN-influenced industrial, and funk. The dreamy “Mellotron Scratch, “ in which acoustic guitars bash with electronic explosions, will appeal to Pink Floyd fans, as will “Glass Arm Shattering,” which features haunting washed-out vocals over Gilmour guitars and spacey keyboards.
The most ambitious track is the 12-minute “Arriving Somewhere But Not Here.” Skillfully jumping through a variety of styles, the band manages to pull it all together, creating a pastiche of dapples of light and dark, heavy shadows that pay tribute to Rush, Black Sabbath, Radiohead, early Genesis and even a bit of Zeppelin. Although Wilson intones “Never look for the truth in your mother”s eyes,” few would deny the truth that this song packs a very satisfying emotional wallop.
While it”s difficult to follow the perfect 10 of in absentia, Deadwing is a very respectable nine, mixing various shades of metal with art rock and atmospheric Floyd in a way that few can match. It’s heavy, it’s light, it’s proggy, it’s poppy, it’s just a big ol’ hootenanny for the ears.
Originally published 2005 in WhatzUp.