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Porcupine Tree - Fear Of A Blank Planet CD (album) cover

FEAR OF A BLANK PLANET

Porcupine Tree

 

Heavy Prog

4.22 | 1790 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

The T
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars A few years from now, whenever people name the most important progressive rock bands of each decade, the list would look something like this: Yes and Genesis in the 70's, Rush and Marillion in the 80's, Dream Theater in the 90's, and I think now it's safe to say that, from the 00's, there won't be any doubts in which band to single out as the most important for our beloved genre: Porcupine Tree. And if that analysis was correct a few months ago, after the release of FEAR OF A BLANK PLANET, now it's easy to say that it's the complete and absolute truth.

Porcupine Tree has been a band in constant movement. After the psychedelic/spacey era came a more "pop" era, when brit-pop-ready melodies where mixed with prog arrangements and obscure, depressive sounds; then, as times went, their music shifted towards a more metallic side, no wonder as the group's main mastermind, Steven Wilson, collaborated and a lot with Swedish progressive-death-metal formation Opeth. After two releases filled with heavy sounds and morbid stories, The Tree has finally joined all their influences together in what may be their most accomplished album to this date, a record where all the elements of the past are here, maybe with the exception of the dance rhythms of UP THE DOWNSTAIR: we have metal a la Tool and even heavier riffs bordering on extreme; we have beautiful melodies with those dreamy, atmospheric choruses where Wilson doubles himself in vocals and sends all of us to the lands of narcolepsy, we have soft parts that could pass as pseudo-brit-pop but with that blue, sedated flavor that Wilson injects in his music; we have psychedelic sections, and we also have true prog moments, where The Tree seems to have finally accepted their belonging to the same genre of some of their most respected figures as King Crimson's Robert Fripp (who, by the way, lends his "soundscapes" to the song "Way Out of Here"). To put it briefly, take a dose of DEADWING (specially the harder parts, don't expect a "Lazarus" moment here), a little bit of STUPID DREAM (the darker parts), a little bit of SIGNIFY (the return to some grooving bass-lines and narcotic vocal harmonies), add some new ideas and influences, and you got FEAR OF A BLANK PLANET as the result. A darker, if lighter, album than its predecessor.

I can't go into the songs without saying a few words about the playing itself. This is probably PT's best album in regards to performance and level of musicianship. Steven Wilson is, as always, right on target with his accurate playing, nothing too virtuosic, never showing-off, always doing things for the overall atmosphere's sake; Barbieri, as usual, proves a valuable right-hand to Wilson, adding to the musical ambience with enchanting sounds; Edwin, an underrated bassist, with a precision and a sense of "groove" that few bassist possess, some of his bass lines just make the listener want to, again, groove; and, finally, the best proper instrumentalist in the band, Gavin Harrison, a true master behind the drum kit, an expert in groove, in rhythm, in precise fills, phantasmagoric rolls, a connoisseur of the art of playing with the cymbals, and in this album, even a master of the double bass. If there's a performance here that deserves some extra credit, is Harrison's.

Let's review the songs:

Fear of a Blank Planet (9.5/10) If we were to divide this album by corresponding parts to earlier records, this would be the "DEADWING part". Very much like the song of the same name in that album, this one starts with a fast, grooving rhythm that seems unstoppable. Wilson sings - almost speaks - with utmost quietude, just like in "Deadwing". The movement is relentless, as is the ordeal that Wilson describes to us in the lyrics, a no-exit meaningless life. The chorus is somewhat melodic, just as a hint of morbid, sick color in an otherwise black-and-white existential nightmare. The middle section is dark, somber, atmospheric, with a fantastic fill by Harrison who, without doing much, shows, curiously, so much. Near the end we enter the final stages of the nightmare, a more slow passage, when the narcotic vocals announce us that, though the dream is nearing its end, we won't wake up, we'll be sedated, narcotized, drugged in a senseless life forever.

My Ashes (9.5/10) This song takes us back to the STUPID DREAM-LIGHTBULB SUN era, with Wilson singing/lamenting over a sleepy acoustic guitar and some touches by the piano; then the chorus, with Wilson doubling his coma-inducing voice sending us all to non-optimistic territories. The music is so sedated, it's like musical-heroin (not that I've tried the real one, nor would I advise to do so, but it HAS to be like this). Some strings cooperate in making this track a complete dream-like experience. After it's over, we are not sure if we actually heard it. Great song.

Anesthetize (10/10) The first proper 15+ minute epic by The Tree since the SKY MOVES SIDEWAYS days, it doesn't disappoint. It's sort of divided in three big sections. The first big section starts with percussion and Wilson singing with his rather simple-yet- unique nerdy voice, before growing and showing us he actually can sing. Another narcotic experience, this is not good; I don't mean it musically, as this is fantastic, but in general, feeling like this can't be good.. Incredibly atmospheric part, it evolves into a harder, distorted section with keys that make it feel even more epic than its length foretold us, or, to say the truth, that give it true EPIC status. Then a bass line in an oddly-chosen grooving, almost jazzy time with drums adding to the driving energy. Alex Lifeson of Rush provides a guitar solo in this track, and it works, but it's nothing essential as the quality of the song ultimately eats it, makes it look just like another section in a brilliant track. Harrison's drumming is inspired. Then we enter a more metallic arena, with dissonant chords that sound almost Opeth-ish in their violence. This section sounds a lot like some parts in DEADWING, yet with a groove that wasn't present as much there as it is here. Some measures sound like straight progressive-metal (I won't dare mention who they remind me off, I would be crucified). But only a FEW measures. Brilliant, Opeth's partnership with Wilson has helped in both ways, making Akerfeldt's outfit better and also enhancing The Tree's sound. An awkward double bass drum section that sounds too heavy for The Tree leads us to the final "chorus" in the second big section and serving as bridge towards the third. The tempo is slower now, meditation, analysis, constant reflexion upon one's own putrid life. But with such beauty. Telling a horribly pessimistic message while making you dream with prairies full of dark trees and rainy, grey clouds above, that's what Wilson achieves in this song. He paints an atrocious beautiful atmosphere, he creates a musical contradiction where we hear beauty that conveys ugliness, light that means darkness. Superb. One of the best songs in this bands' catalogue.

Sentimental (10/10) After such a rollercoaster what can we expect from Wilson but. more narcotic atmospheres? Some piano chords that sound like Coldplay immediately followed by a masterful vocal line by Wilson, in a song that sounds like a mix from the styles of SIGNIFY and STUPID DREAM. The chorus is just pure beauty. Perfect. And, as always, we're talking beautiful darkness in here. As the covers says: a child, the image of innocence, with eyes that announce evil, not evil embedded in his soul but in his surroundings, which eventually will reach his soul. What a piece. Wilson is really the songwriter for the End of Light, yet his pen writes with bursts of luminosity that only help to denounce the blackness of what lies around it. The end of the song is pure SIGNIFY-era PT.

Way Out of Here (8.5/10) Robert Fripp's "soundscapes" guest-star in this song, which doesn't really need them. But the homage is correct: when I first heard IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING I couldn't help but feel dazzled at how ahead-of-his-time Fripp was in 1969 when I realized he was one of the major influences behind Wilson's music. Now, Wilson has invited him and the master joins the pupil, yet for me, it's Wilson who has turned into this age's true master. Another atmospheric, dark song, with more energy but no more hope than the last ones. The song is longer than needed but it's great nevertheless.

Sleep Together (8/10) The weakest track in the album is very good anyway. My problem with this song is that it's too cold, too life-less. Whereas all the preceding tracks, though somber and disturbing, were full of emotion, this one sounds cold, mathematic, Crimson-esque. It's good narcotic music but lack the feeling of all the previous ones. But the band is so good that even their less brilliant song is a good song that could work on any other album by any other band.

I have such a big pleasure in saying that here I finally have a new album by one of my favorite bands that hasn't disappointed me and that actually, if not towers over, at least lies at the same level of their best works. Actually, even though I'm giving the album a 5/5 score, it's really a 4.75/5. Without the last track, I could've said without any hesitation that this IS Porcupine Tree's best record to date. Unlike Pain of Salvation, Spock's Beard, Threshold, and, sadly, maybe unlike Dream Theater (I don't expect that much from their future release), Porcupine Tree has delivered, Wilson has lived up to the expectations, this album finally has forced me to include Porcupine Tree among my top 5 or 6 bands. It's just fair justice.

Recommended for: every fan of good progressive rock, mostly, of course, to fans of Porcupine Tree, psychedelic prog, dark, depressive, narcotic music.

Not recommended for: I don't know whom not to recommend this album to. Maybe to people searching for soul-lifting music, optimistic music. This is not going to give you any hopes for the future of your life.

. but it surely does for the future of progressive rock and music in general. So get it anyway.

The T | 5/5 |

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