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


Porcupine Tree


Heavy Prog

4.26 | 2606 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars Right from the beginning of its title track, it's clear that Steven Wilson was intending to return to a less straightforward sound for Fear of a Blank Planet. Fresh off the heels of the highly praised Deadwing, Porcupine Tree decided to tread back to a more immersive and atmospheric sound rather than the pop-oriented touches of their recent records. It definitely shows; the album is just dripping with despondent and cautionary imagery of alienation and hopelessness, all keeping with its theme of the issues affecting today's disaffected youth. The music that accompanies this bleak picture is just as bipolar and alienated as our main character, changing moods and styles while retaining its somber tone throughout.

While the ballads on Fear of a Blank Planet still contain some of Porcupine Tree's previous alternative rock elements, it's the longer compositions that shake things up in a big way. The riffs are heavier than ever, the different sections flow together almost seamlessly, and the progressive edge is more strongly defined here than it was on Deadwing or In Absentia. Of course, most of the attention goes to the centerpiece "Anesthetize," considering it's been years since any Porcupine Tree song has gotten close to this long. But beyond that, just look at all the song lengths; everything is more epic in length and the arrangements have become more elaborate as a result. However, "Anesthetize" truly is the highlight. It constantly weaves back and forth between moods and dynamics without ever sounding obnoxious or too obvious, and the ballad portion at the end is one of the most serene conclusions to any rock epic out there. There's even a guest solo courtesy of Rush's Alex Lifeson! But if any song comes close to this one, it's the brilliant title track. Comprised of a tense acoustic segment, too many good metal riffs to count, as well as a soft thought-provoking conclusion, it really sets the bar high for the rest of the album.

Many Porcupine Tree detractors have taken issue with Steven Wilson's vocals, usually with the complaint that they sound too unemotional or detached. If that's the case, then he seems right at home with the concept of this record. Lyrics like "Don't try engaging me; the vaguest of shrugs, the prescription drugs; you'll never find the person inside" on the title track sound so (ironically) powerful when sung through such a brick wall of monotone, as they fit the shoes of the bored protagonist perfectly. The same thing happens with the warped synth-heavy closer "Sleep Together," as it depicts sex with one giant shrug, as well as "Way Out of Here" with its depictions of isolation coming into the mix. Also interesting is the way that Wilson's disinterested vocals clash with the heavier riffing on the album, almost emanating a grunge-like vibe. However, when he does get emotional, it shines at just the right moments. "My Ashes" and "Sentimental" are both very touching pieces that show a more... well... sentimental approach to the main character's life. Richard Barbieri's keyboard work especially shines in these two pieces, his runs and chords creating both a bleak vibe and some glimmers of hope.

Fear of a Blank Planet is a bit of a weird record in Porcupine Tree's catalogue, as it seems to go the Signify route of capturing every era of the band while remaining its own entity. Regardless, its combination of great musical variety and wonderfully-conveyed concept are what allow it to overshadow so many modern-day progressive metal peers. The simplistic lyrics and low-key delivery of said lyrics can get grating at times, but it's a minor issue in an otherwise amazing experience. It's pretty unfortunate that Porcupine Tree went on their hiatus after The Incident, as it would be great to hear them top this one day with something even stronger. As for now, we still have this near-masterpiece to cherish.

(Originally published on Sputnikmusic)

Necrotica | 4/5 |


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