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Porcupine Tree - In Absentia CD (album) cover


Porcupine Tree


Heavy Prog

4.26 | 2619 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars This album flirts on the edge of a five star rating, but it lacks the definite punch of their masterpiece Fear of a Blank Planet; though clearly it is a strong release from the band.

Stepping up from the more pop-rock oriented Lightbulb Sun, In Absentia features noticeably more metal, a fair number of more uptempo songs, and a return to early Porcupine Tree's sense of creepiness and dark mood. New drummer Gavin Harrison has joined the fold, and while Chris Maitland certainly is talented, Gavin's chops (though shown very conservatively throughout this release) definitely can add much enthusiasm to the music. A random prog passerby might notice this album and comment on the non-prog song lengths and so forth. True, the general strictures of "prog" are mostly absent. There are a few different time signatures, a few strange melodies and chord progressions. Nevertheless, this album really is progressive. Wilson has pushed his band forward from the initial humorous druggie psychedelia of On the Sunday of Life, through the careful atmospheric rock of Signify, through the melancholic pop of Lightbulb Sun, and out into the realm of hard rock and some metal. There are still acoustic elements, there still are gentle songs, there still is the impressive Wilson restraint. But this is not Porcupine Tree like Porcupine Tree was ever before. The band has remade itself again, and In Absentia is a strong debut for a changed band.

It opens with the rocker Blackest Eyes, which kicks the album off to a melodic and yet energetic beginning. The live favorite Trains enters next, built on a unique strum pattern. The lyrics are the closest Wilson has ever come to writing a love song in a Porcupine Tree effort, and the music matches with a nostalgic, almost happy quality. An odd track for the band, to be sure, but certainly a beautiful tune--one that also has its share of rocking out towards the end. Lips of Ashes is a creepy, crawling tune budding with atmosphere and haunting vocals. Next begins The Sound of Muzak in 7/4 time, though with such a drumming pattern by Harrison that it flows as naturally a standard 4/4 tune. Well-harmonized choruses lamenting the loss of public interest in quality music leads to a splendid guitar solo and a rather laid-back track overall. Clocking in at almost eight minutes, the longest on the album, is the sleeper track Gravity Eyelids. Beginning with a fairly creepy atmosphere and a drum machine, the song gradually adds piano, vocal layers, and drums for the first three and a half minutes. Then it all backs off for a strange plucked noise and some heavy guitars. Soon the song gets a bit wild with a touch of metal. A thick middle section then returns it to what it once was before, with the vocal layers and piano, except the distorted guitars subtly remain in the background.

Wedding Nails is an instrumental track, perhaps the most energetic and straightforwardly rocking tune on the album. Based mostly on several guitar riffs, this turns what many prog bands would make a noodle-fest into an interesting exposition of horror music. After the last minute or two of keyboard-produced ambiance, Prodigal enters the album. A strong bass line and some distorted slide guitar push this song to a likewise lush and well-written chorus. The post-chorus is the strength of the song, however, as after the second run through, distorted guitars kick in with a very memorable riff. A solid guitar solo towards the end drives the song to a worthy conclusion. The mostly instrumental .3 also is powered by Colin Edwin's powerful bass, layering melancholic atmosphere and featuring several short lyrics about the horrors of war. Continuing in the dark and moody vein, The Creator Has a Mastertape is a quirky song with a few of possibly the album's wildest guitar moments. Heartattack in a Layby is a gentle, soft track with more of Wilson's clever harmonies tying it together. Next, Strip the Soul clocks in with its second longest status. The opening bass riff is fairly reminiscent of the opening of .3, though soon the song dissolves into darkly heavy metal and horrifying lyrics. Lastly, the translucent Collapse the Light into Earth wraps up the album. Most of the music here is piano, though some wisely used strings back the melody. Wilson's voice softly and morosely turns this track into a beautiful, refreshing conclusion.

For a number of people, this is the best place to begin with for Porcupine Tree. Fear of a Blank Planet is a stronger album, but the melodies and riffs on In Absentia certainly qualify it as a smart place to look.

LiquidEternity | 4/5 |


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