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Porcupine Tree - In Absentia CD (album) cover

IN ABSENTIA

Porcupine Tree

 

Heavy Prog

4.23 | 1855 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

The SaidRemark
4 stars This is the album that made me an instant Porcupine Tree fan. "In Absentia" swept me of my feet with its awesome song-writing, production, lyrics, and did again later when its grotesque concept began to unfold. I had heard them be associated with psychedelic acts like Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream, but this album is completely at odds with that comparison.

The album dazzles you with it's first four songs, all cleverly written. Packed full of hooks, rhythmic twists and turns, and melodic guitar solos, the first fifteen minutes are exactly what they should be. Unfortunately, it starts to slow down after this, and doesn't pick up until the very end. The songs in the middle aren't bad at all, but they pale in comparison to the few book-ending the album.

The album begins with the prog-metal riffing of "Blackest Eyes," a song that combines very heavy guitars with pop-rock sensibility. The composition is totally focused - this album shows Steve Wilson becoming a fine song writer in addition to being a solid guitarist, singer, and band leader. This first song starts the album off high energy, and sets the mood for the rest of the album.

The following song, "Trains," is possibly the highlight of the album. Largely acoustic, yet far from a ballad, the full band also makes a welcome appearance. The new drummer, Gavin Harrison, gets to show of his chops; this guy is really something. His style reminds me of the later era drummers for Zappa's group, full of weird ideas that he pulls off flawlessly and keeps the song interesting. He will only get better on later albums, but I digress. This song has a great hook in the chorus, not poppy, but very accessible. An instant classic.

"Trains" plays into the next track "Lips of Ashes," a creepy-feeling psychedelic tune. Steve Wilson graces us with one of the few guitar solos on the album, a rare treat. He really takes care of the production here - you can here every nuance clearly. This song too plays into the following one, "The Sound of Muzak," a highlight of the album, but lyrically unrelated to the album. It's fascinating 7/4 verse and beautiful vocal harmony in the chorus make it an excellent song. Its lyrics distract from the larger message of this song, but this is made forgivable by the quality of the music.

The first four songs, all 5 star material, give way to songs of slightly lower quality. The constant melancholic mood starts to dominate the sound scape, perhaps too much so. Some of these I would consider filler material, and though none of them break the eight-minute mark, the songs tend to drag.

"Gravity Eyelids" is a good song with creepy lyrics, Steven Wilson entering the mind of a rapist/murderer/whatever the concept seems to be. Despite being the longest track on the album, it is unmemorable, though. It is followed up with "Wedding Nails," a mediocre instrumental that sounds as though it were any other Porcupine Tree song, only with vocals removed. The album could have done better without it. It does have some cool ambiance and a noise section at the end to redeem it.

"Prodigal" is where the melancholic mood starts to grate. The song is only average by Porcupine Tree standards, and seems overshadowed by those from the beginning. At this point in the album it feels bit tired. ".3" and "The Creator Had A Mastertape" are each unique songs and good in their own right, but only continue the trend begun by "Prodigal."

Things start to look up a bit towards the end. "Heartattack in a Lay By" is a ballad so unbearably depressing you have to love it. It features a gorgeous vocal harmony in the outro. "Strip the Soul," is a good prog-metal tune that expresses the concept at its most brutal. The sixteen-minute version on the "Out Absentia" B-Sides album is better though - should it have been mastered, it would have been a boon to this album. The album finishes strongly with "Collapse the Light Into Earth," a luscious piano ballad that could possibly be considered post-rock.

For those of you who didn't know, "In Absentia" is a concept album. Not tremendously focused, all the songs are definitely linked into what seems to be the memoirs of a person who might be either a rapist, serial killer, pedophile, abusive parent, or something of the sort. Possibly all of the above; the lyrics are quite open to interpretation. I for one prefer Steve Wilson's ugly and unabashedly pretentious lyrics to those of other contemporary prog artists like Dream Theater and Spock's Beard.

All in all, In Absentia is a very good album, no bad songs, but some very noticeable low-points. Two thirds of this album is great stuff, accessible and mature. Prog fans of any sort are bound to find something they like on this fine disc.

The SaidRemark | 4/5 |

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