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Steven Wilson - Grace For Drowning CD (album) cover


Steven Wilson


Crossover Prog

4.19 | 1712 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars Based on the album liner notes and artwork, it appears that Porcupine Tree leader, Steven Wilson, was in a state of melancholia, if not full depression, when he wrote this album. Lyrics, themes, and songwriting tend to share one common thing: depression. The artist has poured all of his feelings in addition to bringing highly talented musicians from King Crimson and other musical backgrounds to do what each of them do best, resulting in a diverse set of sounds that work together to form a musical masterwork that is both musically challenging as it is emotionally accessible. Tracks range from a mere few minutes to a gargantuan 20+ minute epic where even the shorter ones are as memorable and rewarding as the longest songs. The sound has the spirit of progressive rock while sounding quite different from the typical (or stereotypical) sounds of the genre. Therefore, people who gets turned off by the sounds of 70s symphonic rock (Genesis, Yes, ELP) may still find a lot to enjoy here.

Opening with sad floating vocal arrangements and sparse piano in its short title track, the music becomes angular and dissonant with "Sectarian" in its acoustic intro. A thick bass enters, a massive choral burst interrupts and it takes a disturbing turn into a loud avant- garde, reminiscent of 70s King Crimson. The composition is multifaceted, displaying some calmer sections before chorals and madness return. "Deform to Form a Star" has a beautiful title that might hint recovery. Music is highly melodic and somewhat more positive, carrying gorgeous vocal choruses, simple piano, and soaring wordless vocals by the closing of the song. It is one of Steven Wilson's best ballads.

The fast-paced soft, chiming, electronic rhythms that begin in "No Part of Me" introduces a new sound to the album. When the piano and lyrics come in, it carries both a pleasant, relaxing sound yet overly depressing lyrics delivered with strong feelings from a man who grew so much as a vocalist over the years. The second half of the song is dominated with harsh guitar riffs and increasingly dissonant instrumentation, sounding like a mental breakdown put to music. One of my personal favorites: this is as perfect as music gets.

The next track "Postcard" is much lighter and more harmonic, providing relief to the listeners. Lyrically, it appears connected to the previous track, explaining what he was dealing with: losing his father. Musically, it is short in duration and light in complexity, but its sincerity allows it to fit in the album. "Raider Prelude" is short-lasting as well, with an emotionally dense, eerie atmosphere.

The last song in the first disc, "Remainder the Black Dog", is in my opinion one of the best (if not the best) long compositions associated with Steven Wilson. It says a lot that a nine- minute song is the one used to promote the album. The song is generally carried by an eerie piano motif in 15/8 with natural dynamics and exciting changes in pace throughout the composition. The harshest section spotlights Steve Hackett (Genesis) playing a purposefully unpleasant guitar solo.

After a beautiful cinematic intro focusing on acoustics, the menacing industrial/electronic sounds from "index" make another highlight in the album. It is somewhat reminiscent of Porcupine Tree's "The Incident" but works better here. The use of strings make a surprisingly effective counterpoint to the disturbing electronics and vocals. "Track One" starts with delicate vocals and acoustics. Later, gorgeous harmony vocals and mellotron get pushed aside by a suffocating feel of hopelessness until pleasant acoustics finish the song.

"Raider II" is the longest composition and of clear interest to progressive rock fans. The song takes many risks and definitively requires more patience than the rest of the album. Due to highly adventurous songwriting and long duration, it has a couple of missteps and moments that could be shortened. Nevertheless, it is a brilliant track that begins minimalistic with an ominous feel. It gets heavy with sax riffs, massive choral bursts (like Sectarian in the first CD), even death metal growls. Variations of the melody in the intro get played in different ways. The pace fastens up, alternating guitar/synthesizer arpeggios very similar to each other but in different time signatures. There is also an impressive loud section that reminds of death metal band Opeth and a jazzy solo driven by a springy bass before the guitar arpeggios return. An ambient, eerie interlude that references back to the Raider Prelude on the first disc is surrounded by silence while the last section fades in, carry important lyrics, and develops into a monster riff with frenetic soprano sax marking the climax of the album. The album ends with a ballad repeating the phrases "breath in/out now" and ending with calm, ambient music, probably displaying the protagonist's recovery from depression.

These tracks feature top musicians that are unleashed when the music requires them to go wild. This is not an album that features egocentric extended solos interrupting the flow of songs. This is an album that uses first-rate musicianship to expand the feel of the songs. While some songs require patience and repeated listens to fully comprehend them, many of the songs had such a strong initial impression that I played them again instead of proceeding to the next song. The task of creating a 2-cd album that is nearly free of filler or missteps while leaving out bonus tracks that are of high-caliber is admirable. (Home in Negative has excellent melodies, Raider Acceleration is an inventive avant-garde track, others are also worthy of note). Let's celebrate a modern classic of progressive rock and wish Steven Wilson musical inspiration.

Highlights: Deform to Form a Star, No Part of Me, Remainder the Black Dog, Index.

Zitro | 5/5 |


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