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Steven Wilson - Grace For Drowning CD (album) cover


Steven Wilson


Crossover Prog

4.21 | 1653 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars The 22nd Century Schizoid Man...

Whilst you might not personally agree that Grace for Drowning is the best album of 2011, it has certainly received its fair share of acclaim, and even entered the Prog Archives "all time top ten" for a brief period. But like many of these high flying releases it can be quite easy to jump on the five star bandwagon, or just as easy to award an abnormally low score if it didn't live up to stratospheric expectations. Ignoring the hype and staying objective is perhaps the hardest thing to do when reviewing an album such as this, but I will try!

Grace for Drowning is part of a miniature series of albums which includes Opeth's 'Heritage' and the 'Storm Corrosion' collaboration between Wilson and Akerfeldt due for release in 2012. These albums cast a retrospect on the early '70s prog bands which influenced both artists. Whereas 'Heritage' certainly sounds like a throwback, I feel that Grace for Drowning is the greater achievement in terms of fusing the old with the new. It certainly sounds more up to date, but don't be mislead into thinking it's just a variation on Porcupine Tree, that it isn't.

There is no doubt in my mind that Grace for Drowning ranks amongst Steven Wilson's very finest works. The quality of songwriting remains excellent throughout, whilst capturing a wide range of styles. My two personal favourites sit side-by-side on the tracklist, and demonstrate perfectly the album's musical opposition. The instrumental Sectarian has signatures both fragile and heavy, with an aura of King Crimson about it. Occasionally threatening the line between abstract and avant garde, it would not sound at all out of place on the Sin City soundtrack. In contrast, Deform to Form a Star strikes the perfect balance between progressive flourishes, with a more pop-orientated approach.

After a short run of lighter songs we are then given a hint that something wicked this way comes with the ominous Raider Prelude. The first disc then comes to a close with another brilliant composition in the form of Remainder the Black Dog.

The second disc is just as eclectic. Ranging from the lyrically twisted Index, (which reminds me of Peter Gabriel's "Intruder") to the uplifting, mesmeric closing track, Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye. These variations don't just exist between individual tracks as the tripolar Track One demonstrates. It kicks off with a Beatles influenced intro, before segueing into another reminder of dark times ahead, then finishes with a guitar driven finale comparable to Pat Metheny or Apostolis Anthimos.

And what has it all been building up to? The album's centrepiece, Raider II. Opening with the single most sinister piece of music I have ever heard, it then drags you kicking and screaming down an endless tunnel of jazz rock madness.

When I think of the word raider I think of danger, as well as debris and destruction, and this twenty minute monster certainly conjures up those sort of images. But it is also the album's most challenging 'moment', and it wasn't so long ago that I was considering this the deciding factor in awarding Grace for Drowning a mere four stars. Whilst my penchant for Raider II has certainly grown with time, I still maintain that it's far from flawless. For the first couple of listens the only thing that really piqued my interest was its 'gothic' hook, but even that just sounds like a recycled segment of Sectarian. After further exploration I found the abstract meanderings to be more rewarding, but still I have a problem with the instrumentation. I'm in no way adverse to the use of flute in prog, but here I think it's been seriously overdone. Ten minutes into the track I'm left asking myself, what's actually happened so far? And the resounding response is, not a lot.

For me, Raider II only really picks up again in the last five minutes by bringing back that feeling of sheer terror, whilst the extensive mid-section soloing causes a bit of a lull in the progression of the album. There can be no denying that the artistic intent is there, I'm just torn between deciding whether Raider II really is as deep as it is dark, or just as lengthy misfire.

But, outcome of this internal debate aside, Grace for Drowning does have one truly low point. That point is Postcard. A point of pointlessness. Why does it even exist?! Four and a half minutes of pure boredom. The melancholic pop thing had already been used to great effect on the previous two tracks, but why on earth do we need another? And this time without even the slightest morsel of ingenuity.

The Verdict: Perfect? Not quite. Essential? Most likely. Modern masterpiece? Only time will tell.

Starhammer | 4/5 |


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