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Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) CD (album) cover

THE RAVEN THAT REFUSED TO SING (AND OTHER STORIES)

Steven Wilson

 

Crossover Prog

4.30 | 1176 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Gallifrey
5 stars In the 18 months I have known of Sir Steven's existence, I have compiled a total of 71 albums from him and his various pseudonyms, albeit digitally, and about 30 in actual paid CD form. Although still in his 40's, Steven doesn't seem to ever stop producing, and his latest effort, lengthily titled "The Raven That Refused To Sing (and other stories)" is one of my favourites from him, and easily his best since 2009's "The Incident".

Now, it's 2013 now, so the Incident was 4 years ago. Technically it was only 3.5, considering it was a September release. Now for normal people, 3.5 years means one or two albums. For Steven, it means about six. Of course, there's an ambient one and there's one he only wrote one song for, but it still is a lot. But it's not just that, since the fanbase, and even Steven himself, were not entirely impressed by "The Incident", some may even say this is his best since his opus, 2007's "Fear of a Blank Planet".

This is Steven's third album under his own name, but most certainly not his third solo album. Most of the Bass Communion releases and the first few PT albums were all Steven plugging away by himself, so this is hardly a new experience for him. But since 1991 his ego has significantly grown, enough to stick his name on something and gain full credit. And I don't blame him. Steven's solo solo output began with 2008's "Insurgentes", a strange experimental rock album with influences pulled from post-punk, drone and even noise. The album wasn't received too well (although there were some glowing reviews), but Steven, having an enormous ego and a large amount of brave, decided to push Porcupine Tree to the side and continue with his solo project, much to the protest of his fanbase.

But 2011's "Grace For Drowning" deviated from the odd style of Insurgentes, into a more jazz and symphonic prog influenced piece, which made fans think twice about how average his output would be. And with this latest album, I now don't care if/when he brings PT back. This is good enough for me. This album is a more refined and shorted version of Grace, and while Grace had quite a lot of filler tracks (not that Steven ever really does filler), but it seemed that most of the second disk except for "Raider II" was a bit unnecessary. Here Steven only has 6 songs (although he said he was recording 7??..), so there is basically no filler. All of the 'styles' developed in Grace are improved on here, without meandering for minutes.

One of the apparent reasons to success behind "Fear of a Blank Planet", which is my favourite album of all time, was that Porcupine Tree decided to play it on tour before they even recorded it. It may seem like an odd decision to make, considering I hate being at concerts and not knowing the words, but it allowed Steven and his men to refine the album to utter perfection, cutting tracks, rewriting some, adding parts, and even leaving a fantastic EP of the original versions in "Nil Recurring". This time, Steven decided to run new tracks, too, but only one song, the album opener "Luminol". I remember hearing the live version from DVD "Get All You Deserve" and not really being impressed, reducing my expectations for the album. As it turns out, "Luminol" is easily the weakest on the album, and my low expectations were met with high returns.

Along with the idea of touring songs first, Steven decided on a more 70's style process of recording with the entire band in the room, creating a more live feel. To add to the 70's style, Wilson hired god-tier engineer Alan Parsons, who needs no introduction, to work on the record.

Whereas Porcupine Tree only really has one incredible (operative word: incredible) instrumentalist in Gavin Harrison (probably due to being hired after the band had become popular), Steven has truly brought in an A-team for his band, including one of the only drummers on par with Harrison in my opinion, Marco Minneman. Also included is well- renowned guitarist Guthrie Govan and Steven's regular wind persona Theo Travis. Due to this, Steven said he was aiming to create music for the musicians, even stating he was writing music that was too hard for him to play. The last time he tried that ("Normal" from Nil Recurring), it ended up quite well, seeing as Steven doesn't consider himself a very good guitarist.

To the music. I don't normally go track-by track in my reviews as I believe they begin to ramble, and I know this one will, so if you don't want to read, here is my summary: it's good, go buy it.

Luminol: I said earlier that this is the weakest track, but that really isn't much, since it's still very good. This is the "Sectarian" of this record; it opens with a dissonant jazzy bang, showing Steven's love for all sorts of weird music. It's also one of the first times Steven's shown his symphonic prog side, a genre he limited to the past. And although he has previously criticized the Yes and Genesis clones of today, he is not a hypocrite here, since the references are brief, and are definitely references, not emulations. The vocal chorus after the intro immediately reminds me of Yes, but Jon Anderson's voice is much more suited for this sort of stuff, with Steven's it sounds a bit weak, but you have to admire it from a musical standpoint. Luminol contains most of the album's jazzy parts, and although Theo Travis gets a go with one of his many instruments in almost all of the songs, this is one of the times when he gets to go completely bezerk, showing off some of the best solos of the record.

The bass is probably the highlight of this songs, which doesn't often happen in Steven's music, with a couple of the best breaks I've heard, and some wonderful riffing.

Random fact: "Luminol", spelt that way, is the name of a luminescent substance, aka glow-in- the-dark. There are also glow-in-the-dark shirts for this album on sale, so a pretty cool reference there.

Drive Home: STEVEN. WHAT. IS THAT AUTOTUNE I HEAR???? Well there's most certainly something on his voice in this one, and it's not just him talking through a telephone again. In any case, this is probably the "Postcard" of this album. It's a nice song, as are all of his ballads, but it doesn't really prove anything or serve a purpose.

The Holy Drinker: This is where it starts to get good. This is the "Remainder The Black Dog" of this album, a ridiculous epic and quite fun piece that draws as much from avant music as it does from Opeth. The opening is the most ridiculous the album gets. I would call it "heavy", but I don't want anyone getting their hopes up about metal. Travis' saxophone (or something, I'm not good with wind/brass) goes full avant-jazz at times, and is quite the storm before the calm, as we get into the verse.

Now, Steven is a master at vocal hooks. He has so many of them, and so many are good. This is one of the freshest things he's done, and the enormous AAAAAAAAAAAA at the climax of the verse is truly epic, calling back to Opeth, although more in a vocal style way than a riffing way.

The Pin Drop: This is my favourite on the album. It's also a lot of people's least favourite, but it is one of the songs that really breaks new ground for Wilson. Right from the moment the vocals come in I hear Circa Survive, although I'm worried about Steven trying to pull off his Anthony Green impression live. Whenever I hear older bands emulating newer bands I'm impressed. Many older musicians believe them superior to the younger ones, and taking influence from them is odd, like when Dream Theater did a couple of Muse songs. The primary chord sequence I believe is the same on in "Drown With Me", which may be what Steven is referencing in the lyrics to "Luminol", but it's used in a very different way. There's a strange atmosphere to this song that I can't quite pinpoint, but the chorus line is one of my favourite parts of the album. It definitely draws from the newer 'prog' bands, almost a strange alternative rock song. This is Steven moving forward again, one thing he has managed to do so well over the years, whereas bands like Dream Theater are still trying to pull out Images and Words Part II, and falling further away each time.

The Watchmaker:

This is the epic of the album. Although Luminol is longer, this one has the epic sort of feel that was found on "Raider II" from Grace for Drowning. One thing that prog bands never cease to amaze me about is how they can keep you captivated for minutes without actually getting anywhere. The first 6 minutes of The Watchmaker show little development, but seem to keep the listener intrigued the whole way. It's a softer song for the most part, unlike most of Steven's epics, and reminds me slightly of "Arriving Somewhere But Not Here" from Deadwing, at least the intro of that song. The song finishes in a rather nice 7/8 meter, one of the only times Steven breaks 4/4 time signature in this album, citing that you don't need constant complexity to be progressive.

The Raven That Refused To Sing: This was my initial favourite, and is the favourite of many, including Steven himself. Steven, over the years has made many songs which I, using eloquent internet terms, call "feel songs". He cites "Stop Swimming" from Stupid Dream as one of the most important songs he has written, and I believe "Collapse The Light Into Earth" (my favourite Wilson song), "Deform to Form A Star" and "Buying New Soul" to fall in this category of introspective and depressingly beautiful music. So naturally, since Steven has done many of these before, how can he push this title track beyond those earlier attempts? Well the simple answer is: post-rock. Despite both being a major part of the modern progressive scene, Steven has had very little to do with post- rock and shoegaze, even his ambient drone project Bass Communion rarely straying into the similarly lined ambient post-rock genre. Post-rock, done correctly, is some of the most beautiful music in the world. I'm not entirely sure of the difference between it and shoegaze, but I understand alternate picking is a shoegaze trait, and Steven breaks it out well on "The Raven". Any climax can be increased dramatically with a soaring line of alternate picking and a decent string part, so naturally "The Raven" becomes one of the best songs Steven has done. Unfortunately I still don't rate it up to the songs I previously mentioned, probably due to the fact that strip it of the strings and the shuddering climax, the song isn't that great. I still rate it highly, and hope to see how he does this one live.

Lyrics: Steven's lyrical ability has always been a mixed bag. Many people loathed the lyrics from "Fear of a Blank Planet, but I adored them, and it was one of the reasons I was so fascinated by Porcupine Tree. Over the years, Steve has written many pieces on all sorts of odd people, serial killers, rapists, people who collect model trains etc. This time around, Steven is going deeper into the macabre, with 'ghost stories' about lost people. I initially thought "Luminol" was Steven writing about himself, but my copy of prog magazine arrived yesterday and I now know it's about a busker he sees on the street, but what would happen if he disappeared, but was still there, because somehow he was part of the street corner. Reading through the summaries listed in issue 33 of Prog, it seems this is one of Steven's deepest and in fact most conceptual records lyrically. He of course gets to write about murderers again in "The Watchmaker", a tale about a man who has murdered his wife who then comes back to haunt him.

In conclusion. I don't actually know how this man does it. But this is another fantastic album. And the fact that this is only my 8th favourite SW album shows just how many fantastic albums he has made. I reckon every fan of his previous albums will find something good, but it's more lenient towards classic progressive listeners, with touches of modern influence. The production is stunning and musicianship is top notch, and I think this is another fine addition to my Steven Wilson shelf.

9.2

Originally written for my facebook page/blog www.facebook.com/neoprogisbestprog

Gallifrey | 5/5 |

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