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Porcupine Tree - Deadwing CD (album) cover

DEADWING

Porcupine Tree

 

Heavy Prog

4.11 | 1983 ratings

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Necrotica
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Porcupine Tree have certainly gone through an interesting stylistic evolution over the years, but what's always been fascinating is that each shift is more like an extension of their previous eras. Think about it: Their first era was almost entirely built on psychedelic rock, albums like Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun are primarily alternative rock but contain elements of psychedelic rock, and everything after that has been progressive metal with elements of alternative rock and psychedelic rock. While Porcupine Tree are on hiatus right now, it would be interesting to see what they come up with next to add to their current range of genres if they do come back. But, like many fans of the band, I believe that the 2000s (barring The Incident) is the decade that holds their best work and their most natural evolution: the aforementioned shift to progressive metal. We still have the layered and beautiful soundscapes in abundance, but the band's songwriting got a lot tighter and gained a lot more direction... along with some wonderfully heavy and crunchy riffs to boot. So, with frontman Steven Wilson hard at work with his solo career at the moment, I think now is a good time to revisit the first Porcupine Tree album that hit the Billboard charts and reached a larger audience: Deadwing.

A lot of the songwriting elements that made In Absentia such a fan favorite are still here in spades, but there's a bit more emphasis on metal here than on their previous records. "Shallow," "Halo," and "Open Car" are all songs that one could imagine getting airplay on alternative metal radio stations; hell, "Shallow" actually made its way into the action movie Four Brothers! But despite the presence of intense and almost grungy riffing, the same old Porcupine Tree we all know and love is still on this record. Even the heavier songs have softer and more atmospheric portions to even them out, such as the beautiful piano-driven pre-choruses of "Shallow" or the drumless outro of "Open Car" which features some nice harmonized vocals from Wilson. Speaking of "piano-driven," Richard Barbieri was really given the chance to shine on Deadwing. He was always widely regarded as a great keyboardist, especially when he was in the new wave band Japan, but he was often reduced to just providing background atmosphere with his layered effects and sampling. But here, there's much more of a balance as tracks such as "Lazarus" and "Start of Something Beautiful" (mainly the second half of the latter) showcase much more traditional piano playing in which Barbieri displays his virtuosity a bit more. Bassist Colin Edwin and drummer Gavin Harrison are fantastic as usual, providing a very solid and proficient rhythm section for Wilson to work with.

But, as always, the compositions are what makes it all come together. This might not be the best Porcupine Tree album ever, but it might just have the best balance in terms of dynamics and track placement. What makes Deadwing so accessible and fun to listen to is just the sheer range of song lengths and ideas flying around. It may seem weird mentioning the song lengths, but to go from the shorter, punchier, (presumably) religion- bashing and tongue-in-cheek alternative metal of "Halo" to such a powerful and emotional epic like "Arriving Somewhere but Not Here" is just a taste of what makes Deadwing work so well. The way the more hard-hitting and the more emotionally resonant pieces come together makes this both a thrillingly energetic experience and an intriguing one. The title track and "Shallow" work in very much the same way, with a more long-winded and dramatic song rife with progressive passages paving the way for possibly the most distorted and brutal song Porcupine Tree have ever released. But the quality also lies in the songwriting of the individual tracks too, of course. Despite the seemingly simplistic nature of the music compared to other contemporary (or even classic, for that matter) progressive rock bands, there are a lot of little intricacies that drive each song. Songs like "Glass Arm Shattering" and "Start of Something Beautiful" don't feature ridiculous amounts of instrumental virtuosity, but instead use the band members' talents for a more layered experience featuring a heavy amount of atmosphere and dynamic subtlety. The same goes for "Arriving Somewhere but Not Here," whose strength is how well it builds up to its very heavy metal-oriented payoff with beautiful space rock-esque soundscapes and one of Wilson's strongest and most emotional vocal performances.

Balance is what makes Deadwing so complete and fulfilling. It's both highly accessible and moderately challenging, technically proficient but also economical in its instrumentation, as well as soft and delicate while also tending to be crushingly heavy at moments. if it weren't for the slightly boring and uneventful ballad "Mellotron Scratch," this would most certainly be the strongest record in the Porcupine Tree discography, even edging out albums such as Signify and Lightbulb Sun. But it's still fantastic, and between the varied songwriting and consistently well-executed instrumental work, it stands as one of Porcupine Tree's finest hours.

Recommended Tracks ---------------------------------------------- Arriving Somewhere but Not Here Shallow Deadwing Start of Something Beautiful

(Originally published on Sputnikmusic)

Necrotica | 4/5 |

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