Widely touted as one of the more significant, influential and prolific figureheads of modern progressive rock, Steven Wilson has been on an ever-intriguing journey of studio exploration and experimentation that has spanned the better part of the last twenty years. Indeed, Mr. Wilson has become something of an icon among musicians and producers alike as his home grown recipe of self-produced and recorded material spans a diverse spectrum of styles as well as an ever growing impact that only gets more impressive with each years passing. Wilson’s newest studio offering, The Raven That Refused To Sing portrays an artist at somewhat of a creative crossroads, drawing obvious influence from 60’s and 70’s Prog Rock gods such as King Crimson and Yes that more often than not succeeds at being an entertaining listen if not all that original of one.
Instrumental proficiency and seamlessly improvised performances carry the momentum on nearly every track on the The Raven That Refused to Sing. The more intense musical excursions give the album an enthralling and exciting quality especially when compared to his previous solo works that were panned among some for being pretentious and somewhat anti-climactic, in other words, lacking “the goods”. Employed is a stunning arsenal of guest musical virtuoso’s which range from the always jaw-dropping fretboard master, Guthrie Govan to the ever-entertaining schizophrenic drum beats and percussions of Marco Minneman. While the two aforementioned musicians bring a lot to the table in terms of musical proficiency, one can’t help but feel they are a tad bit under-utilized. While Govan does shine in select spots, such as the glorious climax solo on “The Watchmaker,” his performances in general, are a bit underwhelming to what audiences may come to expect from him.
Each track presented in The Raven That Refused to Sing is more akin to that of a musical exploration that harkens back to the glory days of fifteen minute epics and unpredictable, abstract song structures. Nostalgia is in abundance, as Wilson shows no reservation in making his influences sometimes painfully apparent. The loud, nasally and almost dust-ridden Moog tone in the latter half of “Luminol” sounds as if it were sampled right out of King Crimson’s masterwork “In The Court of the Crimson King” for instance. While some might find infinite fault with Wilson’s portrayal of his idols and brush of The Raven That Refused to Sing as a tribute record void of originality and or merit those willing to look a little deeper are likely to find a trove of refreshing and sometimes transcendental soundscapes. The clean toned guitar movement halfway through the album opener, “Luminol” is of accolade as it portrays Wilson crafting serene melodies over lush chord progressions, an important staple of his prior works with “Porcupine Tree.” The albums closing title track is an important piece as well, as it is arguably the most emotional, heart wrenching and dare I say epic track of his entire career (not to mention the awesome accompanying animated music video.)
One of the biggest faults of Wilson’s newest offering is that it lacks that special studio “magic” that helped make his prior releases irreplaceable staples in the art of audio engineering. The drum sound is a somewhat brittle and the low-end of the bass guitar leaves a little to be desired. The vocal layering’s and overdubs that were often the center-piece of what made Porcupine Tree great are present but all too sparse. Wilson has never been the most accomplished or skilled vocalist but the way he approached his voice as well as his innovative, forward-thinking vocal techniques more than made up for it. Here, his approach often feels stale, stagnate and rushed and may throw off listeners unfamiliar with his work right away. While there’s a lot to poke criticism at in The Raven That Refused To Sing, there is equal amount to embrace and enjoy. Wilson’s most recent studio offering hints at greatness throughout but unfortunately falls short in many aspects that made his work so endearing in the first place. Regardless, The Raven That Refused to Sing remains one of the more entertaining and musically stimulating release’s of 2013 thus far and is more than worth checking out for fans of Porcupine Tree and Progressive music alike.
2. Drive Home
3. The Holy Drinker
4. The Pin Drop
5. The Watchmaker
6. The Raven That Refused to Sing