Porcupine Tree – Closure/Continuation
Progressive Rock | Progressive Metal
Wow. Now here’s a review that I never thought I’d get chance to write. Porcupine Tree was one of the formative bands of my teens; their sound greatly shaped my taste in music. I remember it taking several hours to download ‘Anesthetize’ back in the day with my terrible internet and I don’t regret a single moment of the wait, and to this day Deadwing is one of my top five favourite albums. The trouble is that I arrived at the party too late, and by the time I had discovered the band they had already called it a day with their final album The Incident. Frontman Steven Wilson made it clear on several occasions over the years that he had no intention of reviving the project, and although his extensive solo output has had a lot of ups and downs, none of it has ever quite hit the same for me.
A wide array of disparate elements all came together to give PT a unique sonic palette. The dichotomy between the ferocious face-melting riffs and extended passages of tranquil transcendent beauty. The way that Richard Barbieri doesn’t just paint a scene with his soundscapes, but creates what feels like a full living, breathing world like no other keyboardist I’ve ever heard. How a track can shimmer with a highly polished futuristic sheen, and yet also have little quirks and imperfections akin to light leak streaks on a polaroid or static on a VHS that give it a more vintage and human feel. How Gavin Harrison can lay down complex rhythms that feel like the drumming equivalent of a chess grandmaster playing four games at once, only for Steven to add a beautifully melodic chorus overtop and somehow make it fit seamlessly. All told it’s a sound unlike anything else, and I never thought I’d hear it again.
Twelve years later and the band have returned. That much time will change anyone, but there’s certainly enough of the PT hallmarks here to delight long-time fans. Opening track ‘Harridan’ especially feels as though it has ambitions to be the new quintessential PT song. The brilliant lead bass riff leaps straight for the jugular, accompanied by drum work that… just has Gavin Harrison written all over it, that man is in another league. And interspersed between the explosive rhythm section we find passages of bubbling electronics building up tension and still introspective moments brimming with ethereal harmonies. ‘Of The New Day’ flips the pattern, offering a track very much in the template of ballads past dotted with the occasional primal outburst. ‘Rats Return’ brings one of the band’s most intricate and intriguing riffs yet to the table, while album highlight ‘Dignity’ weaves an expansive spaced-out arrangement while telling the tale of a homeless man pondering on the better life he once led.
As is probably inevitable, some of the sensibilities from Steven Wilson’s solo work have permeated into this latest record – for better and for worse. ‘Walk The Plank’ would sound right at home on The Future Bites. It’s possibly the band’s most electronic track to date, to the point where it feels very out of place, although it does also showcase Steven’s much improved vocal range. The opening section of ‘Chimera’s Wreck’ meanwhile has a ghostly gothic folk feel calling back to The Raven That Refused To Sing, before it dives headfirst into a bluesy breakdown.
Though this new release will tick plenty of boxes for fans, there are a few key facets of the band’s sound that don’t feel represented here. There isn’t any of that haunting melancholy that sees their music at its most beautiful, best heard on tracks like ‘Heartattack in a Layby’, nor any of the wonderfully melodic hooks found on ‘Blackest Eyes’ or ‘Lazarus’ that show the band’s more accessible side. Absent too is the particular bass styling of Colin Edwin, who often felt like an anchor who kept the group grounded, and without him this album definitely has a more loose and airy feel.
So which is it: Closure or Continuation? Only time will tell if it ends up being their last album or the first of a new era, but at this present moment in time to my mind it doesn’t quite feel like either in respect to the band’s legacy. It’s not a climactic finale nor is it the spark of something new. Instead, it feels like an epilogue; one extra chapter in a story you’re not quite ready to close the book on. One more visit to a world that you’re not yet ready to leave behind. I’m sure my feelings towards Closure/Continuation will shift as the novelty of its very existence wears off, and my brain gets chance to process all the little nuances and intricacies, but I’m thankful for the chance to experience it.