[25th February 2013]
02. Drive Home
03. The Holy Drinker
04. The Pin Drop
05. The Watchmaker
06. The Raven That Refused to Sing
Steven Wilson is a man that needs no introduction in the world of prog rock. His career is full of brilliant albums with Porcupine Tree, Blackfield, Bass Communion, and his solo work. The Raven That Refused To Sing (and other stories) is Wilson’s third album under his own name. This time around, he enlisted the help of producer and prog musician, Alan Parsons, renowned for his work on Dark Side of the Moon, to help engineer the album. Additionally, Wilson brought in a new lineup of musicians for this album; Marco Minnemann on drums, Guthrie Govan on guitar, Nick Beggs on bass and Chapman stick, Theo Travis on flute and saxophone, and Adam Holzman on keyboards. All of these men are masters in their respective crafts.
The album’s lyrics are based on ghost stories, and a little bit of that tone bleeds into the music, with a few sections on some songs being very eerie and ominous. One notable example of that is on the song “The Holy Drinker” which features a monstrous rumbling organ underneath a dark guitar passage. “Luminol” starts of with a high energy bass-and-drum rhythm line, and vibrant keyboard and guitar melodies laid over the top, before settling down into a lovely mellow passage prominently featuring a piano and a flute. This album might just be Steven Wilson’s best performance vocally ever. His voice has always been solid, but on here, he really uses a varying range and power to absolutely stunning effect, from soft and airy, to loud, to breathy and spooky as the music calls for it. Additionally, Wilson’s mastery of songwriting is on full display here, the virtuosic pedigree of the musicians he enlisted really helping bring Wilson’s vision to life. Wilson does a fair amount of the instrumentation himself, but allows the others musicians to fill out his framework with their ability. Minnemann and Beggs play off each other’s rhythms perfectly, and the depth Holzman, and Travis are able to give the sound is magnificent.
Any prog fan will know Alan Parsons as the man who engineered the sound on the classic album, Dark Side of the Moon. Well, he’s also the engineer on this album, and it shows. Wilson himself is no slouch at engineering and production, but having Parsons, a known perfectionist (he is rumoured to once have spent nearly two straight days trying to get one cymbal hit to sound right), can only be a help. This album sounds absolutely wonderful, with a depth in sound that very few artists have been able to achieve. The clarity on all the instruments is breath-taking, especially the flute which can be a hard instrument to capture properly. Not a single sound is too loud, too quiet, or out of place at all.
While it was a fantastic album, Wilson’s previous solo album Grace For Drowning suffered just a bit from being a little overlong, a double album. On The Raven, that changes. It is only one disc, and that ensures that every good idea that can be used is implemented efficiently and effectively. Not only are there a lot of good ideas, but they are all extremely varied. One minute, it might be a Pink Floyd/“Hey You” type acoustic passage, the next it goes into a real blistering Yes style of prog, and then on to something completely different and unique sounding. In “The Holy Drinker” there is one jazzy sounding section with trading off keyboard and guitar licks, which transitions completely naturally into a heavy prog rock section. Later in the same song, the listener is treated with that absolutely massive organ chord progression, before fading out into what sounds like faint wolf howls. This is truly a varied album, one that is an amazing journey from start to finish.
The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) is an absolute prog masterpiece, and is possibly Wilson’s best work to date. It is a deep, complex, brilliantly produce creation. The technical ability on this album is mind-blowing, as is the writing and engineering. The mood settings and shifts are magnificent, and the lyrics are wonderful. Steven Wilson is a true genius, one who has consistently released top quality music and manages to keep on getting better with time. The Raven is definitely one of the best albums of the year and possibly the decade. Simply put; a landmark album for progressive rock in general.