Well-known as Porcupine Tree’s mastermind, one half of Blackfield, Opeth producer, King Crimson and Jethro Tull remixer, Steven Wilson has become one of the central figures of today’s progressive rock. His second solo album “Grace For Drowning”, announced as his “biggest project to date” with lots of famous guest musicians like Steve Hackett (Genesis), Pat Mastelotto (King Crimson), Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater) and many more, indeed comes along as a double album – a concept that has already been regarded as oversized in the golden age of prog rock, the 70s. Anyway – let’s see what Wilson has created.
Split into two volumes – “Deform To Form A Star” and “Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye – the double album features twelve songs. After the short title track which seems to be an introduction with its harmony vocals and slight piano and Mellotron lines ‘Sectarian’ shows the quite heavy power known from Porcupine Tree. But there’s a fine line which separates the band from Wilson’s solo style: a certain jazz touch that becomes apparent with the e-piano-lead middle part. It becomes clear that this album is a mix of old and new just like Opeth’s latest album “Heritage”.
Yet Wilson has another side: the pop musician. The song ‘Deform To Form A Star’ is a beautiful ballad with such fantastic vocals and a great use of dynamics – one of his best songs. The Crimson-esque ‘No Part Of Me’ and the rather unspectacular ‘Postcard’ are good songs, too, but the true masterpiece comes after the dark choral track ‘Raider Prelude’: ‘Remainder The Black Dog’, a perfect prog tour de force with such a powerful sound and so many great passages that it’s almost unbelievable how a group of musicians can be so good. But there still is the second volume of the album to come.
It starts with ‘Belle De Jour’, a very nice short song that reminds me of Ennio Morricone’s classical film soundtracks. Following, the almost industrial ‘Index’ featuring Pat Mastelotto’s unique mix of drums and electronics again heads into classical music with a great string section in the second half, just like ‘Track One’, actually only being a song with acoustic guitar and vocals. But what makes this track so interesting is the very loud and dark orchestral outburst in the middle part.
Just as many classic prog albums have a central piece “Grace For Drowning” isn’t missing this either. The 23-minute-long ‘Raider II’ is yet another tour de force, this time rather heavy, especially during its first half. Its Mellotron work paired with the guitar riffs is one of the best features of the whole album. Strangely enough the not so overwhelming yet still good ballad ‘Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye’ brings the album to an end.
And that’s it. There’s not much left to say. Steven Wilson’s “Grace For Drowning” – it’s this year’s best prog album so far! Simply perfect!