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Porcupine Tree Fear of A Blank Planet Review

Album. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

The band grasp at sweeping, propulsive themes that can give the hairs on the back of...

Sid Smith 2007

These days it seems that almost every monthly music magazine has a feature in which either a veteran prog rock act is disinterred from the dry ice-wreathed vaults or there’s a discussion of who the contenders for the crown of neo prog rock might be. Muse, Radiohead and The Mars Volta (to name but a few) are all frequently mentioned, but one of the monikers most fervently whispered in connection to the genre that dare not speak its name quite yet is Porcupine Tree.

The brainchild of multi-instrumentalist and writer Steve Wilson, Porcupine Tree started out in 1987 almost as a joke, when he created the ‘lost’ tapes of an imaginary psychedelic/progressive band (much like XTC’s spoof psyche outfit The Dukes of Stratosphear) in his home studio. As with Andy Partridge and company, Wilson was surprised to find there was actually an audience for a group that didn't exist. By 2003, the wide-screen values of In Absentia had helped shift over 100,000 units, and their popularity was consolidated in 2005 with the darker Deadwing.

The new album – extensively toured to ever-growing and predominantly youthful audiences before it was recorded – sees a logical continuation of their successful formula. Based around concerns that young people are becoming separated from real life by a desensitising diet of video games and the internet, Fear of a Blank Planet explores this alienation via tracks such as the 17-minute “Anesthetize”, which traverses atmospheric terrains (largely supplied by ex-Japan keyboardist Richard Barbieri) and features bombastic dynamics from their constantly inventive drummer, Gavin Harrison.

The band grasp at sweeping, propulsive themes (“Way Out of Here”) that can give the hairs on the back of your neck a close shave. Having honed in on the old-school prog of his youth (both Rush’s Alex Lifeson and King Crimson’s Robert Fripp guest), Wilson has welded to this the jagged recursive riffs which bands such as Killswitch Engage or Tool deploy to bone-crushing effect. What keeps PT from merely rattling around in the metal ghetto are its polished layers (especially effective on “Sleep Together”) and Wilson’s accessible melodic sensibilities.

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