The solo works of Steven Wilson were in ascendancy by 2012’s accomplished The Raven that Refused to Sing, a musically morose but sonically warm homage to 70s prog rock which drew me in with its Fripp-isms and ensnared me in its powerfully emotive web. 2015 saw the decidedly harsher tone of Hand. Cannot. Erase., which similarly impressed me with its engrossing tale of obliteration with more modern tools. The prospect of a sequel named To the Bone surely had a number of AMG writers all hot and bothered. His production has always been top-notch while his music is constantly developing, promising at least that it would stand apart from prior albums to offer something fresh.

If I may adjust your expectations from the start, do not enter expecting a prog purists’ album. Just as HCE took ideas from Raven but is plainly separate, To the Bone is clearly written by the same hand but adopts new influences to forge a different experience. The release of the record’s singles, notably “Pariah” and “Permanating,” was nearly drowned out by cries that Wilson had betrayed his roots by writing pop music. It’s true: there is significantly upbeat, happy material here, with simple hooks which are likely to appeal to those who would not have bothered with him before. Those aforementioned examples are immediately engaging and feature chorus lyrics and melodies which you’ll know by your second listen. He persistently promised that such tracks would fit the entire record upon its full release – this is largely true so fear not if their joviality was initially perturbing. Wilson’s unique brand of melancholic prog still features though is saved for select moments. It ultimately pleases me that he refuses to stand still.

That sombre atmosphere on which Wilson has built his name is certainly prevalent by the conclusion of To the Bone. The back-half is slower and more introspective, representing quite the contrast from the front. While “People who Eat Darkness” boasts the most metal moment in its heavy lead riff, “Song of I” retains some of the earlier catchiness but broods. If I have a complaint, it’s that the final 3 tracks drag the album to a halt as they’re all slow burners. This bunching does none of them any favors as they bleed into one another. “Detonation” is mostly dull as it reaches over 9 minutes through simple repetition, while “Song of Unborn” particularly suffers as it’s a strong song but feels too close to neighbors stylistically. It’s better when taken alone which defeats the purpose of a complete album.

Nonetheless, it’s no surprise that each component part of To the Bone‘s sound sounds immaculate, from Ninet Tayeb’s incredible vocal additions to the strolling bass-lines provided by Robin Mullarkey, Nick Beggs and Wilson himself. This extends to the production, which is to the same high standard to which we are now acclimatized. That bass guitar warmly wanders in and out of the surrounding leads and the tones used are always pleasing. “Pariah” and “Permanating” are bright, vibrant and omit the dreadful brick-walling hampering most modern pop, while each instrument remains crystal-clear even in the deceptively subtle backing layers permeating the densest arrangement towards the end of “Detonation.”

I believe the net result of Wilson’s foray into pop influences is favorably comparable with the likes of Kate Bush and David Bowie. While sounding like neither, he tackles tougher topics than an average, modern chart hit and fuses a compelling musical depth with his undeniable hooks. This website caters to metalheads but making it past the disturbing poppy surface reveals superior instrumentation and compositions to flesh out a satisfying record. To the Bone proves progressive music need not solely rely on 70s rock; nay, it should not.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps MP3
Label: Caroline International
Websites: stevenwilsonhq.com/sw | facebook.com/stevenwilson
Releases worldwide: August 18th, 2017

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  • Daniribalbert

    Wait, why is it not The Angry metal guy reviewing Steven Wilson or we’re not getting another double review? Times they are changing…

    • [not a Dr]

      If I understood correctly, he is working towards becoming a Poofy haired Dutch. In Sweden. That must be time consuming.

      • jetblindracos

        Good one.

  • welyyt

    He’s managed to find an elegant way to transition to pop, and even though he’s pretty good at it, I find this much less compelling than his previous stuff.

  • The Akerstache

    What is this normie shit doing here?

    In all honesty, I really wish I loved this album. It’s much more in vein with 90’s PT than anything his solo work has ever done, but unlike albums like Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun, this really doesn’t stick. It’s very good, it’s just that I’m so used to Steven always being great that I can’t help but be a bit disappointed by a merely good album.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    It’s pretty much how I feel about it as well. One thing I disagree on is lumping Pariah and Permanating together. I quite like Pariah but Permanating is almost as jarring as punch in the face, smack dab in the middle of the album. The whole album has a sort of melancholic tone and just when you start getting in the mood, BLAM – some crazy bright ABBA tune pops up. Then we go back to normal like it never happened. Permanating is going to be an easy skip for me in following listens.

  • Shrümpelstiltskin

    Great review and great score. After the last three albums, I was ready for this stylistic change-up, and I appreciate how natural it was. This is far from my favorite Wilson solo record, but I like it a lot and think it fits in well with the rest of his discography.

  • Ferrous Beuller

    It was hard for me to come from the emotional heft of Hand. Cannot. Erase and into less indelible material, but qualitatively he’s still king of the ring, even if I can’t eek as much out of it as previous works. Great write up.

  • brutal_sushi

    This is easily his most accessible album. To me, after many listen’s, this is the perfect melding of his work with Avi on the Blackfield records, and his previous solo outings. I don’t like this one as much as his others, but I also cant stop listening to it.

  • TheCurlyMetalhead

    I am always eager to see what Steven does because it is always challenging and different. I like To The Bone and I get this stylistic change. Prince and Bowie died and he was a big fan of them. Excellent review as always here on AMG :D

  • Gabriel PérezMolphe

    Haven’t got a chance to listen to in entirely, but while I agree that prog shouldn’t rely in mimicking the 70’s (and is tiring to read the label prog asigned to bands that just imitate music from 40 years ago), I’m having trouble find the prog in the songs I’ve heard, theres Pearl Jam sounding parts, Depeche Mode sounding parts, more poppy moments (wich I actually ended up liking). Maybe the prog is in some of the tracks I haven’t listened to.

  • Akerblogger

    Two songs too long in my opinion. “Detonation” and “Song of Unborn,” despite being decent tracks, do little for me. I really like “Permanating,” it makes me want to experience life in colour. The songs released prior to the album’s release are great, the others not so much. Particular favourites: “Pariah” and “Song Of I.” Oh, and I’m outraged and angry.

    • Rasmus Steinke

      Sophie Hunger is a guarantee for quality :)

  • Basil Nolan

    I first knew of Steven Wilson because of Opeth, then followed him to Porcupine Tree, but Raven and HCE totally blew me out of the water.

    It doesn’t matter which genre he mixes with his signature style, I’m sure he’ll own it and provide an excellent record.

  • I really like this album and am not at all disturbed by its poppiness.

    Good read, El Cuervo.

  • Covfefe

    Great and just review. It’s astonishing how he managed to stay so young and fresh throughout the years, not only by looks but musically too.

    Anyone else get strong Abba feel of “Permanating”?

    • Master of Muppets

      This post is too coherent, and at such a reasonable hour? Thy namesake betrayed, I dub thee imposter.

  • Mollusc

    I like SW ‘n’all, but the pic reminds me of this for some reason… http://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/02e226820e0006a000be424e39fc6a287c423859583be317b5880ea90e74274e.jpg

  • Wes Allen

    I’m glad to see the comments section isn’t home to any over-the-top Stevey fanboys demanding a 5.0.

  • HeavyMetalHamster

    Gotta say….Steven is pretty far down the list as far as artist I want to see naked on their album cover……
    Love the album though.

    • Nikola Tesla

      Who is on that list anyway?

      • HeavyMetalHamster

        Errr. …….I feel dirty…..don’t look at me!!!!!

      • welyyt

        Jorn, of course.

      • Ivan E. Rection

        UDO? Billy Milano? Dan Lilker? With enough body hair, are you ever truly naked?

      • André Snyde Lopes

        I know a couple of symphonic metal bands…

      • Rodrigo D.C.

        The girls from Butcher Babies.

    • Dave Shellenberger

      He’s just shirtless, right? RIGHT??

      • HeavyMetalHamster

        Idk
        Looks like he is staring down at Steve jr…..

        • IBlackened

          He’s looking “to the bone(r)”. Sorry :p

    • PanzerFistDominatrix

      Add some fur and a sword and you practically got a Manowar right there…

  • Luke_22

    Spot on review. A really good, enjoyable album but it doesn’t hit the incredible heights we’ve become accustomed to. On a side note Ninet released another solo album this year which is a really solid alt rock album worth checking out.

  • Yeah I can see the Thursday’s Child comparison. Not really my favorite Bowie material. I always thought Hand won’t work quite right was just a metal Beatles. Wilson’s ok but I don’t get all the fuss.

  • Dead1

    From memory latest Anathema album was not reviewed on AMG cause it wasn’t metal. But Steven WIlson is?!? A bit hypocritical really.
    Personally I’d rather you just focus on metal. If I want non-metal prog crap I’ll got to a non-metal prog crap website.

    • IBlackened

      Are you sure that’s the reason? Because it’s not the first time they review a non-metal record.

      • Yeah one of the AMG staff did reply along the lines of Anathema being so far away from metal now there’s no point. I would have liked a review of that album, too!

        That being said, waaaaay too much time is spent harping on about what is and isn’t “metal” here. :-/

        • JMoherPerc

          I look to this blog to bring some clarity to the influx of new music, regardless of what genre they’re reviewing. Steven Wilson is relevant to metalheads, so even if he produces a pop album I have no qualms about its review and its discussion. I enjoy the same treatment of other artists who are not making metal but are relevant to metalheads… what if there was a Tigran review on AMG? I’d be cool with it.

          • Yeah, I’m happy with anything related to metal. Ulver reviews still pop up on metal sites, so as far as I’m concerned, anything goes…

    • El_Cuervo

      The reason was not metal but MORE IMPORTANTLY noone gave a shit. People give a shit about this.

  • Serjien

    It is a decent album on its own, but compared to Wilson’s early works it is a bit disappointing imo. Great write up El Cuervo!

  • I’ve listened to this a few times and find it spotty. Songs with the beauty and staying power of Pariah are in short supply. I was a big fan of TRTRTS and every solo release since then doesn’t quite measure up, in my opinion.

  • Wilhelm

    Yeah the embedded song is actually not too far removed from recent Anathema, less cringworthy, but the stylings are similar. I would still rather listen to old Porcupine Tree or new Porcupine Tree (will it ever happen?).

  • savafreak

    I’ve heard that Justin Bieber’s latest album also has “superior instrumentation and compositions”, why not reviewing it here while you at it?

    • Treble Yell

      How many death metal albums has Bieber produced/appeared on?

      • Diego Molero

        I really hope the answer it’s zero…

    • Master of Muppets

      Eager to learn where you might have heard that.

      • savafreak

        Fox News

  • NoNoth

    I’m tired of facebook, tired of my nintendo too
    tired of larping, I look like a fool
    ….love ya Steve, but sometimes those lyrics make me cringe

    • Forgive me if you know this already, but I did read that in the early days of Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson was way too self-conscious to write lyrics, so borrowed them from a poet friend of his…

  • naoto

    Great academic musician, philologist and Oxford-wise producer. But ways too overexposed. It seems like everything he touches turn into gold, even those pop suggestions that nobody likes. But, of course, it’s Wilson pop, not some usual Metallica’s crap…

  • Jacq

    Wilson continues in his quest to pinpoint the exact middle of the road.

  • beurbs

    This is boring me pretty hard, but I also wish Wilson could produce every modern rock band.

  • Nate Sweet

    But…is it metal!?!?!!!??

    Sorry I had to…

    While I haven’t yet given the record a spin I have listened to all the songs that were released early and while some were extremely captivating (pariah/refugee) I got the feeling that I wouldn’t enjoy this album quite as much as his last two masterpieces. Nonetheless a SW album is worthy of a chance and I’ll probably end up loving those ‘terrible’ pop tunes anyway.

    • Entroper #FUERAMARIOSALAS

      who fuckin’ cares if it`s metal, it’s obvious that is not

  • Bryan Stroup

    For a few albums Porcupine Tree had crossover appeal to metalheads, but then I guess he “grew out of” that phase or whatever. I still think the FOTBP era was his most interesting.

  • Entroper #FUERAMARIOSALAS

    not his best, but i’m already waiting for his next one, i wonder if he really wants to be a pop idol xD

  • Rasmus Steinke

    Seems my comment disappeared, I guess because of the youtube link. Anyway, lookup “A Door Marked Summer” from the bonus CD. This is Porcupine Tree through and through.

  • Master of Muppets

    Oh, the “this ain’t metal” crowd, we meet again… Excellent writeup, EC, and a valid submission despite the rabbling. The line between what’s metal and what’s not is blurry at times, but Steven Wilson is on the right side no matter where he is.

  • Thatguy

    The most important part of this review is the last sentence. Thanks for saying it loud and proud, El C.

  • The Unicorn

    Yuck.

  • I’ve just never really connected with any Stewen Wilson project.

    It all feels sort of vanilla. This time, more so.

  • craigcw

    After seeing a clip of a very small part of a video from “To The Bone” on British television my initial reaction was -uh-oh, strictly from commercial-, but I am glad I gave the album a full listen. IMO it is good stuff, although a bit of a departure for Steven Wilson. During the Porcupine Tree days I could detect some commerciality creeping about, and it is not a bad thing to my ears. I resisted being won over for quite some time, but it happened. I will certainly go see him live if he comes to the US this time around. The last two solo tours did not disappoint.

  • Carl Marx

    As usual I learned to listen exaustively Steven records to full understand them. And one should agree..
    Somebody argued he is “uncompleted”: well, infinite, rather. Than I’m waiting for the best to come. Great band.

  • Sean Sky

    Another solid Steven Wilson record imo. Been on a big kick with his music lately too so this is awesome.

  • JMoherPerc

    I would honestly not complain if Wilson decided to write nothing but upbeat pop for his next album.