Steven Wilson // The Raven that Refused to Sing (and Other Stories)
Rating: 4.0/5.0 — Everything’s Motherfucking Mind-blowing at Angry Metal Guy!
Label: Kscope
Websites: facebook.com/stevenwilsonhq | stevenwilsonhq.com
Release Dates: EU: 2013.02.25 | US: 02.26.2013

Steven Wilson - The Raven that Refused to Sing (and Other Stories)Steven Wilson coming up with a new album in 2013; it’s pretty much a progressive affair. As simple as that. There is nothing here that manages to stretch itself out of the canons of such a well-defined genre. On the contrary, the music on The Raven that Refused to Sing (and Other Stories) revolves around what has made prog rock what it is today: complex dynamics, a wide range of styles harmoniously compressed to form a variegated compound and digressions; lots of them. The grim and shadowy elements that have marked Wilson’s latest releases are still present both in the lyrics and in the music in ways that almost go beyond their usual duty as mere accessories. There are an overarching, disturbing feeling haunting the album from the very first spin. Its melancholic presence can be felt in the diluted beauty a track like “Drive Home” is gently built on; or in the moving lyrics depicting the sense of loss and deprivation on the title-track that closes the album. The heritage of Wilson’s recent collaboration with Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt? Possibly.

But what makes The Raven that Refused to Sing (and Other Stories) an outstanding album is undoubtedly still the music. A cryptic, yet accessible, sonic effort sounding like a clever compendium of influences filtered through the talent of one of the greatest rock composers around, rather than yet another record aping Larks’ Tongues in Aspic. The odd-time signatures on “The Holy Drinker,” the whirlwind shaping “Luminol” and the elegant simplicity of  “The Raven that Refused to Sing” all work to make this record a gem in its own right. Alan Parsons, one whose hands pushed all the right buttons on Abbey Road, Atom Heart Mother and Dark Side of the Moon before founding the legendary Alan Parsons Project, engineers the album, and it can be heard in the mighty sound the record has when the band indulges in slow, sensual intricacies. Like in, for instance, “Luminol”, when the geometric fury implodes leaving a Keith Jarrett-sounding ambience reverberating in all its glory.

It goes without saying; pure talent wouldn’t do much without the assistance of an equally great line-up. Guthrie Govan, Nick Beggs, Marco Minnemann, Theo Travis and Adam Holzman may not mean too much to some of you, but if names like Asia, The Aristocrats, Gong, Necrophagist (yeah!) and Miles Davis ring a bell, then one gets an idea of the level of competence involved here.

© Naki Kouyioumtzis. Steven Wilson, on location, oxfordshire.Admittedly, coming out with a follow-up for Grace for Drowning must have not been an easy task. The grandiose, poetic effort behind that album showed a composer somehow compromising between the sparse, ethereal order of his earlier works with Bass Communion and his main artistic outlet: Porcupine Tree. The dramatic shifts that not only embellished but actually shaped Grace for Drowning are taken to an extreme in The Raven that Refused to Sing (and Other Stories). The emphasis with which “Luminol” opens the album is a promise that Wilson keeps even when he finds himself quoting Philip Glass’s “Solo Piano” half way through “The Watchmaker.” That promise is also kept when the keyboards provide the perfect texture to the tragic and disenchanted relationship the lyrics carefully describe.

The occasional references to the godfathers of the genre are always there but they all sound natural. Each has its place, similar in tone Steven Wilson used when we asked him how he managed to borrow King Crimson’s mellotron: “I asked Robert Fripp for it.” [You know, like one does! – AMG] Everything flows and it does so in such a way that the double pedal and the saxophone on the jazz-y “The Holy Drinker” seem perfectly in context. The overarching spirit we mentioned above returns in all its dark allure on the closing track with a down-tempo that sounds like a long pagan prayer. The video accompanying it, based on Hajo Mueller’s album artwork, provides the perfect graphic juxtaposition to it, and to the album overall.

The Raven that Refused to Sing (and Other Stories) is painful, moving, desperate, melancholic and superbly beautiful.

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  • Faustian Bargain

    Great review. This is coming in the mail on vinyl as we speak. Can’t wait to spin it!

  • Note: Angry Metal Guy raised the score on this one because he thinks it’s fucking rad, also Alex didn’t criticize at all so it sounds like a 4.5/5.0 to me. Anyway, best Steven Wilson record yet? Possibly.

  • Guest

    The first track made me think of the part if Anchor Man when Will Ferrell plays jazz flute.

  • I imagine Will Ferrell playing flute in the first track all decked out in his Anchor Man suit.

    • hubcapiv

      …AAAAAAaaand that would explain the 4 instead of a 4.5…

  • Can an album so strictly adhere to the canons of a genre, never wandering into the musical unknown, and still be named a masterpiece? Only if said album is mind blowingly good in every other aspect. The Raven That Refused To Sing is an oddity in being THAT good!

  • Faustian Bargain

    haha. oh no Anchor Man. I hope your funny comment hasn’t ruined my experience of this album now. That is hilarious.

  • I enjoyed his first solo record, but couldn’t get into Grace For Drowning, except for a couple tracks. I guess when push comes to shove I’m more of a fan of his linear songwriting than his experimental stuff. I’ll check it out though.

    • Faustian Bargain

      I felt the same way. The best way to check out Wilson’s solo material is to listen to the live CD for the Grace tour. The Grace for Drowning tracks sound SOOOOO MUCH better live. I can’t really listen to the actual album at all. I don’t know why exactly. I hope with the live recording style of this new one, it will capture me more. Insurgents was the best probably though. It was just very raw, darker, and quite a bit heavier.

  • Besides the given half point deduction to every AMG review to avoid score inflation (just kidding guys <3), what would be the main reasons that this album got a 4?

    Or, conversely, what was missing to achieve 4.5 or a 5.0? Because I see no mention of any glaring flaw in the actual review.

    • I agree. I think the critique here is that it’s not exactly exploding into the new. On the other hand, it’s a massively enjoyable record.

      I actually agree that there are way too many 4s and 4.5s recently. I’m not sure what’s up with that.

      • Faustian Bargain

        So can we assume that AMG leaves the 4.5’s and 5’s for music that does push boundaries and really creates something new, or is that just resigned to Prog? I think it should be a prerequisite for all music reviewed. Nothing should get higher than a 3.5 if the music doesn’t really bring anything new at all to the table. With the enormous amount of bands and material coming out, that would be a great filter to know you all have. And maybe you already do, so this isn’t a complaint. I just started following your site. You all tend to be more honest and less prone to ‘hype’ writing than most of the others out there.

        • Scoring is _hard_. I don’t always think that a record has to break down walls in order to be a really high rated album. I gave the last Finntroll record a really high score and will probably give the new one as well, because they’re just awesome, super entertaining records. But yes, I think that doing something new and interesting while being convincing as hell is a way to bump up points.

          • I agree, scoring on album reviews is hard, but without going into the eternal objectivity/subjectivity nonsense the scores are sort of a compass for a lot of people like myself. I just was a little curious to know why this album got a 4 score (don’t get me wrong I think anything scored 3 in this site may be scored 5’s and 10’s almost anywhere else without your usual honesty). To me being revolutionary it’s not really a prerequisite for greatness and I didn’t feel by my reading that precisely that was Alex’s main gripe, so I was a little confused.

          • I totally understand where you’re coming from. It is a different standpoint and both points of view (mine and yours) are logical in more than a way.

            The process I followed to give this album a 4 is easy. As a rock album, this is a 4.5. Could this record be more melodic, yet complex and entertaining? Probably not.

            But is it challenging and does it add anything to prog rock as we know it? No, it doesn’t. So I’d give it a 3.5 because although it is a great record, it fails to introduce new elements to the picture. But I totally understand that this is not how most people see music and art in general and I obviously respect it.
            Pero tu punto de vista es interesante tambien. :)

          • I see. I’m more clear now than before about what can I expect, thanks Alex.

          • The point is: rating is never easy and someone’s always going to think you’ve over- or underrated something.

          • I’m in a minority here but I say forget the scoring system. I’d read the reviews here even if they weren’t numerically scored. Words mean more than numbers. And besides, you guys always have to defend the numbers here in the comments…. well, I guess on that note it does provide talking points *shrug*.

    • Because there aren’t. It’s a great album without any particular flaws. It is articulate, and yet very accessible. But it’s not a masterpiece simply because it doesn’t break any barrier and it does not challenge any particular canon of contemporary rock. It is just a great progressive rock album. The first Spice Girls album was a great ‘rubbish pop’ album and a rubbish pop record, for instance. Therefore I’m sure that Angry Rubbish Pop Guy would have given it a 4/5. Easy.

    • Realkman666

      It did get a 4.5 but not anymore.

  • oh man! I find this review a little controversial, progressive rock is a tough tough pill to swallow, specially anything related to steve wilson (the Dan Swano of prog rock), you need to enter this record with a completely different mentality that you would say.. the new Omnium Gatherum album, its jazzy, it’s moody, it’s kinda weird, it can go on and on at times (prog rock is NOT for ADD suffering people). I love prog rock, but, even though this record is masterfully produced, isn’t as catchy, it’s not something I could listen all day, maybe it’s a 4, maybe a 3.5. It’s doesn’t break any established mold, and it sound very Steve Wilson-y (that is ethereal and atmospheric). I don’t know.. it’s weird, not everyone can get on board with this record.

    • I like it. It’s like a combination of the jazzy prog that he’s influenced by, and the melancholy Marillion stuff that Steven Wilson has shown off a lot on Porcupine Tree records. I’m a fan.

    • Thanks for your comment. We could have a lengthy discussion on the adjective ‘catchy’ applied to prog rock. King Crimon’s ‘Red’ is not catchy at all but it is a masterpiece. The first Spice Girls album is catchy but it is rubbish. Progressive rock suites cannot be catchy. Challenging, entertaining, fascinating but not catchy. One can’t sing ‘In the wake of Poseidon’ in the shower but it still remains a fantastic track. This is my humble opinion, of course.

      • Rush is catchy.

      • You bring an interesting point, because I do find Red “catchy”, but you’re right, maybe I think of catchy as a groove I can get immersed in, early and late 70’s prog rock was the golden age of prog rock, and it was weird as fuck, experimental, raw, edgy, but I find most of them ultimately catchy (Selling England by the Pound comes to mind when I say catchy).. but I guess Steven Wilson here isn’t trying to BE catchy, he’s trying to create a mood, an atmosphere, and that is a tough pill to swallow, because (speaking only for myself) you have to go in expecting that atmosphere, so you can fully embrace that mood. Steven Wilson is a fucking beast, I’m not going to be so ignorant as to say he isn’t, but his music needs a specific state of mind to be liked, I can’t just pop “Drive Home” at a random stranger and expect him to like it, or even understand it, and would probably wonder why I’m blasting atmospheric progressive rock into his face out of nowhere.. ha! It’s fun to discuss this things right? great review anyway!

        • That is interesting, Johannes. In my opinion what makes ‘The Raven…’ great is the fact that it is complex and accessible at the same time. While I was writing
          the review I thought: would an ignorant listener like “Drive Home”? And the answer was “Yes”. Because it is articulate and melodic at the same time. If I played it to my mom, I am sure we would both like it, although we would undoubtedly end up listening to 2 different songs: she would find the melody reassuring, while I would appreciate the path Wilson and his band have taken to produce that melody. And I think that is what makes this album great. But that is just my humble opinion, of course.

          

It is also interesting to note (and this hasn’t got too much to do with our discussion, but I can see that you like prog as much as I do, so I am sure you won’t mind the digression) how ‘Scandinavian’ this album sounds. In other words, I think that – both in terms of style and approach – “The Raven…” is very close to bands like Anekdoten, Landberk or even Änglagård. There is almost no Englishness left. This has probably got a lot to do with Wilson being familiar with Opeth and the whole Swedish progressive scene. And that’s quite funny, considering that many people complain that Wilson has ruined Opeth by turning them into a prog band. I think that it is actually the other way round: Opeth have influenced Wilson somuch that he has ended up sounding more Swedish than the Swedes.

          • I actually think the best prog is the stuff that is progressive and complex but simultaneously accessible and “catchy”.

          • I think so too, it’s no use to break your mind trying to figure out the sound of a band if you’re not going to enjoy listening the hell out of it. The feeling of listening something over and over and still finding new cool music schemes is fucking priceless.

          • I played to my mom Premiata Forneira Marconi once, and she enjoyed it, and was thankful I wasn’t listening all that weird hellish music, but then I showed it to a couple friends and they yawned it away, so the mom aproach doesn’t always work out, nevertheless the part that you would be listening to 2 completely different songs is really accurate. On the other matter, yeah I agree, I never thought that Opeth left the extreme metal road thanks to Wilson, Åkerfeldt was obviously meant to head there, you could see that almost since “Still Life” maybe earlier, and he’s very influential, almost every project besides Bloodbath takes on a atmospheric scandinavian prog rock vibe, take his guest spot on O.S.I for example. Steven Wilson met Mikael Åkerfeldt and his mid was blown away by the beauty of his compositions, and he then gave it his own spin and taste, and this style has covered all his own music projects since.

  • Edit: You mean Necrophagist? Marco drummed for them for a bit.

    • I think I do, yes. I got a bit carried away. We’ll change it ASAP. Thanks !

  • This album is bloody brilliant. Thanks for putting this on my radar!

  • Tanuki

    Much more accessible than his 1st solo. I’ve never felt Steven did so well when he honoured fripp. My biggest problem is that for all the great moments on each album there a lot of filler. The sky moves sideways was the last album that felt well edited. Ironic I suppose given how sprawling it is

  • One fact here is sound and certain: Alex knows progressive rock very well and it shows! The album still sounds very good after repeated spins.

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  • swlong

    I really enjoyed the couple of tracks I’ve heard from this. I saw that Wilson and Akerfeldt did an album together last year but couldn’t find a review. Was Storm Corrosion any good?

  • Cosy

    “There are an overarching, disturbing feeling haunting the album from
    the very first spin”: I can offer English lessons!

    • alexfranquelli

      haha thanks.
      I need more passionate readers like your good self. Keep up the good work, Liotto!