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Steven Wilson - Grace For Drowning (Album Review)

Tuesday, 20 September 2011 Written by Ben Bland
Steven Wilson - Grace For Drowning (Album Review)

It would be easy to write this album off as a prog rock indulgence. At over eighty minutes in length and stretched out over two discs, there is no doubting that 'Grace for Drowning' is an epic in an era in which albums beyond fifty minutes or so in length are resolutely unfashionable. However what has always marked out Steven Wilson’s work from many of the classic prog artists, and indeed what has distinguished his band Porcupine Tree from many other modern prog bands such as Dream Theater, is his lack of willing to engage in unnecessarily lengthy bouts of musical virtuosity. In fact, despite its extended running time, 'Grace for Drowning' arguably proves this point better than any of his other works. For a work so defiantly widescreen in its intentions as this it is truly remarkable that there is nothing that could, or rather should, be accused of being filler or being over the top.

ImageThe album has always been the ultimate art form in the eyes of many and 'Grace for Drowning' is certainly a work of art. The gentle, lullaby-esque title track begins the first disc, 'Deform to Form a Star', in a disarmingly tranquil fashion before the riffs of instrumental 'Sectarian' twist and turn in a style that would make Robert Fripp proud. The piano led 'Deform to Form a Star' is genuinely beautiful and the metallic trip-hop of 'No Part of Me' makes for a bewildering detour. By the time the first disc closes with the double header of 'Raider Prelude' and 'Remainder the Black Dog', the album is veering into progressive jazz territory with delightful results. Yet despite the menagerie of influences and genres present nothing feels out of place. One criticism that could, fairly if incorrectly in this reviewer’s opinion, be levelled at Wilson’s first solo record, 'Insurgentes', was that sometimes elements could be seen as somewhat counter-productive and strained. There is no danger of that here.

Although there are occasional moments of genuine heaviness, this is not a heavy record. Whilst some of Porcupine Tree’s recent albums could easily be filed in the metal section this is an album that uses heaviness as a tool only sparingly, making it doubly effective. The second disc, 'Like Dust I Have Cleared from My Eye', again starts off gently but progresses into disturbing territory on the creepy 'Index' and into full on avant-garde jazz land on the mammoth twenty-three minute 'Raider II'. By the time 'Like Dust I Have Cleared from My Eye' closes the album completely Wilson has managed to lure the listener in not just with incredibly atmospheric soundscapes but also the odd genuine hook or two, and of course some incredible musicianship.

This is not an album that will appeal to everyone. It is hard work at times and it takes a good few listens to fully appreciate, but the reward of perseverance is astonishing. Don’t expect Wilson to break into the mainstream with this record but if this doesn’t gain him praise from even the most hardened of critics then it is a travesty. Without doubt this is one of the best records produced in many, many years and in years to come it should, with any justice, be remembered as a landmark release by one of the world’s few true ground-breaking artists.

'Grace for Drowning' is released on 26th September via K-Scope records. Steven Wilson plays London’s Shepherds Bush Empire on 31st October (his only UK show). Stereoboard plans to feature both coverage of the show and an interview with Wilson. Be aware that 'Grace for Drowning' is available in numerous different formats and that the limited deluxe edition is running low on stock.

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