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Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing

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Genre: Genre: Prog, Post-Progressive

This has been painful to write. I am so so sorry. Even Mikael Akerfeldt can’t take the blame this time.

If you’re a fan of anything Steven Wilson related, brace yourself. If you’re an obsessive Steven Wilson fanatic, like I am, then try to arrive somewhere that isn’t here. And if you don’t know who Steven Wilson is, please just go buy In Absentia or Returning Jesus or Up The Downstair and pretend this album won’t be released for another 3 years.

But if you’ve seen the documentary Insurgentes, you know EXACTLY what’s coming. We all could’ve guessed the hypocrisy that would arrive with The Raven That Refused To Sing.

What the hell has happened to KScope in a year? First, Gazpacho gave us an above average release, saved almost completely by the moving What Did I Do? Then, Storm Corrosion, although not quite on KScope – but close enough, promised masterchef and instead delivered a medium-rare Ready Steady Cook (with the exception of Ljudet Innan, which is infallible). Anathema brought us Weather Systems, which had the hardest job in the world of following one of the greatest albums of the decade. Subsequently, Pineapple Thief followed with the wholly frustrating All The Wars. Marillion, as i’ve already written, was the best of the lot. Add in all the cash-in live albums and it’s easy to tell it hasn’t been a successful year for KScope Records. Not musically, anyway.

Dear KScope,
I’m your biggest fan. I’ll try not to explode into a sudden Eminem rap, but please don’t let standards slip in 2013. I’m begging you. Sometimes, you’re all we have. I’m your biggest fan, this is Stan.

Things have been hectic for us here in the partially-fake real world at This Year In Rock, but i’ve felt compelled to write about this record because… because i’m not convinced and I don’t trust that Terrorizer or Metal Hammer or The Daily Star will even bother to listen and instead just make up random hashtag keywords like “ambitious“, “profound“, and ”decadent”.

So here’s where we start, and here’s why i’m compelled to write particularly about The Raven That Refused To Sing after such a long break of hospitals and track marks and emptiness:

A) No-Man and Porcupine Tree are two of the best underground British exports since Ant & Dec, possibly ever
B) It’s Marco Minnemann
C) It’s Steven Wilson
D) This is Steven fuckin’ Wilson

And this is where i’d like to stop, please. Hm. 

This is not an album that reflects the beauty of one of modern music’s real geniuses. And i’m saying that early, because the next 4million words will say otherwise. If this is your first exposure to the man’s music (which i doubt will be the case, to be fair) then you’ll instantly write him off. But never forget that; Steven Wilson could spend the rest of his career making records that sound like this one, and he’d still be something of a legend. An increasingly egotistical one, yes, but also a SONGWRITER who deserves to stand side-by-side with Tim Buckley (and this could lead us down a whole different path with Tim Bowness and his contributions, so lets stop there before i warble on abou-).

We have to take a moment to surrender that word for the rest of this album:

Songwriter.

Boom. Gone. Steven Wilson, Britain’s well-kept secret songwriter, the hand that crafted Fadeaway, Mellotron Scratch, Gravity Eyelids, Half Light. Gone for now. Time to shred, bitches! Time to shred. Time to shred. Time to shre…

What you’ll find in this record is an almost offensive continuation of his Americanisms. His bold, new influences picked up during the remixings of ELP, Tull etc. Secondly, it’s an attempt to play-up to the masses; the Download Festival crowd who enjoyed The Incident, rather than, y’know, himself, after ranting and raving for 2 ungodly hours in his documentary about “modern music” and “playing things live as a band like Impulse Records” and “Waka/Jawaka is my favourite Zappa album.”

And, worse, The Raven turns out to be a near-embarassing, but not quite, attempt at mixing Anathema’s We’re Here Because We’re Here with heavier prog.

Steven Wilson, the musician, is a much different persona altogether than Steven Wilson, the elitist person. Here’s a genuine, direct quote from Steven Wilson from Insurgentes, the documentary: (hint: it’s not) 

“I hate prog. Four guys in a band playing as fast as they can, fighting to be heard over each other. Having ten sections in a song instead of giving the atmosphere a straw with which to breathe. Other pretentious things. Widdly widdly wooooo Dream Theater are the worst band in the world.”

Well i hope you’re proud of yourself. Look bro, you can do this as much as you want, but nothing will ever let you fulfil your obvious new life goal and dream of playing Wacken.

Some might think it’s not fair to compare this record to his previous solo releases, but it seems highly relevant in this instance, purely so you can see the disastrous decline that has occurred. Insurgentes was an outstanding album; a pastiche of King Crimson, Deadwing-era PT, and influences that appeared from everywhere and elsewhere. Grace For Drowning was even better. At first, hard to swallow. At second, a long, tiring, brooding lp that made you WANT to sit through it. A truly wonderful record.

And now we’re treated to this delightful 54-minutes of doom.

There’s a song on Grace For Drowning that i think i can guarantee is EVERYONE’S least favourite song. It’s called Index. Everyone “likes” Index, but no one really likes Index. 

Because what this album is, is 5 versions of Index. 6 songs. 5 Index’s. And one that is above average, and gives the record an extra star (to form from being deformed, nyerrr.)

First things first: the first let-down came way back last year when a new guitarist joined the band. When I saw it appear in my inbox, my heart nearly collapsed. It wasn’t inevitable, it was just a complete mindfuck.

“Guthrie Govan has joined the Steven Wilson band”

Guthrie Govan. Guthrie Govan, shredder-extrodinaire. Without even hearing the album, you can predict what i’m going to say, can’t you? It’s so predictable.

I’ll spoil The Raven instantly in three phrases:
*Guitar Magazine Music.
*Steven Wilson has developed musical ADHD
*Bitches Brew badly re-imagined

But that’s what you get when Guthrie Govan has joined your band. After all, any guitarist who’s ever picked up Guitar Techniques magazines knows that the man and knows his 20-finger-stretch-excercises. An excellent technical guitarist, sure, but the perfect fit to join the band of a man who, quite literally, wants the shoe on the other foot? It was never going to work. One thing Guthrie Govan is not, is Allan Holdsworth.

As an album created by an artist who strives to create “albums” not songs that seem disjointed and just bunched together, it almost defies logic. And as a collection of songs, it contains some of the worst things in the entire Wilson catalogue. And, believe me, there’s a lot of bad stuff in there. I won’t go as far as to say that Four Chords That Made A Million would be a standout track on The Raven, but it’d have a chance.

The Raven That Refused To Sing sounds like your teenage best friend, your wannabe guitar-hero and/or keyboard-wizard-in-training short-legged friend, who returns from his weekend shut inside to tell you that he’s created a “50 minute masterpiece”. And, of course, it’s fucking horrific. It’s forty songs combined into “passages” and “movements”, “just like the classical composers, man!” And there’s your first problem right away.

To prog or not to prog.

This would be fine if it were released by Arena, or IQ. But this is a man who nearly single-handedly broke ELP’s jaw by proclaiming he didn’t find the other albums interesting enough to continue working with.

In other words, Steven Wilson is someone who hates technical prog music that has long songs split into sections.

Solution: in 2013, Steven Wilson creates a technical prog album with long, long, overlong songs split into a new section every minute.

Marco Mineman, the ex-Paul Gilbert drummer who bizarrely missed out on replacing Mike Portnoy in Dream Theater (can someone tell me how that even worked out? One listen to Paul Gilbert’s Spaceship One and you know that this man is a GOD), is also here. And even he can’t save something like The Holy Drinker.

Okay, here’s the best parts of the record:
1) Theo Travis. Flute. Get this man his own band. Or reform Gong with him again.
2) The electronic piano. Because, as we ALL know, there is nowhere near enough of that shit in current music. I’m not talking about keyboards, i mean the Bitches Brew, semi-disorted, overwhelming NOISE that catapulted jazz music from sombre to destructive.

And now that the best part is over and done with, let’s begin with the songs. It’s really fucking hard to understand that this is Steven Wilson. And you can say that to yourself over and over as much as you want (I have), “this is Steven…Wilson…” but it’s sure doesn’t seem like it. It’s more like Stephen Wilton.

Luminol starts all over the place. It is literally a clusterfuck. I have nothing to say. At 1min51, the song has already tried to change direction and it seems more out of desperation than anything else. It could’ve been ripped directly from Scenes From A Memory Pt2. Have you ever seen those Dream Theater live dvd’s where Jordan Rudess abuses that fucking electronic strip on the top of his keyboard? Basically, that is what Luminol is. Jordan Rudess being a showoff, but wearing a Steven Wilson mask.

Drive Home… dear lord.

Drive Home is a Blackfield outtake. No, really. It has to be. Just listen to it. It’s really bad. The only thing that could make it harder to suffer was if the kermit croak from Aviv Geffen made an appearance. But even in Blackfield terms, is this song meant to rank up there with Some Day? Or, to return to the historical past of 18 months ago, the oh-my-god-it’s-so-beautiful Welcome To My DNA? “Drive Home…drive home… drive home…” Please do. Because my favourite song is next.

Oh no, wait. No. It’s The Holy Drinker. It’s just The Holy Drinker, guys. It might even be the worst one. I dunno. What the fuck? It starts of THE SAME as the rest of the stuff. By that I mean; Dream Theater. And then… then we get. Something. Something. Just…

WHY IS STEVEN WILSON TRYING TO BE IN URIAH HEEP?

Seriously. The organ is even there. It’s the Four Chords That Made A Million of this album. And then you zone out, and you forget the song is playing, and then you look back again, and the song is STILL GOING. It is the longest 10 minutes you’ll ever experience. Entire forests will regrow in the time it takes this song to plod along, and repeat, then FINALLY arrive at the middle section. 

At 5 minutes, shit gets real. It is awesome.

SEE, I SAID IT.

IT’S AWESOME.

IT SOUNDS LIKE STEVEN WILSON. IT SOUNDS LIKE STEVEN WILSON MAKING BITCHES BREW, BUT IN A GOOD WAY.

And then all the big metal guitars come back and he loses it again with a Hammerfall. Wacken time (9:07). Someone has to copyright that. WACKEN TIME! Thank god that one ends. I wonder what comes nex- oh no oh no oh no.

The Pin Drop.

I genuinely hate this. Genuinely hate it. So far, i’ve just extremely disliked everything. But The Pin Drop takes the absolute piss. Please. No. No comment. Just stop Steven, please. Please stop. You’ll put us into a coma.

Have you ever heard the band It Bites? They were a semi-obscure (but not really) 80s band who made a seemingly impossible comeback a few years ago. Their new material is pretty decent, prog-meets-powerpop, and there’s a wonderful song named Fahrenheit from the album The Tall Ships, which sounds nothing like The Pin Drop, thankfully. I think i’d prefer to spend the rest of this talking about It Bites, who i don’t even like all that much, but i digress, because this is Steven fuckin’ Wilson.

But it’s not.

Anyway, The Pin Drop sounds like something Francis Dunnery would write while coming down from Mescaline.

Even if The Watchmaker doesn’t. This album just gets worse and worse as it goes on. Normally you can accept that; “it falls apart 3/4 way through.” Happens everywhere. That’s fine. But this one didn’t even get started. We got served Dream Theater, from a waiter wearing a “I Hate Everything About Dream Theater” tshirt.

The solo on this track is outrageous, in both ways. Jesus. Just fuck off. Imagine if this appeared on a Porcupine Tree album after his endless rants about “shred” music? It’s getting so, so hard to take him seriously right now, but i’ll try. This is Steven Wilson, this is Steven Wilson, shhhh, shhhhh, even Shallow is better than this, shhhh.

Finally, there’s the title track, which i’m going to write the title of in full just to pretend i’m a prog artist and have long everythings, The Raven That Refused To Sing. It’s marginally better. Is it the best track on the album? I suppose so. That doesn’t mean much though, but it is. It’s the best track on the album.

It’s not particularly “beautiful”, it’s not exactly “melancholic”. It’s not anything that closely resembles the work of one of music’s finest artist’s music. But it’s something, at least.

And I think this is what it is: “Hey guys, you’re from the band Anathema, right? Cool, cool. Yeah i loved your record We’re Here Because We’re Here. Oh you’re right, I mixed it! How could i forget! I forget things that i say all the time! Anyway broz, there’s a song called Dreaming Light on there which has a great outro. I love it. Infact, i’d like to write my own version and include it on my next solo album. Cool? k”

AND IT STILL HAS TO BE OVER-COMPLICATED

But it’s better. I might even play this one as the year unfolds. I like it. A little bit.

But it brings us to a frustrating conclusion; there’s only one track with any kind of emotion on this album. That’s fine, but… i thought that was Steven Wilson’s entire musical philosophy.

Where’s the emotion? I thought that’s what you wanted…

But hey, he doesn’t have to please anyone. Not me, not the people who’ll buy The Raven, not even KScope it seems. But if you’re gonna promise us a work of art, then don’t give us Bernard Matthews.

We have to really hope to some kind of unbelievable force of nature that whatever he does next takes him away from this place, and this rut. The metal isn’t working for Steven Wilson anymore. It hasn’t worked since Fear of A Blank Planet, and now the horse is more than dead and beaten, it’s buried. I would rather go through opiate withdrawal than have to pretend this came from the hands of Steven Wilson. 

Not that he should care; if this is truly the record he wanted to make, then that’s the beauty of music. It’s just hard to believe that this is what he had in mind. I mean, i’ll still be going to the UK dates in March. So, fuck it. Whatever. We’re all hypocrites. We are all Steven Wilson.

Now bring the fucking melancholy back, it’s the best asset.

For Fans of: any kind of technical prog metal. Steve Vai, Satch, Petrucci…

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About blutos

When I grow up I want to be a helicopter.

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