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Porcupine Tree - "Fear of a Blank Planet" (CD)

Porcupine Tree - "Fear of a Blank Planet" CD cover image

"Fear of a Blank Planet" track listing:

1. Fear of a Blank Planet
2. My Ashes
3. Anesthetize
4. Sentimental
5. Way Out of Here
6. Sleep Together

Reviewed by on May 14, 2007

"With Fear of a Blank Planet, the chaotic malevolence of 2002's In Absentia is not only more fully realized; it’s made tangibly real. "

Bands that survive long enough to reach their 20th anniversary are rarely in peak operating condition. However, there are a handful of acts that will continue to defy conventions, cross boundaries and exceed expectations well into their twilight years. London’s Porcupine Tree is one such example. Debuting in the late 80's as an amalgam of ambient, electronic and prog tinged psychedelic rock, the band’s motif has become one of constant transformation. With each album Porcupine Tree would shed some old skin in favor of new sounds; be it the Pink Floyd-inflected "The Sky Moves Side Ways" or the Radiohead-tinged melancholy of "Lightbulb Sun." Fans now expect every album to be a departure from the last. In recent years Porcupine Tree has added a new dimension to their sound, one few would have expected in the band’s infancy - metal. Though vocalist/guitarist Steven Wilson has never strayed from his plaintive, clean vocals; his lyrics have taken on narrative menace, while his band mates incorporate startling aggression and dreary atmospherics.

Though 2005's Deadwing boasted ghostly thematics, it also allowed cinematic light to shine on the band's formula. With Fear of a Blank Planet, the chaotic malevolence of 2002's In Absentia is not only more fully realized; it’s made tangibly real. Fear is an unwavering statement about a generation driven mad by it’s own modern distractions and apathy. At six tracks long, the album seems tailor made for the A.D.D. generation but actually clocks in at over 50 minutes. The title track sets grim precedent for the album to follow. Keening synthes and swerving rhythms give weight to a tale of pill clouded listlessness portending of a destructive outlet to come. Initially unencumbered by anchors like bass and drums, “My Ashes” is a lilting tale of self reflection set on the back of sparse keys and delicate acoustic guitars. The albums centerpiece is clearly the main attraction. Clocking in at an unearthly 17+ minutes, “Anesthetize” is characterized by a shifting but rising sense of urgency. An unprecedented demonstration of force arrives at the songs 11 minute mark. This outburst would be considered a “heavy part” in a Meshuggah or Dillinger Escape Plan song but is absolutely monstrous in the context of Porcupine Tree. One is forced to ponder if the narrator’s mounting frustrations have led to a body count. It wouldn’t be the first time Porcupine Tree eluded to the darkest of man’s tendencies. “Sentimental” steers toward crystalline melodies and traditional song structure but “Way Out of Here” drags the listener through surging guitars and bereaved vocals ala recent Katatonia. The layered and synth-heavy “Sleep Together” clamps the album shut with a desperation only hinted at in previous albums.

Fear of a Blank Planet is obviously cut from the same cloth as the band’s 2002 record, In Absentia. Though not a chronological descent into madness, that notion still permeates this record. Fans of Opeth may know of Porcupine Tree through Wilson’s deft production of Blackwater Park, Deliverance and Damnation and should pick up this album with haste. Similarly, fans of Tool and A Perfect Circle will find much to like: Clean, sustained vocals, dark and deliberate lyrics and technical complexity packaged both in pop songs and long forms. Porcupine Tree have had a long and illustrious history going back as far 1993's haunting Up the Downstair, but Fear is the bands most focused statement to date.

Highs: “Anesthetize” is the bands strongest long form, nearly eclipsing “Russia on Ice” and “The Sky Moves Sideways”. “Way out of Here” encapsulates much of the bands last five years of growth into one song.

Lows: Despite sounding current, Fear may be too prog, melodic or clean for some. Metal is a potent aspect of the album but it is in no way representative of the band or album as a whole.

Bottom line: A marvelous find for those lusting after Aenima/Lateralus era Tool and A Perfect Circle. Technically compelling hard rock that puts a fresh spin on dusty progressive rock while embracing metal. Some will like it, some will hate it.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)