The Raven That Refused To Sing (and Other Stories), released in 2013, is the third album by progressive rock artist Steven Wilson, most poplar for being the frontman of Porcupine Tree, easily one of the best Prog Rock acts of the last twenty years or so. After a few side projects such as Blackfield, and a few collaborations with other artists, Wilson started a solo career, and released “Insurgentes” in 2008. But it is with “Grace For Drowning”, in 2011, that Wilson stepped up his game in a way nobody expected, and crafted one of the most beautiful and personal progressive albums ever made. Some might consider such a statement far too much of an exaggeration, but this man, without being afraid of showing his influences, mixed the past with the present in an outstandingly sophisticated way; it’s not an album that is destined to be an important point in musical history, but rather one that represents a complete portrayal of an artist, a swan song of his own.
“The Raven That Refused To Sing” comes a year and a half later. Steven Wilson seems to have already expressed his emotions in the best and most complete way possible, so it is only natural that this new album doesn’t have the touching melodies and the haunting, roaring emotions of “Grace For Drowning”. Even though Wilson does tend at times to repeat his sound throughout his albums, he does have the common sense not to repeat them too often. Instead, “Raven” stays as distant from his inner feelings as possible: this is the tribute to vintage prog rock some fans were waiting for, and others were hoping not to hear. It is by far the jazzier, musician-oriented album yet from this artist. The songwriting is more studied and a little more distant, but it is exactly what Wilson needed to do. He unleashes on “Raven” all the love he has for progressive music, without even looking within himself. Although it does sound like a bad premise, the songwriting, song structuring, and musicianship are so, so good, that there isn’t really much that feels missing. Everything that needs to be in such kind of album is here in the most complete way. It is, in other words, a fun record for whoever is a fan of the genre, and a not-so-good record for those who are not fans enough to love progressive rock in any form, of any era.
What sticks out the most probably is in fact the musicianship: Steven Wilson surrounds himself with some outstanding players, including drummer fiend Marco Minnemann, bass player Nick Beggs, keyboardist Adam Holzman, flute and sax player Theo Travis. This ensemble all playing together do miracles, and Wilson himself has improved so much in both his vocal harmonies and guitar playing. With such a punch of virtuosity to the music, traces of Porcupine Tree’s sound are at the minimum, unlike previous works by SW.
With six tracks, three of them above ten minutes, the other three under ten, the Porcupine Tree frontman structures his work with great sophistication, making these two kind of tracks alternate, starting with eleven minute “Luminol”, easily one of the best Wilson songs ever: the opening minutes are mouth-dropping, Jazz-rock influenced passages, while the core of the track softens a bit, until slowly the song picks up momentum until it closes stronger than how the track started. The several melodies and hooks repeated themselves at the right pace, at the right time. Same thing can be said for the third track, the even jazzier and vivacious “The Holy Drinker”, that with its frequent organ usage has somewhat of a hard rock edge to it. The last of the long songs is “The Watchmaker” perhaps the weakest of them, because of its terrible resemblance, structure-wise, with Genesis’ “the Cinema Show”, but it’s still a great track that boasts gentle, acoustic verses that give a perfect musical variety to the album’s whole. Now, the songs that divide up these three titans: the second track, “Drive Home” is a nice and calm song that has some great solos and good songwriting, while “The Pin Drop” has one of the greatest hooks of the entire album, and some of the best musicianship as well on behalf of Wilson’s playing. The final track, the title track, is for sure the one that sticks out the most of the shorter songs, for its little amount of drums and incredible atmosphere that closes the album with a vibrating tension you wouldn’t expect to hear.
“The Raven That Refused To Sing” is an excellent example of a modern prog rock album that tributes the past with newer, more elaborate sounds and great, lush production. Steven Wilson skeptics will be, for sure, multiply after this album, because of its nature, on the other hand, it might turn on some that never really were into Porcupine Tree, because almost all traces of the band’s sonic characteristics are gone. Steven Wilson seems to be maturing, abandoning his roots more and more, straight towards a brave, new direction.