After a 13-year long hiatus, Porcupine Tree is finally back with a studio album, “Closure/Continuation”, to be released on June 24th via Music For Nations/Sony Music. Now a trio, after bassist Colin Edwin’s departure from the band, Steven Wilson, Gavin Harrison and Richard Barbieri take the listener on a journey through proggy soundscapes, resembling the atmosphere of 2005’s “Deadwing”, even though some parts of the effort seem to be comprised of leftovers from 2009’s “The Incident” cutting room floor. And I mean that with no demerit to the band. So, without further ado, let us dive into the music.
“Harridan” opens the album with a groovy bass line that pervades throughout the song, as Wilson takes over bass-duties. With interesting vocals and catchy choruses, the song is progressive and experimental, featuring excellent jazzy drumming by Harrison ̶ to me, the highlight of the track. The song leans a bit much on atmospheric synths, but, yes, there are some heavy guitar sounds throughout. This combination makes for one of the most interesting songs on the album. “Of The New Day” is, at first glance, a ballad of hope, the lyrics speak of a brighter future ahead, but the song is, in fact, very pensive and dark, in spite of that far away glimmer of a better day, which fits the band’s recipe book perfectly.
“Rats Return” is a heavier song, more pleasant to progressive metal fans out there, with a very rhythmic instrumental passage that keeps returning, like a rock’n’roll rondo, complete with ominous vocals, evoking a good old-school horror movie soundtrack. Dream Theater fans will definitely appreciate this one, for its familiar soundscape. “Dignity” is a masterpiece of nostalgia, with vocal harmonies that echo ‘60s and ‘70s psychedelic rock. The lyrics, with passages like “Lost boy, with the shreds of your shoes on your feet/ And the schoolgirls call you a freak”, set up a perfect atmosphere of memory, bringing a certain mindset that brooding, gloomy teenagers are prone to. A beautiful ballad, indeed.
“Herd Culling” has a good riff that carries the track on its back and makes it sound like it moves forward, with atmospheric synth work, and a rhythm in 11 by Harrison. Interesting music, with interesting lyrics. “Walk the Plank” follows, a more experimental electronic track, featuring drowsy vocals. It’s not a bad song, but, somehow, it does not fit with the overall soundscape of the album. Bringing to mind a feel of Nine Inch Nails’ “Ghosts I-IV”, it is a creepy and engaging track on its own, although it seems out of place here on “Closure/Continuation”.
“Chimera’s Wreck” opens with nice guitar arpeggios; lyrically poetic, filled with images like “a sinkhole for the crawling of the hours”, the song is a sad and depressive ballad, slightly hypnotic, yet very beautiful and pleasant to listen to. This is where the standard edition of the album ends: the next three tracks are only to be featured on the Deluxe edition of “Closure/Continuation”, which is a pity, because they are some of the best works of the album.
“Population Three” is the most beautiful and interesting song here: an instrumental track with lovely melodies, amazing drumming, and a very full sound. The best arranged song on the whole album, it is a nearly seven-minute-long opus with theme and variations, which perfectly showcases the high-quality musicianship of the trio. It brings enough heavy passages and never gets boring. “Never Have” has a beautiful piano ostinato and vocals that show us Wilson’s evolution as a singer, which he perfected throughout the past years as a solo artist. This song builds up as it progresses, leading on to the closing track, “Love in the Past Tense”. This is, alongside “Population Three”, the best song on “Closure/Continuation”, a very good arrangement, a melody that is hopeful, yet longing for something lost, bringing into music the delightful paradox of modern life: happy, but not quite. It leaves the listener with a taste of hope and a slight smile, but still missing something that one cannot quite point out what it is.
Porcupine Tree did not disappoint this time. With well-arranged music and virtuoso musicianship, “Closure/Continuation” features very good music, but it feels like more of the same. Is it all they could come up with after thirteen years of silence? Times are very different, and some would argue it is a good thing they haven’t changed their sound much. Others, on the other hand, would expect more from them. It is a very good album and it is what I expected, but I wish there were an element of surprise somewhere in there, like a musical easter egg of greatness that I have found in previous Porcupine Tree work.
All in all, “Closure/Continuation” leaves us with a sensation of curiosity. The mysterious title raises questions about Porcupine Tree’s future: is it an ending, a crowning of their long and successful career, a goodbye of sorts, or is it a new beginning, a fresh start (with not so fresh sounding music)? Well, this listener would certainly like to hear more music coming from their camp. It is definitely worth checking out.