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New Age Prog-Rock

Porcupine Tree

Porcupine Tree - In Absentia
(Lava Records)
3 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Sept. 28, 2002

By Tony Bonyata

It hardly seems the time or place for prog-rock - that often bloated, spacey music genre that was unveiled in the late '60 and early '70s by such heavy-hitters as King Crimson, Yes and Rush, to rear it's, now seemingly, ugly head. But with a sweeping, grandiose flair British quartet Porcupine Tree somehow make it seem fresh all over again.
On their latest full-length release, In Absentia, Porcupine Tree mixes pounding rhythms, menacing guitar work along dreamy melodies and spacey soundscapes for a work that seems to unfold a bit more with each listening.
On numbers such as the opening "Blackest Eyes," "Gravity Eyelids" and "Trains" this band delivers some the heaviest chops since King Crimson served up Lark's Tongue in Aspic back in 1973. But instead of constantly pummeling their listeners Porcupine Tree also pulls in the reigns on these very same numbers, taking some of the pressure from their thundering arrangements with the use of lush harmonies, tranquil interludes and effervescent acoustic instrumentations.
While most of this album is engaging, it still, nonetheless, retains a bit of prog-rock's pompous past on such numbers as the swollen "Lips Of Ashes" and the haunting, yet ultimately sleepy "Heartattack In A Layby," where lead vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Steven Wilson still manages to pull off a rather interestingly dry vocal take on Bryan Ferry.
These minor setbacks are rectified, however, on the frantic "Wedding Nails," where bassist Colin Edwin and percussionist Gavin Harrison hammer out lethal breakneck rhythms, while Wilson lays down a sinister lead that would do Alex Lifeson proud. Likewise, on "The Creator Has A Mastertape," the band nails down a haphazard frenetic Primus-like beat while Wilson casually deadpans his vocals in a matter-of-fact punk attitude.
Something of a sensation in Europe, Porcupine Tree have yet to break out their small, but growing cult following in the States. And while they still may have their work cut out for them here, In Absentia, with its interesting blend of punk, pop and progressive rock, is undoubtedly the material that could propel them from cult to craze.

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