Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused to Sing
Reviewer: Sama Shahrouri - 2013-06-23
Highlights: Every track here is a highlight
It’s kind of hard to believe that it’s been almost 4 years since I first started listening to the wonder that is Steven Wilson’s music. Most fans have known him for a longer time than I, but the fact that I was still in high school back then means something in this day and age. Contrary to the common system, I started listening to his related works from newer to older, band by band, and I finally reached his solo work in early 2011 just in time to prepare myself to witness a new release soon, “Grace for Drowning”. It was a horror story of a lullaby, and two years later it was succeeded by other horror stories put together in one outfit called “The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)”.
“The Raven That Refused to Sing” was released in February of 2013, five months after Wilson was awarded the ‘Guiding Light’ award at the first annual Prog Rock ceremony. As a follow up to the 2011 immensely acclaimed, “Grace for Drowning” Wilson presented his third solo record with a scarier sound, more complex composition, and an overall eerier atmosphere. But what makes this record stand out from anything Wilson had worked on before is the fact that for the first time in his career, Steven had written the music with musicians in mind, and according to their talents, the compositions were made. His band consists of some kind of a super group, with each musician being a heavyweight in his own right: Adam Holzman on keyboards, Marco Minnimann on drums, Nick Beggs on bass and Chapman stick, Guthrie Govan on guitar, and Theo Travis on saxophone, clarinet, and flute. And the way they presented his compositions automatically makes this record an instant fan favourite, they made the record what it is.
A 54 minute record is offered presenting six ghost stories, each with its own protagonist and tale-a concept not a stranger to the works of Wilson. They are told through a marriage of great musicianship seen from all members of the band, and some of the best lyrics Wilson has ever written. “Luminol” is the first example of that claim. Starting off the album with a bass-drums-guitar fusion, the first third of the track escorts the listener into the second, a ghost story that Steven sings. With words that music fanatics can absorb, the protagonist here is a musician of his own, he plays his guitar every day no matter what, but “the songs he sings are not his own, they speak of things he’ll never know”. This simple lyric stylistic is quite characteristic of Wilson; he always manages to convey so much more than what his words actually mean, by specifically using them. Wilson knows how to break his audience’s hearts, but with the help of his fellow band mates this time around, he succeeded in doing so unlike any time before, with a black-and-white contrast between the most complex of musical compositions verses the simplest of lyrics.
This contrast is constant throughout the record. In “Drive Home”, one of the album’s quitter songs, a sadder love story is told via keyboard-string-vocal arrangement. In this track, Guthrie stages one of the most divine guitar solos on the record, one filled with gloom and desperation, adding so much to the emotional atmosphere of the song, just like he does in the next track “The Holy Drinker”. It is a more energetic song in which all the instruments sound as if they’ve gone mad. Solos are heard everywhere, starting with guitar, then clarinet and keys, it almost sounds like a musical duel or better yet, a war. Guthrie adds much to the atmosphere again in that one outstanding guitar riff he plays twice in the song that personalizes it to a great degree. Once in the early stages of the track, and then he reintroduces it at the absolute end where lead by a musical emotional build-up, he strums the song into its catharsis, and allows howls of wolves to fade us out into the next track.
“The Pin Drop” is where Steven Wilson shines most both musically and lyrically. Being the shortest song on the record, barely breaking the 5-minute barrier, it holds so much compressed power within it. It has the perfect amount of “too much, too soon” that it acts as an almost deadly dose of an upper drug on the album. Starting off with Steven’s strangled, brittle and shrieking voice, the song doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. A clarinet solo takes us into the first chorus, where you cannot help but notice the great musicianship, effort and teamwork put in here. From furious string arrangement to up-beat drumming and backing vocals, this very rich chorus can never be played loud enough. It takes a closely bonded band to present something as powerful as this. And it really does twirl the feelings in your heart into a hurricane. Plus not to mention the lyrical value of these lyrics; with a highlighted verse of “I did not hear the pin drop down/I did not hear my heart” that needs no explanation, this song ends with a shock. The music simply fades away.
The album ends with two quieter songs, “The Watchmaker” and the title track, both of which have official live videos released that can be seen on JorZine. “The Raven That Refused to Sing” was the album’s first single with a promotional video released by artist and director Hajo Mueller who has previously worked with Steven on his collaborative project with Opeth frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt directing the “Drag Ropes” video. He is also the creative mind behind the album’s chilling artwork. Technically and musically speaking, these two songs are also a showcase of talent. Again, all members of the band are highlighted at different points of each song. The mood is continuously changing in “The Watchmaker”, while in “The Raven” yet another sad story is being told. “The Raven” is a play on intimate emotions, where “The Watchmaker” sounds like a classic ghost story with its distressing sound.
This is a very important album of Steven’s that stands above all the previous records in his name. “The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)” is a musical late-night eerie lullaby that puts a milestone in all the careers of all the musicians involved in its making. Having been engineered by Alan Parsons who is best known for engineering Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” did no harm to the record either. It seems that Wilson cannot do any wrong, whether looking at him musically or lyrically or even the combination of both, this man seems to comprehend it all. And I cannot but praise him eternally, regardless of how bias I will sound.
I greatly recommend you give this release a listen, because it will cause a change in the world of Progressive music.