Ever since the beginning of Porcupine Tree frontman and principal (read: only) songwriter Steven Wilson’s collaborative relationship as producer with Opeth’s likewise character Mikael Akerfeldt with that band’s 2001 breakthrough effort, Blackwater Park, his own band has undergone an evolution of its own. Though Wilson didn’t produce Opeth’s last record and Akerfeldt made only a brief appearance on 2005’s Deadwing, the two bands remain linked because of stylistic similarities, rumors of side-project development and Porcupine Tree’s shift to a heavier style, which can be seen in parts of Fear Of A Blank Planet .
Fear is 50-plus minutes, six songs of Steven Wilson basically saying to his fans, label and anyone else willing to listen, “Just because I can write a really great single doesn’t mean I always want to.” Good luck finding one here. The closest thing to it might be the epic album centerpiece and highlight, “Anesthetize,” but at nearly 18 minutes long, I don’t think Z100 will be picking it up anytime soon. Similar to “Arriving Somewhere But Not Here” from Deadwing, this track unfolds into the album’s undeniably heaviest moment, a rash of double bass drumming and crunching guitars.
The rest of the album, starting with the title track, is more bent toward experimental indulgence and Wilson’s trademark complex arrangements. His gifted production ear plays a large role in the composition of a song like “My Ashes,” with Richard Barbieri’s subtle piano notes and keyboard strings behind the admirable rock drumming of Gavin Harrison. What really separates this from the crux of Porcupine Tree’s 21st century output is that the six tracks are structured for the most part to flow as a continuous piece of music—a major shift from Deadwing, which told a story in very definite chapters and musical sequences.
It works to a respectable and utterly satisfactory degree, though post-“Anesthetize” track “Sentimental,” while quality in its own right, seems anticlimactic in comparison to what came just before. The sweeping “Way Out Of Here,” which leads into the closer “Sleep Together,” picks the pace back up with what might be the album’s best solo and soundscapes courtesy of King Crimson’s Robert Fripp.
Porcupine Tree fans willing to take the time necessary to sink their teeth in should have nothing to complain about here, even if Fear Of A Blank Planet isn’t set up to bring in too many new ones.