Sound — 9
Steven Wilson is an interesting character in a lot of ways. He is a personal friend of Robert Fripp from King Crimson, he has something like 5 or 6 side projects he works on not counting his primary band, Porcupine Tree, or his solo career. He has collaborated or worked with in some fashion just about every musician that is currently involved with any type of progressive music, as in addition to being a musician and songwriter, Steven Wilson is also a self taught producer and audio engineer. Pictures of Steven Wilson show him to be equal parts hippy and nerd, using both terms in the most complimentary context. Steven is best known as a guitarist, but he also plays keyboard, bass, flute, hammered dulcimer and harp and he is self taught on every instrument that he plays. Just straight up, Steven Wilson is the Renaissance Man of Prog. I've recently been wowed by his live album with Porcupine Tree, "Octane Twisted", as well as his Storm Corrosion project with Mikael Akerfeldt from Opeth. Those two albums along with his last solo album, "Grace For Drowning" have all three been on heavy rotation on my mp3 player in their entirety. Steven Wilson is the real deal and "The Raven That Refused To Sing" just helps cement his place as possibly the modern spokesman for all things progressive. "The Raven That Refused To Sing" is, for the most part, a melancholy kind of album and maybe just a little bit cerebral. The guitar soloing when it appears on the album is definitely pure Steven Wilson but you can hear some of his influences in his playing. Like his other solo releases, this isn't necessarily a guitar album, with fairly diverse instrumentation used. The first track, "Luminol" seems to be built around a bass riff, and several of the other songs are built around the keys and/or flute with guitar used more as a decorative instrument in the mix. This is in line with what we've come to expect from Steven's solo albums, and he absolutely makes it work and uses it to great effect. There are 6 tracks on the album, but the album runs well over 50 minutes. I don't like it when reviews break down each song and judge them individually, because I think a lot of albums are judged better as a single cohesive piece and so I'll move on to the lyrics from here.
Lyrics — 9
Steven Wilson's voice has always reminded me of the vocals from The Moody Blues, early King Crimson and ELP. It makes it easy to think of his modern releases in line with some of these classic releases by the bands I mentioned. I'm not saying that his voice is generic and sounds exactly like the bands I mentioned, but that there is something undefinable in common. As I stated earlier, this is a fairly melancholy album and his voice is like a melodic whisper running through the songs. His vocal performance is exactly perfect for what he is trying to accomplish musically. Here are some lyrics from "The Holy Drinker": "The holy drinker and his curse/ in constant serfage to unquenchable thirst/ and from his stupor a night gives birth/ a devil rises from right out of the earth/ the shaking hands, blackened hearts/ the glass he pours, this time it's also the last/ in rapt communion with himself/ the holy drinker is going straight into hell/ his coffin was made from a tree/ please hammer a nail in for me/ the bottle slipped right through/ place is now underground/ take me down, down/ to be in chains". My apologies if I got any of these lyrics wrong I tried to verify with some lyrics sites but they all had missing lyrics. These lyrics are spread out on a 10 minute track, with no vocal chorus and no repetition. The songs on the album are all telling a story in Steven Wilson's unique way.
Overall Impression — 9
As a self taught musician and (amateur but learning) audio engineer myself, Steven Wilson is one of my personal heroes. I love when he has a release with any of the bands/projects he is involved in, but especially Porcupine Tree and his solo work. There are a lot of bands that are hook oriented (Halestorm, Nickelback), or riff oriented (Black Sabbath, Lamb Of God), or song oriented (Jack White, Brendan Benson) but Steven Wilson is one of the few musicians who is still active who is more album oriented and is putting together a cohesive collection of songs that are really creating a certain ambiance with the album as the whole. While the individual songs can still be enjoyed as individual songs, and occasionally you'll find hooks and memorable riffs, etc. - they all serve the album itself. If I had to pick a favorite song from the album I would have to say either "The Watchmaker" or "The Holy Drinker". This is an outstanding album and possibly the best progressive album that will be released in 2013.