Sound — 10
"Insurgentes" was released in 2008. At the time I gave the album an overall 10. It was wonderful. The album encompassed all of Mr. Wilson's various projects and threw them all into one glorious basket. And I still enjoy that album greatly. "Grace For Drowning" followed and gave us more of what we asked for, and in an even more epic and jazzy fashion (20-minute pieces of prog-heaven?). But even though I loved that album, something was missing. It was something that I hadn't noticed on "Insurgentes" due to the industrial/shoegaze style of that album. But both albums greatly lacked any real energy. Not to say that the intense chorus of "Harmony Korine" didn't give me chills or the rather intense ending of "Remainder The Black Dog". Wilson mentioned his inspiration from remixing classic prog artists, convincing him to try to leave behind his completely steady metronome beats and focus on band dynamics. This definitely came into play on "Grace For Drowning". Now, however, I am happy to say that he has perfected it with "The Raven That Refuses To Sing (And Other Stories)". The album is brought to a whole new level by the wondrous musicians on board (Nick Beggs on bass, Marco Minneman on drums, Adam Holzman on keys, Guthrie Govan on guitar and Theo Travis on literally anything that he can blow on). The compositions feel more energetic and driving, even during the more quiet moments. You can tell that the band had to have practiced together and knew how to bring the pieces together. The "put-a-band-in-room" philosophy works wonders here.
Lyrics — 10
Wilson's lyrics on his past two solo albums have been... Not the greatest to be perfectly honest. There are moments of lyrical genius, but "Insurgentes" didn't seem to depend on what was actually being said, more of just how they sounded. "Grace For Drowning" raised the bar on lyrical content, mostly going with Wilson's obsessions with serial killers and the rather inspired "Postcard". The Raven, raises the bar to a whole new level. Each song tells a rather grim ghost story, ranging from a busker who never leaves his place even in death ("Luminol"), or a watchmaker killing his wife only to find she continues to stay by him in death ("The Watchmaker"). The lyrics are wonderful and add a dimension to the music that has been missing from Wilson's solo recordings. Vocally, Wilson continues his relatively lofty standard of vocals. And again, melodically I think he succeeds greatly with this album. Harmonies abound, and some of the most beautiful singing of Wilson's career on the title track. But in the end, Steven Wilson's fans know what to expect out of Wilson's vocals. And they are always top notch.
Overall Impression — 10
As previously stated, I gave "Insurgentes" a 10 back in 2008. Thus I'm already a Steven Wilson fan. But still, having said this, I would like to give this album a higher rating. The Raven ascends much higher than "Insurgentes" ever would have had me believe. The musicianship is the best out of any Wilson solo recording. Govan's guitar solos are absolutely beautiful, exceeding anything Wilson has done himself. The rhythm section is more driving than ever, all thanks to the incredibly high energy duo of Minneman and Beggs. And of course Holzman's keyboard entries and Travis' woodwinds are highlights of every track. But it goes beyond that. Wilson, in his fever to provide outstanding music for these musicians to play, wrote the most inspired works he has done in years. Each song is multi-faceted and... Soulful. "Drive Home" features melodies near reminiscent of Blackfield's earlier days, but develops on into the most beautiful ending, featuring an astounding guitar solo from Govan. "The Holy Drinker" drives it's intensity into your brain and refuses to leave. "The Watchmaker" moves through so many different sections and styles, but never feels forced or like it wasn't meant to be that way (Oh, let's follow this beautiful piano section with all the force our distorted guitars, basses, saxophones and distorted pianos can muster). And finally, the title track, "The Raven That Refused To Sing", is probably my favorite song by Wilson since Porcupine Tree's "Deadwing". Remaining eternally simple, but I could listen Wilson sing "Sing to me raven, I miss her so much" on loop for eternity. Thus my key points are as follows. First, Porcupine Tree fans who have hated Wilson's solo work can rejoice. This is not a Porcupine Tree record, but it certainly sounds like Wilson's solo band and Porcupine Tree could share a stage now. Second, "The Raven That Refused To Sing" is the most inspired of Wilson's solo records. Period. Finally, Mr. Wilson has an enormous task at hand, no matter what album he makes with whichever project next. "The Raven" will be a hard act to follow.