ALBUM REVIEW: Porcupine Tree – Closure – Continuation

“Progressive rock” is a term that can encompass a wide variety of sounds. At one point or another in their 35-year history, Porcupine Tree — the brainchild of Steven Wilson — have probably touched upon most of these. Having put out several albums of electronica-infused psychedelic space rock since their formation in 1987, the band reached a peak of critical and commercial success in the 2000s with the metal-influenced experimental songcraft exemplified by In Absentia and Fear of a Blank Planet. By the start of 2011, however, Porcupine Tree appeared to be no more, with Wilson announcing a hiatus to focus on his solo career; he stated as recently as 2018 that getting the band back together “would seem like a terribly backward step”.

Backward or not, Porcupine Tree have indeed returned, with a lineup including keyboardist Richard Barbieri and drummer Gavin Harrison (both long standing members). It also turns out that they had been secretly getting together to write and record over the decade since the band’s apparent demise. The result is Closure / Continuation (Music For Nations / Megaforce / Sony), so named to reflect Wilson and co’s uncertainty around whether this will be their final opus or the beginning of a new Porcupine Tree chapter.

The music itself is indeed something of a continuation of what Porcupine Tree had been doing latterly before their hiatus. Complex grooves and prog riffs abound. Time signatures jump around effortlessly. Layers of atmospheric synths combine to create complex and intense textures. Harrison’s drums hold down tight grooves while simultaneously skittering all over the place. In short, it sounds like Porcupine Tree, and their ability to craft high quality songs suffused with rich atmospherics and complex arrangements doesn’t seem to have diminished.

There is a little less reliance on guitar parts, however, than on the last few records, which might be in part due to the fact that Wilson wrote much of the record on a bass (and also recorded the bass parts himself in the absence of previous long-term bass player Colin Edwin who wasn’t involved). In fact, one song — ‘Walk The Plank’ eschews guitar altogether in favour of synth orchestration. When the guitars do come in, though, they have an impact. Simple clean and acoustic parts underpin many of the record’s more tender moments (as demonstrated in the masterful melancholic pop verses of ‘Of The New Day’), and crushing prog metal riffs still make several appearances (including on ‘Harridan’ and ‘Rats Return’). There is occasional sparing use of guitar solos, with the blistering wah-wah on ‘Chimera’s Wreck’ and the restrained gliding melody at the end of ‘Dignity’ being among the highlights.


Wilson’s angsty vocals are strong throughout. He has a knack of finding a sweet-spot between emotionally invested and coldly detached. The effect of his voice is particularly powerful when he layers up multiple vocal tracks, as on the sublime Beach Boys harmonies of ‘Dignity’. And, although Wilson doesn’t have the sort of soaring acrobatic voice that, say, Geddy Lee does, it feels as though the vocals are intended to be the main focal point — that the arrangements have been crafted to support the songs and the vocal delivery.


Each song has its own identity and across the whole record Porcupine Tree nod at some point towards pretty much every element that their sound has ever encompassed. And every element just about manages to coexist harmoniously with the others — from doomy metal riffs to the trip-hop textures with lo-fi drums. There is a good balance between technical and complex segments and more straightforward melodic simplicity, and the different styles flow together smoothly.


Lyrically, Wilson seems to mostly be delivering cryptic and poetical commentary on the various failings and difficulties of the modern world. ‘Rats Return’ is notable for its more explicitly political commentary, linking dictators such as Pinochet and Kim Il-Sung to modern day leaders and events. Generally it’s hard to tell exactly what Wilson means with his lyrics, but he puts across these somewhat ambiguous sentiments with a clever and pleasing turn of phrase that works with the music and his understated delivery.


Most of the songs here are over five minutes long, with four surpassing the seven-minute mark. Whilst that is by no means outrageous in prog rock terms, I wonder (at the risk of infuriating die-hard prog fans) whether some of the tracks would be more immediate and memorable if the instrumental segments were cut back so that the (mostly very strong) vocal melodies could be highlighted even more. As it is, some of those catchier lines are perhaps not pushed to the fore enough to feel like the anthems they could have been.


As ever with Porcupine Tree, Closure / Continuation’s production (handled by the band themselves) is absolutely superlative. The sound is crisp but natural, the dynamics are allowed to breathe without any punchiness being sacrificed, and every layer can be discerned with absolute clarity even in the most dense sections. The way the synth and keyboard textures are integrated and interwoven is magical. Often this is the most exciting and interesting element at play at any given time — the bleepy arpeggiator section at the end of ‘Herd Culling’, the chiming ostinatos in ‘Chimera’s Wreck’, or the stereo swirling electric piano in ‘Harridan’, for example.


Closure / Continuation doesn’t deviate far from what we’ve come to expect from Porcupine Tree, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. What this band does so well is to use the tools of progressive rock to augment the strong foundations of poignant songs, and Closure / Continuation absolutely achieves that. It’s not a metal record, but it strays into heavy territory on several occasions, and it’s certainly an intense experience.


Whilst it probably won’t change your opinion on Porcupine Tree, Closure / Continuation is an intelligent, meaningful, emotionally deep and accessible modern prog rock record.

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7 / 10