Album Review- Grace For Drowning- Steven Wilson

   People who have recollected about a near-death experience have often said as they were about to pass on after the moments of panic they felt a feeling of serenity before it all ended.  They also recollect feelings of detachment, security, warmth, and sometimes fear, and almost all of those who tell us stories about their passage away from this world also speak of seeing and feeling a great light before they are brought back into life.  How true these stories are, are really unknown to anyone other than those who have been through the experience, but nevertheless they are quite fascinating to hear.  Stories such as these were stated by Steven Wilson as a major inspiration for his second solo record, Grace for Drowning.

For those that are not familiar with who Steven Wilson is let me give you a quick rundown.  He is most famous for starting and being the main creative force behind prog-rock band Porcupine Tree.  He has also taken part in numerous other projects and bands such as Blackfield and No-Man.  Along with being heralded as one of the biggest names in modern prog-rock he is also a well accomplished and highly awarded music producer handling mixing, mastering, and just about everything in between in record production.  He has produced multiple Opeth records, most notably Blackwater Park, and has done some highly acclaimed remasters of King Crimson albums.  And for now, forget everything about him and his past and just focus on this release here because while it may have a lot of his stylistic markings on it the record should be held on its own and not to his past merits.

So back to the near-death stuff.  My idea of passing on has always been imagined as a journey out of the body and into strange and unknown territory.  We pass on and along our journey our spirit serenely floats through places that feel familiar and also foreign, we pass through moments of courage and thorough moments of fear, times of light and spans of darkness; there is a remembrance of things that were forgotten and loss of things we didn’t know.  As we go on and on in our journey almost all of our emotions are touched as we reach the landing two will stick out the strongest, love and beauty.  That journey will always be unknown to us, but I feel that Grace for Drowning is the closest musical personification of that experience we will have until our time comes to see for ourselves.

As you go through your journey of listening to Grace for Drowning you will encounter moments of serenity through beautiful acoustic guitar pieces and heartwarming piano and keyboard sections(often played by Jordan Rudress).  There are gorgeous vocal sections where Steven’s voice also instills moments of melancholy and ponderousness as well as many moments of uplifting spirits.  There are many moments where you will pass into realms unknown filled with oddities and curiosities and while at times they may feel safe and oddly familiar, there are moments of terror that lurk around the bend.  These moments are personified by some extremely effective and unique prog-rock song structures as well as great use of instruments such as flutes, saxophones, clarinets, and Mellotrons.  The tones and sounds may sound familiar to our ears, but the way that he presents them give them an unexplored feel. 

The more terrifying moments on the record are played out in excellent form as they can at times make the most ferocious and scary metal seem tame as Mr. Wilson takes a different approach to the term heavy.  One thing that he knows how to do very well is build an atmosphere and he can build that atmosphere with in a short amount of time and also in larger amounts.  The ability to be able to build and change atmospheres and mood at a whim allows times for you to be in a serene moment and then out of nowhere your choking and also there can be times the atmosphere is holding you down with no sign of letting up other than brief glimpses and breaths of the outside.  The heaviness comes out of nowhere but is never jarring and it can be claustrophobic but never overly oppressing.  There are fine lines that are danced upon, and they are danced upon flawlessly and gracefully.

Lyrically, like many of Steven Wilson’s work, this words on this record are left open for interpretation.  They never come across as being overly vague and incomprehensible nor direct.  They sound like memories and passing thoughts and fit very well with the overall feel of the album.  The delivery of every single word is exemplary, behind every syllable uttered there is passion and feeling.  Like I stated before, his whispery vocals can be melancholic and haunting and at other times they are filled with wonder and beauty.  And in the end they perfectly compliment what ever mood the music around them is playing whether by flowing along or being contrasting, there isn’t one moment where they don’t fit.

Also of note is how good Grace for Drowning sounds from a technical standpoint.  Everything is at the perfect volume and is placed into the perfect layer.  Not a single sound sounds out-of-place.  The volume comes up when it needs to and goes down at the right moments.  The technical wizardry done by Steven Wilson also really adds to the overall feel of the whole album as it doesn’t let you become jarred for a millisecond as you fluently pass through the album.  The great mixing allows you to hear everything in a sitting as well as discover tons of small but very significant and important details strewn throughout the recorded over multiple listens.  It also gives a more personal feel as it sounds as if he is he is in an empty concert hall playing just for you.  A lot of times production can be over done and under done, this is a shining example of how production can be done to absolute perfection.  And for you extreme audiophiles the album is available on Blu-ray for optimal 5.1 surround sound quality(unfortunately I don’t have a Blu-ray player nor a killer sound system, just a pair of high quality headphones, but if I did…)

This has been an outstanding year in music with releases by Moonsorrow, The Devin Townsend Project, and Machine Head just blowing me away(all for very different reasons); to add to the list to masterpieces of 2011 is Steven Wilson’s Grace for Drowning which is quickly on its way to being my favorite album of the year.  I highly, highly, HIIIGHLY recommend picking up this record even if you may have never heard of Steven Wilson nor any of his other projects.  The eighty minute run-time just flies by and your back from your journey before you know what hit you, and trust me, you will be hitting play again quite quickly.  If you’re a fan of rock, metal, jazz, or the blues check this out if you think of yourself as someone who loves great music and great albums, you will not be disappointed in the slightest at all.  Peace Love and Metal!!!!!

For the videos from this album, which are all masterful, check out a previous post I had done on them here.  And if you’re lazy here’s one below for “Track One”.

About RiffRaff

Just takin' it easy for all you sinners.

Posted on October 10, 2011, in Album Reviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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