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Fear Of A Blank Planet.
Steven Wilson conception of this work borrowed heavily from the novel Luna Park by Bret Ellis, the story is of a eleven year old boy who suffers social alienation, interaction problems and the drugs used for corrective effect this child's behavior is viewed through the eyes of his father;
Steven Wilson turned things on its head and views things from a child's point of view, not one child in particular but any young teenager who's world is the playstation I Pod stuck in his room texting and having no social interaction, a terminally bored being, sounds very familiar.
Steven Wilson's Fear is that children become unreachable stuck in their own world and become so detached they cannot deal with normal social interaction.
Fear Of A Blank Planet
The opening track deals with the subject matter immediately, and it's a lively heavy number with rumbling bass and loud distorted guitars with the keyboards an electric piano flirting in the background, the drumming on this track is outstanding it bulldozes the song along pounding out a rhythm that forces the other band members to keep up, superb stuff by Gavin Harrison, a nice appetizer.
We slow things right down for this one Electric piano acoustic guitar and vocals continue the theme, until the band use an orchestra to fill the sound out and it works very effectively indeed the drums and bass lay down a gentle beat with some harmony vocals rounding things off nicely a slow slightly moody number but well crafted.
A 17 Minute mammoth monolith and has become one of the fans live favorites it's a very dark somber song with very few light moments but it's a killer track with more musical twist and turns than the London sewage tunnels, outstanding drumming once more to the fore it has some brutal thrash metal sections thrown in for good measure and a solo by Alex lifeson the Rush axeman.
We need to take a breather after Anesthetize and Sentimental does that for us a mellow number that just has a slight darkness to it, but the rant of the disillusioned child charges on.
Way Out Of Hear
A synth sets the tone for the intro until the familiar guitars shatter the silence and smash down the door, the Heavy death metal sound is quite prominent on this song but that's what I like about Wilson he's not afraid to use varied musical forms, many bands are formulated for example you've heard one AC /DC album you get the picture.
Its not say AC/DC are a bad band it's a formula they stick to and it works for them and their fans, but I love bands that explore and expand musical texture and varied forms It keeps the sound fresh, Porcupine Tree are exceptional at this, and I want the music to challenge me as the listener, well soapbox put back lets get back with the music and the last track.
All starts off rather slowly with pulsing keyboards but you know that heavyness will return with menace and it does not suddenly but a slow creeping burn, the number then dies down in intensity until it builds up once more with steaming driving guitar riffs and a dinosaur stomping bass and drums that would give Zeppelin a run for the money.
Fear of A Blank Planet is subject matter is very prominent in today's society and strangely enough I witnessed this for myself about 2 months ago. My nephews had come to my home for a party, they are twin boys and both had I phones throughout most of the day they never spoke to anyone they just had both their heads buried into the I phone, no interaction with a soul not even with each other.
What made it more alarming was in conversation with their mother she commented on how apathetic they were to everything particularly going out they were more happy to stay indoors playing on the playstation, even the mention of a summer holiday abroad prompted no response.
This was the first album I heard the most of Porcupine Tree from, and it is without a doubt my most cherished album by them. There is something very eerie that runs throughout the album, which I think conveys very well the theme which Steven Wilson is seeking to portray.
Instead of talking about every single track, I am going to leave it for the listener to find out for themselves. I will, however, point out the songs that really stood out to me.
The album is about teenagers in the world today and how their lives are increasingly becoming so dependent on technology, social networking and prescription drugs and how this lifestyle has done more harm than good.
The album begins with the title track which is introduced with a catchy acoustic guitar riff that is unforgettable once you have heard it at least once. The song takes you through a wide variety of textures and sounds, distorted guitars and strummed acoustic guitars, as one would expect in a Porcupine Tree record. I would definitely say this is one highlight of the album.
My favourite song, however, is "Anesthetize" which clocks in at over 17 minutes. The variation in themes on this song is amazing, and for the first time Porcupine Tree were daring enough to include some very metal sections, somewhat reminiscent of Meshuggah's unusual, jarring rhythms. There are some very sad sounding sections in this song too, which for me make it quite difficult to listen to; they are really that moving.
The instrumentation is very varied and ranges from acoustic guitars to distorted, downtuned electric guitars and keyboards. The sheer variety of sounds on this album are what makes it so interesting at all times; there's always something interesting going on to hold your attention.
As per usual, Gavin Harrison is always creating some very interesting and unusual rhythms, that would otherwise be quite plain in the context in which they occur if most drummers were playing. Occasionally he showcases his amazing abilities.
Compared to their earlier records this is definitely much heavier, but the meaningful, conceptual lyrical and musical ideas that Porcupine Tree are known for and make them easily distinguishable are still present.
In summary, this is an album well worth hearing for the message and for the music that has great power behind it.
Fear Of A Blank Planet, the 9th studio album by Progressive metal band Porcupine Tree, was released in 2007, and soon after, was recognised as a fantastic album. It received 'best album' from an array of magazines and websites.
Despite this, I would not say this is their best work, and would put 3 of their other albums before this. Being yet another concept album by the band however, it does deal with issues regarding race and society's developing and changing state.
There is an aura maintained throughout the whole album. With a theme of electronics/information technology (IT) running throughout the album, Porcupine Tree unsurprisingly implement a lot of synth (and quite jarring sounds, I might add). Strange scales, chuggingly heavy guitar sounds and some esoteric, disturbing lyrics...it all adds up to create an album of an awkward, unsettled atmosphere, which I feel Porcupine Tree convey brilliantly.
The album opens with the eponymous song, 'Fear of a Blank Planet', which, despite being 7.28 in length, is perhaps the most radio-friendly of the songs, whilst being extremely inappropriate for the radio at the same time! The song opens with the sound of somebody typing on a keyboard, which introduces the fundamental theme of IT (and moreover, how it is changing society) immediately. Whilst establishing a sense of distress at this early point in the album, the chorus is surprisingly dramatic and pleasing to the ears - as are the latter stages of the song. It was the first song I ever heard by Porcupine Tree. I enjoyed it then, and I still enjoy it now.
The lyrics of the song (and, well, the whole album!) are quite raw. Some examples: 'Xbox is a god to me, Finger on the switch, my mother is a bitch', and, my favourite: 'I'm through with pornography, the acting is lame, the action is tame, explicitly dull arousal annulled'. In the song, the verse lyrics are basically spoken, which contrasts with the blasting nature of the chorus.
The second song on the album is 'My Ashes', which is quite a soothing, yet extremely downbeat and discomforting. The main line of the chorus reads: And my ashes drift beneath the silver sky, Where a boy rides on a bike and never smiles. Porcupine Tree have always kept to a mellow, pessimistic style in their music, and this song isn't any different! I really like this song however.
The next song is 'Anesthetize', which is dramatically longer in length compared to the other 5 songs on the album. Clocking in at 17 minutes and 42 seconds, it truly is an epic. And it really is a fantastic song. One can clearly identify the separate parts of the song, and due to the lack of reprise, it feels more like a suite. Nonetheless, it really shows what Porcupine Tree are made of, but in a heavier way. They can be very subtle in their musical performing abilities, but this song is quite the opposite of subtle. With highly-rated drummer Gavin Harrison giving us every rhythm and timing under the sun, Steven Wilson (the founder and composer and producer and...well, main bloke, from Porcupine Tree) playing some fanastic guitar licks and solos, as well as Australian bassist Colin Edwin (who, despite being a bassist myself, I feel is quite shadowed in the band) and keyboard player Richard Barbieri adding to the mix, at times in the song, it becomes chaotic and...bloody brilliant! The song starts off quite softly and quietly, but within the song, it reaches a state of heaviness that I've never heard from the band, but ends in a similarly soothing way to the beginning of the song. If you want to the know what the band are made of, listen to this song.
'Sentimental' is the fourth song on the album. A chordal piano pattern is played throughout the majority of the song, and is the main part of the song. Steven Wilson's distant (through effects, obviously) vocals create quite an eerie air, that again, Porcupine Tree are trying to create. A depressing aura meetings depressing lyrics. For example, 'Sullen and bored the kids stay, And in this way they wish away each day'. The ideas that were introduced earlier on in the album are evidently still present, and the idea of a changing society is the key theme of the album. Wilson, who writes the majority of music and lyrics, is quite the modernist, and appears much the cynic throughout the album. Or maybe it's more the fact that he himself is depressed that times have changed?
The song 'Sentimental', towards the end of the song, also features a semi-excerpt from Porcupine Tree's arguably most popular song, 'Trains', from the album 'In Absentia'. As to why it is included, I don't know, but I feel that a lot of Wilson's must is semi-biographical, as there are quite a few songs that feature ideas based on trains. I once read that he lived near a train track in his childhood, and this is most likely the reason why.
The final two songs on the album, 'Way Out of Here', and 'Sleep Together', are the songs that bring the album down, in my opinion. The aura that was established so early on, and that has been maintained throughout the album, becomes a little tiresome in my opinion. The music becomes...mushy, in need of a better word. Cluttered! There we go. It's hard to elaborate, but the use of distorted guitar, creepy synths and the somewhat unearthly harmony begins to get on my nerves.
Despite this, the songs themselves are okay. 'Way Out of Here', which has quite a desperate chorus, is effective, as is the punchy feel of 'Sleep Together'. The drumming is very impressive throughout, but I particularly like it in 'Sleep Together'. The album appears to have ended at an appropriate point, although feeling quite unfinished (but this is just the general nature of the album). However, after a few seconds, there is a small drum fill that concludes the song and the album.
I think that, if you listen to heavy metal music generally, you will enjoy this album thoroughly. If you can stand a bit of metal, then you should enjoy it too. But if you're not a metal fan, I don't think that you will like this album at all. But that's not the point, as this is clearly a metal album. My point is that this album gets boring, I feel. I enjoy the music, but I feel it is too much of one thing. A good progressive/art rock/metal album conveys a variety of emotions, and this album does not. However, do listen to this album, because it does hold some great material, but I would not say it is one of their finest. If you want to get into Porcupine Tree, either listen to 'In Absentia', 'Deadwing', or 'The Incident' first!
Porcupine Tree were introduced to me several years ago by a colleague after a chance remark that I had seen Saga, a group that hardly anyone had heard of. He had and said I should try PT and I thank him eternally for doing so.
For those 'not in the know', PT is the brainchild of Steven Wilson and are what would be called Progressive Rock, in the mould of, say, Pink Floyd (perhaps) but they are very hard to define as their music changes from album to album.
I saw PT live just before the release of FOABF, where they played the whole of the album from start to finish. When Steve announced that they were about to play an 18 minute track (Anesthetize), the crowd cheered. 'Just becuse it's long doesn't mean it's any good' joked Steve. Despite not having heard any of the music before, I found it memorable and was able to remember a lot of it after the concert and then when I got the album.
Lyrically, the album does paint a bleak picture of the generation where an 'X-box is a god to me'. Musically, it is up with PT's best, 6 tracks spread over 50+ minutes, including the 18 minute epic mentioned above (which has Rush's Alex Lifeson helping out with some very heavy guitar licks). It moves from heavy to light and back again, with SW being able to write some of the most delicate songs.
Not their best album, probably In Absentia or Deadwing would win that award from me, but packed full of melody, musicianship at the top of the industry (special mention to the drumming of Gavin Harrison) and lyrics to make you think.
An EP (Nil Recurring) followed soon after the release with tracks that didn't make the album.
I had never heard any Porcupine Tree before listening to this album, only knowing of Steve Wilson through his collaborations with Opeth and Katatonia, but 'Fear of a Blank Planet' sounded instantly familiar, with its folky, proggy, semi-acoustic guitars, atmospheric keyboard washes and liberal use of mellotron.
Working from a prog rock base, 'Fear of a Blank Planet' is a very musically varied album, with pounding metal parts, dirgey lethargic sections, and sad, wide-open parts that remind of latter-day Anathema. Elsewhere there are claustrophobic, Nine Inch Nails style industrial parts as well as sections with piano, xylophone, and angsty vocals, which are reminiscient of Radiohead.
The overall impression the album gives out is of being isolated in some kind of protective bubble, and this goes well with the lyrics, which are written from the perspective of a confused, apathetic and over-medicated young teen who is both disenfranchised with and struggling to communicate with the outside world. The lyrics are quite reminisent of those of Jonas Renskes from Katatonia too, in their stark honesty and simple expression.
A must for prog rock fans, its an album that demands multiple listens as there is simply to much going on to take it all in in one go.
2. Fear Of A Blank Planet
3. My Ashes
5. Sleep Together
6. Way Out Of Here
Fear Of A Blank Planet is the first Porcupine Tree album for some time and it is immediately obvious where a lot of Steven Wilson's time has been spent in the meantime. Having produced albums for Opeth and spent some time on tour with them, their prog metal sensibilities have clearly leeched into Wilson's writing. This is no bad thing, of course, and it is part of the appeal of Porcupine Tree that their music is constantly changing and evolving.
Wilson himself admits that his songs tend to be very simple and that it is the arrangements that are complex. This is particularly apparent in the epic Anesthetize which constantly changes and surprises. This same track also includes a guitar solo by Rush's Alex Lifeson, indicating that Porcupine Tree are now being recognised by their peers for their considerable contribution to the contemporary prog genre.
As usual, the standard of musicianship is high and drummers, in particular, will be pleased to hear that Gavin Harrison is on top form throughout this album. Highly recommended.
Porcupine Tree are one of the very few bands around that still make music that sounds every bit as fresh and inspired as if they were only a couple of years into their career (their debut album came out in 1991!). Fear Of A Blank Planet is without a doubt one of the best 3 albums they've ever made, with influences from almost all their previous albums. It is loosely a concept album about the general state of the worlds youth today, and how we are possibly becoming a little too detached from reality and the world around us. The two stand-out tracks for me would have to be the title track, which talks about a subject very close to my heart. The increasing amount of children relying solely on digital entertainment and not going out and interacting with the world properly. And the increasing number of kids being put on prescription drugs to mask their emotional difficulties. A very upbeat rocker reminiscent of Four Chords That Made A Million from Lightbulb Sun.
And the last track, Sleep Together. Which despite it alluding to be of a sexual nature, is actually about escapism. A more electronic number that sounds as though it was inspired by the likes of Nine Inch Nails.
All in all, get it, get it now!
With the release of the new Fear of a Blank Planet record, the band try to separate the boys from the men with a much darker and naturally more appealing concept piece which focuses on modem day life, and the wide spread availability of drugs, pornography, guns and technological entertainment.
The European release of both the standard and special edition issue of the album coincided with the debut of the controversial Lasse Hoile directed music video, which further hinted at the albums dark nature, a department in which Deadwing was certainly found wanting.
And it's the title track, Fear of a Blank Planet which gets the album off to an exciting and powerful start before the slowest track of the set, My Ashes which acts as a great introduction to the seventeen minute Anesthetize; a track which was the outstanding piece in progress from the short Arriving Somewhere DVD marketing tour. P Tree have not attempted anything as long as this for a long time, and perhaps it marks Wilson seeing the error of his ways.
As well as this outstanding track, the following Sentimental provides an excellent piano driven track before the highlight Way Out Of Here which makes use of some good vocal distortion, as well as melodic choruses and catch lyrics. The landmark album then closes out with Sleep Together which is an unusually dark and industrial sounding track to end a brilliant concept disk.
"Fear of a Blank Planet" offers a harsh, bleak and disturbing insight into what Steven Wilson (front man of British prog rockers, Porcupine Tree) sees as our world's future. Six masterfully crafted tracks focus on the "youth of today" - is all hope lost or will they find fulfilment in life?
Let me begin my review of the album with a comment on the musicianship. If you enjoy some complex (but not too showy) drumming, you MUST check out Gavin Harrison. He shines on this album. From start to finish he plays with real taste and perfect control. Some of the "fills" alone are spectacular - check out his interlude in track 1.
The guitar work is, as always, varied in style and very well put together. Washing, gently delayed guitars break suddenly into heavy, crunchy metal riffing - sometimes leaving the listener thinking "where did that come from!?" Generally it's well done, though some of the heavy sections (and man, are they heavy) do sound a little out of place at times.
The synthesizer work is rather surreal. I would also use the word "eerie". The final track "Sleep Together" gives me chills up my back. The synth/keyboard work leaves kind a pale grey/blue wash across the sound of most tracks - something which I really like. For me, it gives the album a very distinct and consistent "feel" and texture, without being boring. The piano part of "Sentimental" fits well with the distant, delayed feel of the guitar in "Way Out fo Here".
Lyrically, it's relatively easy to identify the themes - hopelessness, bitterness, lonliness, depression, death, suicice... so a cheery bunch of emotions then! My main criticism of the album (though you could argue the album has succeeded) is that it is undeniably depressing. Wilson clearly wants to convey the hoelessness he feels exists in the youth of our country - "we're lost in the mall, shuffling through the stores like zombies, well what is the point, what can money buy?" (from track 3). If his goal is to move his listener to despair, then he achieves it.
So you may wonder, why listen? If it's so depressing, how can the music be enjoyed? Well, there's great musicianship on display. And the songwriting is interesting and lyrically not overly cheesey (though some parts are slightly cringe-worthy). "Sentimental" really works for me, as does the opening track "Fear of a Blank Planet". The third track is well placed - a near 20 minute epic of a track that really holds your attention... at least till the last five minutes or so, when I often skip to Sentimental.
The conlusion of the album is (as I see it) that the subject kills himself / herself - or at least, tries to. Not the most inspiring ending and it does leave you feeling rather desolate...
You should try it. It's quite an experience.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Fear Of A Blank Planet
2 My Ashes
5 Way Out Of Here
6 Sleep Togethe