Thursday, May 31, 2012

Storm Corrosion's buildup will leave you with a major letdown

The working relationship between Opeth's Mikael Akerfeldt and Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree is well documented. These prog rock heavyweights have worked together on producing Opeth records, but they've never made an album together. At least not until Storm Corrosion.

Storm Corrosion is the concluding piece of a trilogy that began with the 2011 releases from Wilson and Akerfeldt. Opeth's Heritage was a twisted jaunt through the deepest depths of a 70s folk/metal inspired wonderland. The band covered all bases, with hints of Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and Jethro Tull shining through.

Meanwhile, Wilson's sophomore solo soundscape operated on a different approach. The cover of Grace for Drowning, like the music within, was soaked in a shade of crimson -- King Crimson, to be exact. The sprawling double disc set strongly recalled his love for these progressive rock titans, and produced more than a few tunes suitable for beckoning the end times.

Although culled from the same era, both Heritage and Grace for Drowning managed to stand apart. So it should be no surprise that a good deal of anticipation has built up over what Act III might deliver.

Storm Corrosion brings together two trademark aspects of these artists. On the one hand, you have the heavy nature influence found throughout many of Opeth's early records. The photos in the booklet are grainy and faded, like someone was playing this music from the middle of a field long, long ago. The music is designed to sound the way the pictures look, so to speak.

But there is an ominous undercurrent swirling around just under the surface, something darker and much more sinister.  From time to time, you will be hit with off kilter and trippy passages that harken back to the most demented moments of 1970s psychedelia. They appear infrequently, but pop up so unexpectedly that their presence provides a subtle coloring for the entire album. It's easy to see Wilson's hand in this.

The opener, "Drag Ropes," gets the album off to an inauspicious start. Akerfeldt starts off with some slightly cheesy and melodramatic vocals, which leads into the first major drone section of the album. Steven Wilson comes in singing a bizarre line about how the truth can now be told, while organs and strings clash in the background. Each progression sounds like it's building up to something, but end of the song simply dumps you back into the initial verse that Akerfeldt started off singing.

The title track is the true standout. It contains a sampling of all the album's major elements, and does so flawlessly. The first six minutes of the song feature some beautiful acoustic guitar playing accompanied by Wilson's gentle vocal. It eventually fades into trebley sounding strings that combine with chaotic guitar strumming to create a dark and unnerving background ambiance. Eventually, some light guitar playing can be heard in the background, and the droning in the foreground slowly cuts out like a radio losing transmission. You are then left with nothing but a beautiful riff, and Akerfeldt returns with a haunting final verse.

As the album progresses, however, its main fault becomes clear. The progressions in each song seem to be build up to something. However, you never really get a payoff, and as a result the album doesn't seem to know where it's going.

The opening to "Hag" is minimalist to the extreme, with Wilson slowly enunciating each line of each verse. This sounds like something we've heard him do before. From there, you get the only truly heavy section on the entire album, although the guitar and drum work are coated in a layer of menacing fuzz. I personally like the effect; it's a great continuation of the faded and worn feel that Akerfeldt and Wilson seem to be shooting for. But instead of building on the success of that section, the song instead stubbornly reprises the the opening verse. It's like Wilson doesn't know where it wants to the song to go so he just throws his hands in the air.

"Lock Howl" is perhaps the biggest offender in this regard. I enjoy the brisk acoustic riff in the beginning, along with the sound of the bells and strings quietly chiming in the backround. From there it builds into some bizarre Egyptian sounding passage before -- maddeningly -- resetting once again to the initial riff. See the pattern?

"Happy," which sees Wilson attempt his best Fleet Foxes impersonation, is by far the album's shortest track. As such, it doesn't do enough to distinguish itself and gets lost in the album's acoustic ether. 

It all comes crashing down with "Ljudet Innan." In perhaps the most offbeat twist in an album full of offbeat twists, the track begins with falsetto vocals which have a minor soul/ R&B tinge. It completely clashes with the spirit of everything else on the album. Once that subsides, the track floats around in too much ambiance for far too long. It finally reaches a conclusion chock full of bluesy, 70s inspired guitar work that sounds like it could have been pulled from Opeth's Damnation/Deliverance era. It's nice to see they finally give a song a proper conclusion, but as the album closer it really isn't an adequate climax for an album that's all about buildups.

For the most part, the progressions on Storm Corrosion aren't particularly bad. It's a listenable album with many neat elements that potentially could have led to a great record. The main issue is that it tends to rely too much on drone elements to establish its sense of atmosphere. Neither artist is particularly experienced with making this technique work, and Storm Corrosion provides ample evidence that Wilson should have left it behind in his Metatonia/Voyage 34 days.

The title track is well executed, but far too often the rest of the songs don't go through their natural progressions, so there isn't much payoff in the end. At times I can't help but wonder: what exactly is the point?

Score: 77/100

1 comment:

hegm said...

really good review, i don't disslike the album but i do find it way to drony and not in the good sence. both artists are good but the album sounds too much like heritage without the metal work... or wilson's ethereal writings. it's sucha a hyped album that im surprized to find an objective review in the web.