Porcupine Tree: Deadwing (DTS) Review
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I was so bitter that I wasn't able to review In Absentia that when the chance to review Deadwing came my way, I jumped at the opportunity. I've been reviewing everything from progressive rock to jazz fusion to folk with hard(er) rock being the one real absence. Getting a chance to enjoy something with a driving guitar line, distortion, tons of bass, and a lot of yelling (well, three out of four ain't bad) was too good of a chance to pass up.
Discs are listened to a minimum of twice with at least a 24 hour separation between the listening sessions. During session one, notes are taken on the subjective experience of the implementation of the DTS Surround (in this case) along with notes on other features. During session two, the original notes are compared and expanded upon during the listening experience. Additional listening sessions are added as needed. Before each session, speaker calibration is checked using an SPL meter and the test-tones on the receiver, in this case the Denon AVR-3805 .
5) Arriving Somewhere But Not Here
6) Mellotron Scratch
7) Open Car
8) The Start of Something Beautiful
9) Glass Arm Shattering
10) Revenant (instrumental)
11) Mother And Child Divided (instrumental)
12) Half Light
Porcupine Tree is one of those bands that defy descriptions. Few of their songs can be categorized as "rock" or "ballad" or really, as anything. They run the gamut from hard-hitting metal to sweet melodic ballads - often in the same song. Their songs tend to be quite long and have a multiple movement "epic" feel about them. Rare is a short song that picks a rhythm, tempo, or style and sticks with it until the end. The timbre of the lead singer's voice offers quite a contrast to the actual music in many instances. A song may start like a Metallica or Slayer, but the lead vocals have a more 80's pop sound than heavy metal. I've read the band described as a cross between Pink Floyd and Tool. That's not a bad comparison though I would say they have more in common with Nine Inch Nails than Tool.
Rock music is not the easiest to judge on Audio Quality. Part of the allure of rock is the distortion inherent in the genre. Some may view the sound on this album as "harsh" or "compressed"…and in fact it is. But many associate those qualities with the Rock or Metal genre and this album should be viewed accordingly. While you may not be able to pick out each instrument, hear the singer's breath between words, or discern subtle changes in timbre and tone of an instrument or voice, you can still ascertain the quality of the audio by listening for specific events. The noise floor on the album was very low (not that you had many instances in which to evaluate it). At the beginning of the album, there are traffic sounds that were so realistic I actually stopped the disc to see who was making all that noise on my dead-end street. A couple of the tracks had an acoustic guitar section where you could clearly hear fingers sliding over the strings and the plastic on metal sound of the pick in action.
If you have a flabby, loose, sloppy, or " slow " sub, you may be in trouble with this album. Much of the bass is low and very, very fast (mostly from the kick drum though the bass did show up in a couple of songs). My Axiom EP500 was going freakin nuts during many of the songs. For much of the album, I felt like I was in an airplane - that much air was being moved. I kept expecting my ears to pop. I would seriously recommend this disc for anyone trying to evaluate the musicality of a subwoofer.
My only complaint is that the vocals seemed to blend into the music a little too much during specific songs. I believe this was by design and not in error. The singer's voice was often presented in a chorus format and tended to get lost behind some of the louder passages. When the vocals were solo (non-chorus), they rang thru as one would expect. My take on this is that the vocals were considered to be as much an instrument as a focal point in the song. Given the quality of the rest of the album, I have a hard time believing that something like this wasn't done purposefully.
One of the reasons I was so intent on reviewing this Porcupine Tree DVD-A is because the Surround Implementation on In Absentia was so amazing. This disc is no different. This disc has become one of my new favorite test discs when reviewing new speakers. There is so much movement, so many different sounds, and each was placed perfectly in the space. I loved how some instruments would originate from the back of the room while others would be anchored in the front. The key was that the main instruments (the ones carrying the melody) would always be in the front - this solidified the soundstage and allowed a little latitude in where the other instruments could originate.
I really have a hard time believing that this album was created for two channel listening. It seems to me to be tailored specifically for the surround format. If the two channel CD was released first, I tend to feel that was a publisher decision based on what they thought (or their chronic resistance to change dictated what) would sell best and not the artist's preference. All the strange sounds, the flawless way each was implemented in the surround format, the way that whole sections of songs seemed to exist simply for surround implementation all contributed to my belief. I honestly don't think this album would sound nearly as good in two channels. My test - if a surround effect makes me look at the speaker and say, "Huh?" it's no good. If I look at the speaker and say, "Whoa!" it passes the test. I said Whoa! a whole lot during this album. The second, and more important, test is whether or not subsequent listening sessions enhance the experience or if you can hear it all in one go. Believe me, there is so much going on in this album that you could spend a LONG time trying to hear it all.
The level and depth of the extras on this disc is absolutely mind blowing. There are three bonus tracks (two instrumentals and one short ballad), two videos (a 6.5 minute "making of" and a 2 minute "commercial" of sorts), photos (30 from Deadwing , 42 from the In Absentia concert tour, and 34 of Deadwing art), Lyrics, Links, and Notes (includes band history plus notes on each song). If there is a negative, the lyrics don't scroll with the music (which is not that big of a deal for me). While the pictures are good for a view or two, the making of video is interesting. And, the commercial (they called it a trailer) is what it is, the extra tracks and (believe it or not) the links make the difference.
I absolutely abhor instrumental tracks as a general rule on rock albums. In most instances, it comes off as, "See, we really can play our instruments!" In my experience, it just sounds silly and forced. If they can "really play," then why don't they really play them in every song is my question? Well, Porcupine Tree does just that and every note of every song on this album sounds like it was planned out. Having the instrumental tracks as part of the main album would have felt like a way to get out of writing more lyrics if they weren't in the extras section. Having them there is a great way to give the band an avenue to explore different sounds and beats (and both the instrumentals are very experimental sounding). It also gives the fans a little something extra for (perhaps) purchasing the album twice.
Now, the link to www.deadwood.com was kind of unexpected. I usually am not all that interested in web content when reviewing a music disc but, since the jacket indicated that Deadwing was based on a screenplay co-written by Steven Wilson (the singer and main songwriter), I decided to check it out. On the website was a bunch of content including some of the movies from the disc, a couple of unique and sometimes interactive movies/features/information, and a few pages from the screenplay (I guess, they really didn't say). Regardless, it became abundantly clear that the "extras" on the disc and web were clearly not scraps from the cutting room floor but were as carefully planned out and implemented as everything else on the disc.
There is an extra track as an Easter Egg on the disc. Go to the Extras screen and arrow up until the heart in the center is circled. Shesmovedon will appear on the screen and just hit enter to hear the song.
Lastly, and I think this deserves a mention, there are a lot of little touches on this album that really polish the presentation and send it to a whole new level. Between songs, the video goes a little fuzzy ala The Ring. When you play the bonus tracks, you don't have to select each one, select the first and it automatically goes on to the rest. The commentary on each song by the band, all of this and more really brings this DVD up to the next level.
It you don't like a lot of heavy guitar, you probably won't like about half of this album. Unfortunately, the half you will like is interspersed amongst many of the songs. You may hate the beginning of a song, love the middle, be indifferent about the apparent end, pleasantly surprised that it didn't end and you really, really like this part, and then have the actual end send you running for the fast forward button. If you like heavy guitar, fast low bass, you are in for a real treat. Word of warning, if you are looking for the audio nirvana of perfect fidelity, you've come to the wrong place. Regardless, the Surround Implementation will absolutely blow you away. This album excels in so many ways I have a hard time believing just how well realized it is.