Octane Twisted

Porcupine Tree

Kscope, 2012

http://www.porcupinetree.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/06/2012

Confession time: I feel like I’m getting away with something by reviewing this album, inasmuch as, by the time Porcupine Tree’s 2009 opus The Incident drew my attention—and blew my mind—it had already been reviewed, and reviewed well , by not one but two of my DV brethren. But Octane Twisted, the new concert album consisting of a live rendering of the entire Incident album, plus a second disc of highlights from PT’s past, plus a concert DVD? Fair game, and off we go…

Porcupine Tree, the prog collective led by maestro/songwriter/producer/singer/guitarist/sometimes-even-keyboardist Steven Wilson, feels like it draws from the same well of dark disillusion, studio trickery and guitar heroics as classic Pink Floyd, while evolving it to deliver tighter focus and a fair bit of prog-metal muscle. For its part, The Incident is Wilson’s most complete and powerful artistic accomplishment to date, a 14-part, 76-minute modern prog epic rife with imaginative arrangements, dramatic mood shifts and superb musical dynamics. Octane Twisted captures a full rendition of The Incident played for an appreciative Chicago crowd in April 2010.

The opening “Occam’s Razor” (like its later echo “Degree Zero Of Liberty”) is elegant in its simplicity, a sort of musical overture leading into the alternately driving and melodic “The Blind House.” From there, the epic cycle unfolds with one stunning moment after another, an early climax arriving with “Drawing The Line.” This magnificent creation opens with principal keyboardist Richard Barbieri and drummer Gavin Harrison executing a gorgeous duet that builds tension steadily as Wilson comes in and they build to the crashing, cathartic chorus. The live version is every bit as propulsive as its studio counterpart, but with an added grit in the vocals that dials the emotional stakes of the track up yet another notch.

“The Incident” follows in similarly spectacular fashion, a beautifully discordant and disorienting piece full of bravura musicianship, fueled by a fierce intensity. From there “Your Unpleasant Family” unfolds, an acid scrap of dialogue segueing into a gorgeous, keening guitar solo from guitarist/background vocalist John Wesley. Then “The Yellow Windows Of The Evening Train” offers a quirky cleansing breath leading into the highlight of the album—one of the highlights of the decade, if you ask me—“Time Flies.”my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

With the rest of the band constructing a shimmering, tension-filled musical canvas behind him, Wilson deploys driving acoustic rhythm guitar and his most evocative vocals and lyrics. Featuring a stunning chorus melody and a middle section as memorably moody and atmospheric as anything Pink Floyd ever recorded, “Time Flies” is a triumph in every respect and the beating heart of The Incident. (Trivia question for the superfans: is the lyrical reference to “smoking a cigar” just a coincidence, or a conscious nod to Floyd?)

It’s honestly hard for this listener to think of the rest of the first disc as much more than extended outro to “Time Flies,” although “Octane Twisted” surely earns its place as the title track for this particular set with an emphatic performance. Farther on, “Circle Of Manias” crashes about in head-banging mode, before the band shifts gears completely and “I Drive The Hearse” finishes up with bassist Colin Edwin anchoring this airy, beautiful denouement.

Disc two of the CD set is comprised of a collection of older PT numbers played at a London show six months later. My guess is this part of this package was likely intended as a bonus for the fans, to add to the impact by carrying this album beyond a simple reiteration of The Incident. It had the opposite affect for me. 

Not that these aren’t quality tunes; they are. “Hatesong” is suitably frenetic and features what I can only describe as a psychotic break guitar solo. The medley of “Russia On Ice” with “The Pills I’m Taking” positions the former’s slow-building menace as prelude to the latter’s dark churn. “Stars Die” is a nice rarity, a single-only release with a pleasant melody. On the darker side of the tracks, Incident bonus cut “Bonnie The Cat” is a creepfest, a herky-jerky song with almost spoken vocals, that at 3:20 explodes into volleys of riffs.

The highlights of disc two are the long tracks—“Even Less” and “Arriving Somewhere But Not Here”—offering a bit of the dreaminess and melody largely missing from the first half of disc two. The former features a long, spacy, searing transition leading into the second half, in which Wilson unleashes an armory of jagged, stabbing guitar figures. The latter is one of PT’s more straightforward songs despite its length, title, and thunderous middle section. Still, disc two lost me a bit with its frequent focus on the heavier side of the Porcupine Tree catalog, songs that feature more bludgeoning riffs and less musical variety.

On the subject of the DVD—which covers only the first disc of the CD version, featuring The Incident— let’s keep it simple, shall we? This is one of the best concert films I have ever seen. The visuals are top-notch, the sharp camera work and kinetic editing is outstanding, and the sound is pristine while still capturing the freshness and vitality of a live performance. The film manages to capture at least some of the impact of the evocative video projections in the theater itself, while still keeping the viewer’s focus on the musicians themselves. I can offer no higher compliment than this: when I was done watching the DVD, I felt like I had actually been there in the hall, experiencing this terrific show.

If I was terribly hard-nosed about rating this album, I might knock it down a notch since disc two of the CD set didn’t quite measure up to disc one. But the rest of this package comprises one of the most absorbing and impressive concert documents I’ve ever experienced, capturing a complete live performance of one of the best albums of the modern era of progressive rock. Putting aside disc two’s less essential nature, there’s no question that Octane Twisted is among my favorite releases of 2012.

Rating: A

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