Steven Wilson – Grace For Drowning
In a year that saw releases from Opeth, Dream Theater, Unexpect, Neal Morse, and Devin Townsend, Steven Wilson can still turn heads when he announces a double album. In more proper terms, Grace for Drowning is actually a set of two individual albums, titled “Deform To Form A Star” and “Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye”, packaged and sold together. These then mark the second and third solo albums for Mr. Wilson, and given how little he was involved in the writing of the most recent Blackfield album, his first real songwriting since the release of The Incident back in 2009.
It’s a little strange to think of an artist as prolific as Steven Wilson taking a break from songwriting, but I imagine the rest, however short, was valuable, especially given the results on Grace for Drowning. I had originally considered reviewing the two albums separately, as they both stand alone as beautiful and unique musical statements, however there is also so much that happens between the two, that I could not do the project full justice with standalone reviews.
As a project, Grace for Drowning is painted with a stunning sound palette, rich with sweeping orchestrations, flutes, saxophones, pianos, subtle guitar tones and a large force of choral work on nearly every song, and in some instances, building the bulk of the song’s melody. The Ambience of the album sweeps from dark and haunting lows, to triumphant and serene highs, and a presence of the classic progressive, psychedelic, and jazz eras.
The first disc, Deform to Form a Star, focuses more heavily on the choral aspects, with two songs (Grace for Drowning and Raider Prelude) featuring them almost exclusively, and, Raider Prelude aside, tends to be the lighter of the two discs. Remainder The Black Dog is the accessibility highlight, being the song that listeners are most likely to latch onto first, however Sectarian and Deform To Form A Star are my personal favorites.
The second disc, Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye, contains only 5 songs, one of them though, is the 23 minute “Raider II”. It is similar to Remainder The Black Dog for it’s over jazz influence, but it sums up the entire project much better, using a full range of the sound palette expressed in the rest of the disc. Index, one of the several songs to have a video recording, has a very dark and moody atmosphere, which is distinct, as most of the darker songs on Grace for Drowning tend more towards the direction of haunting.
What really brought home the cohesiveness of the album to me were the twin guitar solos that populate the title tracks of both discs. They’re slow, melodic, and full of emotion. Steven Wilson has never regarded himself as a very talented guitarist, or a very talented vocalist, and truth be told, he does not have the massive range or technical ability as some of his peers within the progressive genre. He is however, the premier innovative songwriter, and a master of ambiance and sonic atmosphere, and all of this are on full display.
This album is a skillful summation of the proper influence of the classic era of progressive music, full of modern flourishes and masterful presentation. AOTY considerations go without saying here, as I can find no major faults, and indeed, it’s been an extremely difficult album to put down since its release.
Dagg’s Rating: 4.75 out of 5