Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)

Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)

Although Porcupine Tree wasn’t exactly a band known for narrow scope or resistance to experimenting, I’ve always appreciated Steven Wilson’s choice to release some of his music as a solo career. Not only has it let him collaborate with a much wider range of musicians, it also frees listeners from many of the preconceptions they may have about his flagship band. As a result, Wilson’s three solo albums to date have enjoyed a greater sense of risk and daring than much of Porcupine Tree’s regular material. “Insurgentes” was impressive for its experimental nature and inclusive variety, and “Grace for Drowning” fleshed out the ambition with everything from finely crafted pop tunes to explosive jazz fusion. As with the last two, I don’t think that “The Raven That Refused To Sing” would have struck such a note with me if it had been released under the Porcupine Tree banner. Although Wilson’s staple production and flair for the melancholic are here in no short order, he takes this opportunity as a way to put a focus on his instrumental side that hasn’t been often seen before in his career, solo or otherwise. The resulting focus on jazzy band dynamics and progressive rock tradition makes “Raven…” Steven’s least varied but most focused solo effort to date. Also, it’s a concept album, and that’s pretty cool too.

On “Grace for Drowning”, one of the most peculiar tracks was the behemothic “Raider II”, a twenty three minute, largely instrumental monster, taking King Crimson-esque rock musicianship and jazz-based improvisations together in equal measure. On my initial experience with it when the album came out in 2011, I interpreted it as a bold declaration that the work of Steven’s solo career was a conscious step away from his Porcupine Tree material. Now, I see it more as a predecessor and hint of what was to come on this album. Although Wilson gives longtime fans a dose of the classic PT sound with tracks like “The Pin Drop” and the cinematic title track, a great deal of “The Raven That Refused To Sing” focuses itself in on that prog fusion instrumentation. Whether it’s a meticulously calibrated passage, or a mellow interplay between the piano and rhythm section, “Raven…” transposes Wilson’s genius for composition into a realm that he has never dedicated himself so fervently towards.

Possibly the greatest thing about “Raven…” is not even necessarily Wilson’s writing and arrangement, but the musicians that he has chosen to surround himself with. More than ever, it feels like Wilson has fashioned himself a progressive rock conductor of sorts, letting some of the best musicians in the scene bring his vision to life. Most notably, Wilson brings on two thirds of the virtuosic fusion band The Aristocrats. Guthrie Govan (guitars) and Marco Minnemann (drums) are each masters of their respective instruments. Of the musicians involved however, the top accolades go to keyboardist Adam Holzman, arguably best known for work he has done with Miles Davis. Especially on “Luminol”, his jazz improvisations are rich with detail, and his firm background in the jazz genre gives Wilson’s music a different sound than it has had in the past. Steven Wilson’s voice seems to be a love-or-hate-it case for many people. There is certainly a lesser emphasis on vocal melodies this time around, but his voice retains the same emotional depth I have come to expect. His overdubbed vocal harmonies are some of the best I’ve ever heard.

Although it’s certainly not the first time Wilson has done this, “The Raven That Refused To Sing” enjoys its status as a concept album. As the longform title implies, each of the songs here tells a different story, each about ghosts and an idealized notion of lost love. Of these, “The Holy Drinker” tells the most interesting story, about an alcoholic evangelist that plays a drinking game with Satan (spoiler: it doesn’t end well). This dark subject matter is reflected musically by a constant exchange between catchy vocal segments and dark heavy instrumentation. “The Pin Drop” is another interesting piece, distancing itself from the album’s lean towards longform instrumentation in favour of a more Porcupine Tree-esque song that seems to beg for ‘single’ status. Without a doubt however, the greatest piece on the album is the gut-wrenching title track and closing piece. “The Raven That Refused To Sing” (the song) is as haunting as Wilson’s music gets. An eerie, filmscore-sounding piano piece plays under pensive vocals and ghostly synths. By the end of the song, it has built itself up to a thunder that hits the heart in a place only the best sort of music can hope to reach. To make it better, a fantastic music video was made for it that fits its ghostly subject matter wonderfully- well worth checking out, if you ask me.


With the legendary Alan Parsons (whom you may know as the engineer for “Dark Side of the Moon”) coming onboard to help on the production side of things, it’s little surprise that “Raven…” is about as close tor recording perfection as one can get. Even during the album’s most harrowing moments, every instrument comes through in full dimension, and are balanced with a mix that gods might praise. Despite this refined sense of calibration, the album retains a warmth and organic appeal that echoes many of the very same artists Steven Wilson has been influenced by on the record. While the classics of progressive rock are present in spirit here (with King Crimson taking the front seat on most occasions), many passages on “The Raven That Refused To Sing” sound very much like Wilson is also paying tribute to some of the more contemporary progressive artists he loves. There are many times on the album- particularly on the fiery groove of “Luminol”- where Steven Wilson sounds as if he’s conjuring the style and scope of The Mars Volta. The lush title track begins as were it a Radiohead piece, but it eventually bursts into a life-affirming climax that instantly brings Anathema to mind. This mix of the old and new feels very natural given Wilson’s tastes, and though the homages are often noticeable, no one influence ever takes over completely. With this being said, “The Raven That Refused To Sing” is widely defined by this sense of ‘tribute’ to other artists. In the past, many of Steven Wilson’s bands and albums have had a staunch sense of personal identity and style. Here, Steven’s voice is as distinctive as ever, but the instrumentation lacks that uniqueness and personal style that first made him part of the prog rock elite. Don’t get me wrong; the music is excellent, but it keeps the album from having that life-altering ‘wow’ effect that struck me so much on “Grace for Drowning” and some of his Porcupine Tree albums.

Steven Wilson’s solo material has proven itself worthy to the point where I may be more excited for another album under his own name than something by his flagship band. Like Mikael Akerfeldt should have done when releasing “Heritage”, the distancing from the name and style Wilson is largely known for has opened up so many new doors. With “The Raven That Refused To Sing”, Steven has tried out something new and unexpected, fusing many of his favourite artists into something intelligent, classic and as musically proficient as a listener could hope for. Although it may not be the career-topping opus that “Grace for Drowning” turned out to be, this latest outing from Wilson doesn’t show any signs of the multi-instrumentalist showing down. As a lifelong fan of Wilson’s music, I can only hope for more of the same quality in the future.


1. Luminol (12.10)
2. Drive Home (7.37)
3. The Holy Drinker (10.13)
4. The Pin Drop (5.03)
5. The Watchmaker (11.43)
6. The Raven that Refused to Sing (7.57)


* Guthrie Govan – lead guitar
* Nick Beggs – bass guitar
* Marco Minnemann – drums
* Adam Holzman – keyboards
* Theo Travis – saxophone, flute
* Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, keyboards

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