I first heard about The Incident from a message posted on the Porcupine Tree website saying that the band had begun recording their new album. Along with some standalone tracks, it would include a brand new “35-minute song cycle” written by band frontman Steven Wilson. My first thought was, “What the hell is a song cycle?” I first got into Porcupine Tree back in 2003, after they had done a stint with Dream Theater, playing opening sets on the World Tourbulence Tour. All I had really heard about them was that they had opened for Dream Theater. Other than that, their album In Absentia was a complete blind buy. I had no idea what I was going to get. With my money, I’m stupid like that.
My impulsiveness paid off. The album was great, and Porcupine Tree has since become one of my favorite bands EVAR. But I digress… What is The Incident? In an interview with Roadrunner Records, Steven Wilson explained the concept behind the album…
There was a sign saying ‘POLICE – INCIDENT’ and everyone was slowing down to rubber neck to see what had happened… Afterwards, it struck me that ‘incident’ is a very detached word for something so destructive and traumatic for the people involved. And then I had the sensation that the spirit of someone that had died in the accident entered into my car and was sitting next to me. The irony of such a cold expression for such seismic events appealed to me, and I began to pick out other ‘incidents’ reported in the media and news. I wrote about the evacuation of teenage girls from a religious cult in Texas, a family terrorizing its neighbors, a body found floating in a river by some people on a fishing trip, and more. Each song is written in the first person and tries to humanize the detached media reportage.
That description really sets the mood for the album. It’s deep and complex. I have to liken it to Dream Theater’s Octavarium. It took a few spins before I could appreciate everything the band had done, and how each individual track contributed to the larger whole. It’s the same here. Fans of Steven Wilson (and Porcupine Tree by extension) will know that for the most part, they don’t really release records–they release concepts. A group of songs that, when taken together, will convey a certain meaning. In this way, The Incident marks a departure from albums like In Absentia and Deadwing, and a return to some of their earlier work, like Voyage 34.
Disc 1 doesn’t open as heavy as 2007’s Fear of a Blank Planet. After a short opener and the upbeat Blind House, we move quickly into the ambiance and low-key instrumental passages which make up a large portion of the album. The entire thing is anchored down by the 12-minute Time Flies, which moves the entire thing into slightly darker territory, before closing with I Drive the Hearse, which features some great harmonic passages–what Wilson really does best. My complaints are the same I had when Tool released 10,000 Days back in 2006. The band may have overdone it a bit with the ambient stuff. It’s all got its place, but too much of it can be overkill. Porcupine Tree doesn’t beat it into the ground like Tool did with their last release, but there are sections where you find yourself impatiently tapping your foot, waiting for meatier stuff to come along. Disc 2 features four extra tracks, described by one reviewer as leftovers from the first disc, stuff that just didn’t fit in. I don’t agree. They’re all pretty good and wouldn’t feel out of place on either Deadwing or Fear of a Blank Planet.
There’s going to be a large group of casual fans who probably won’t dig this album, but the hardcore folks will definitely have fun with it. Aside from a few missteps, Porcupine Tree has brought together a great mix of both the hard and the soft, heavy rhythms and soaring melodies–another worthy addition to their catalog.
You can preorder The Incident at amazon.com. The album will be released on September 15th.