I think I know Porcupine Tree´s career and for sure this is one of the few current bands that dares to experiment and explore new sounds and influences without losing attitude or personality. And this In Absentia proves what I said.
This band, that began in the early nineties as a solo project of the versatile Steve Wilson, has become in a solid line-up during all these years formed by Wilson: vocals, guitars, keyboards, etc.Colin Edwin: bass, Richard Barbieri: synthesizers and keyboards, and Chris Maitland on percussions. But in this latest effort Maitland has left the band due to personal reasons and Gavin Harrison (another master of the instrument) is the drummer in "In Absentia"
It´s amazing how Steve Wilson lets other styles influence him and how he assimilates them incorporating them into his music. He already announced us in the interview that was published in February that this new work would be different from the previous ones and that his bigger influence would be a stronger, dark music and heavy, and so has been, though not at all. Undoubtedly the last relationship of Wilson with black metal bands has been a source of inspiration in this album.
So those who aren´t into this band they´ll find a band constantly searching for new sounds and influences.
Steve Wilson doesn´t like that media label the band as a progressive rock band (I think he has a bad concept about the term “progressive” because he talks about the current prog scene, more retro than really progressive) and he tries to take that label off from the release of "The Sky Moves Sideways", but I think they are now more progressive than ever because they are constantly looking for new influences in new musical fields, without losing the essence and personality of the band.
If we analyze "In Absentia´s" content we´ll find out that this is a transition album that blends lots of different styles without focusing on any in particular. As I told before, the bigger influence here is metal music a la Opeth (band which two latest albums "Blackwater Park" and "Deliverance" have been produced by Wilson) or Messugah. This album is not completely metal but there are very extreme moments in some tracks blended with experimental pop (vocal harmonies included) and enigmatic and psychedelic fragments.. everything very well blended and dosed. In this sense "In Absentia" has more to do with "Signify" than with "Stupid Dream" and "Lightbulb Sun" (and this doesn´t mean that the band goes backwards), because they try to find a new path in the band´s style.
We´ll find in this album twelve songs with lengths between 4:15 and 7:56 minutes as "Lips of Ashes", "Gravity Eyelids", "Heartattack in a Layby", "Collapse the Light Into Earth" or "3" which have all the legendary melancholy and enigmatic aromas of the band. "Trains", "The Sound of Muzak" and "Prodigal" are influenced by the latest albums, and "Blackest Eyes", "Wedding Nails", "The Creator Has a Mastertape" and "Strip the Soul" are the most innovative tracks with strong doses of instrumental power, something really new in the band´s sound. This is, basically, what you´re going to find in this album, a great work with lots of variation but also very coherent, with great songs and sounds with the right dose of commerciality.
From my point of view, there are few “winks” and I would rather prefer a CD absolutely heavy (that should have given the style a new fresh air for sure), although perhaps they are keeping that change for the next album.