If you're into grand-scale progressive rock and metal, you've no doubt heard the name Steven Wilson – one of the most talented musicians, songwriters and producers to emerge from the UK prog-rock domain. Known for creating dark, dreamlike soundscapes and transforming melancholy ballads into crushing, terrifying symphonies of thunderous metal riffs and apocalyptic synth passages – imagine a supercharged version of Pink Floyd and you're getting close – Wilson has worked closely with artists like Ian Anderson, Marillion and Opeth (his influence on their albums Blackwater Park, Damnation and Deliverance made them my personal favorites among Opeth's works), but his main outfit Porcupine Tree has risen up from humble experimental roots in the late '80s to become a world-renowned juggernaut of emotionally powerful and ominously heavy music.
The new double-CD live recording Octane Twisted represents the band at their absolute peak, both in terms of songwriting skills and overall energy. The dynamic range of their studio material is not only recaptured, but magnified by energy drawn from the audience, who are no doubt as emotionally moved by the music as I was when I first heard the single “Blackest Eyes,” a hauntingly sexy single from the 2002 album In Absentia. That song is not included on this album, but Octane's second half is still a solid overview of their career highlights, including excerpts from a flagship performance at London's historic Royal Albert Hall. The first disc is taken up entirely by a performance of their entire tenth studio album The Incident, recorded in 2009 at Chicago's Riviera Theater, with eight additional tracks on disc 2. The Special Edition comes bundled with a concert DVD containing the same Incident setlist from the Chicago show.
The Incident is a loose concept album of sorts, inspired by various tragic events ripped from the news headlines, and the ongoing repercussions of those tragedies, all told in first-person perspective. It's one of many dark themes Wilson has explored in his writing (for example, In Absentia was inspired by the motivations of the insane, including serial killers), so be prepared for a chilling and emotionally painful journey, since the album's story arc is played out in its entirety here. The songs on The Incident are intimately linked, so the live show plays out like a complex, moody rock opera, and it's tough to single out any individual song unless you're familiar with the studio version; but a definite highlight is the monumental “Drawing the Line” and the epic album centerpiece “Time Flies,” as well as the pensive coda "I Drive the Hearse,” which you can hear in the DVD excerpt below.
While not as emotionally searing as The Incident performance, disc 2 contains some of the band's heaviest hitters from previous albums, including "Hatesong,” "Stars Die,” "Dislocated Day” and "Arriving Somewhere But Not Here,” many of which are extended versions with extended instrumental passages. “Bonnie the Cat” is a track from The Incident's shorter second disc, but it's another strong entry, which was earlier turned into this creepy stop-motion video:
As captured on Octane Twisted, the live Porcupine Tree experience brings a new emotional dynamic to music that is already incredibly powerful, and in many ways expands the musical canvas that Wilson and company explore so boldly in their studio work. To get a little taste, check out this clip of the band performing the haunting piece "I Drive the Hearse," as seen on the companion DVD.