Porcupine Tree’s title Closing / Continuation reads like a prompt from a choose-your-own novel that the authors haven’t finished writing yet. The British prog-rock band’s eleventh studio album comes after more than a decade of silence, a hiatus during which founder and only constant member Steven Wilson recorded five solo records. Between these less and less prog albums and a stable side gig remixing classic albums, Wilson seemed pleased. But Porcupine Tree’s gravitational pull has brought it back into orbit, at least for now. “I really don’t know if this is a closure or the start of another continuing streak in the band’s career,” Wilson said. The Guardian in March. On Closing / Continuationthis uncertainty stems from a newfound sense of musical volatility, a welcome rejoinder to the boring, induced burnout of 2009 The Incident.
Wilson started Porcupine Tree in 1987 as something little more than a joke but considerably less than the wildly ambitious band it became. Hand-dubbed demo tapes with names like The Tarquin seaweed farm and Love, Death and Mussolini were cheeky satires of the stifling tradition of English progressive rock, but like Jethro Tull’s accidental classic Thick as a brick, they also used its shape. In 1996 Mean, Porcupine Tree had added keyboardist Richard Barbieri, bassist Colin Edwin and drummer Chris Maitland, and the presence of collaborators helped transform Wilson’s exploratory tracks into sharp rock songs. The group reshaped again when Wilson fell in love with Opeth’s Still life and entered into an alliance with their leader, Mikael Åkerfeldt. The Cowardly 2002s Trilogy In absentia2005 dead wingand 2007 fear of a virgin planet bears the hallmark of that friendship, augmenting the band’s tight schedule with crisp, metallic riffs. Future King Crimson drummer Gavin Harrison replaced Maitland behind the kit on these records, and his punchy but dexterous playing suited the heavier material well.
When Porcupine Tree left the stage at the Royal Albert Hall on October 14, 2010, Wilson knew it would be their last show for an indefinite period. Barbieri and Harrison, who then completed the basic trio of the group, had not been informed. “You can’t help but feel bitter and hurt,” Barbieri said. The Guardianand their reunion Closing / Continuation led to an overhaul of the band’s creative process. Despite recording their parts remotely, Wilson, Barbieri and Harrison worked together more closely than ever before. Of the seven songs on the standard edition of the album, only “Of the New Day” was written solely by Wilson – a stark contrast to the songwriting credits on all other Porcupine Tree records. The three musicians often seem to go through their decade of estrangement in real time, giving the songs a creeping, anxious tension.