Porcupine Tree
Octane Twisted

Porcupine Tree’s affiliation with the larger metal community largely dates back to Steven Wilson’s acclaimed production credits on several of Opeth’s albums; most notably Blackwater Park.  Of course many metalheads would have already had the highly rated British prog-rockers on their radar but it was evidently the buzz from Wilson’s outstanding production and guest spots with Opeth, not to mention Mikael Akerfeldt’s relentless praise of the greatness of Porcupine Tree that encouraged many listeners on the heavier end of the spectrum to discover the band.  The dark beauty and song-writing brilliance of 2002’s In Absentia would have served as the introduction for many metal fans and it didn’t hurt that their post-Lightbulb Sunalbums were decidedly heavier and tinged with a metallic sheen.  Subsequent albums have kept the bar raised high until Wilson shelved his long-time main project to focus on his budding solo career, effectively putting Porcupine Tree on an indefinite hiatus.  And ever since gracing our ears with 2009’s The incident Wilson has continued to flesh out a successful solo career as well as recording albums with Blackfield and the somewhat underwhelming collaboration with Akerfeldt on the Storm Corrosion album.

Octane Twisted is a lavish 2-disc set (with DVD also available) that documents the band playing their most recent album, The Incident, in its entirety at the Riveria Theatre in Chicago on April 30th, 2010.  The second disc features a handful of cuts from their catalogue performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London and at the Riveria Theatre.  Playing albums in their entirety has been a continuing trend for bands across many genres, but usually it relates to a particular landmark release or significant anniversary, so the choice of The Incident may be perplexing for some fans.   Not to suggest The Incident fell short of the band’s consistent high standards but it is arguably their weakest effort of the past decade, which begs the question why not choose Deadwing or In Absentia from their recent era for this sort of one album live treatment,or for that matter Lightbulb Sun, which was around 10 years old at the time?  Of course this question will likely yield different answers from individual fans and it largely comes down to personal preference.  And to be fair they were touring in support of the album so it makes logical sense, but hopefully they present a similar treatment of some of their bona-fide classics in years to come.  The freshness of The Incident does make Octane Twisted a nice companion piece to the studio recording and it’s a cool idea to connect the audience cohesively to a particular album in the live setting.

Personal gripes aside and on to the recording itself… The songs on the 2-discs of Octane Twistedare cleanly and crisply recorded, with the whole band in fine form.  Wilson’s vocals sound positively clear and inspired, while the complex drumming of Gavin Harrison is highlighted by punchy, organic tones. The overall volume could have been raised a tad and the heavier guitar parts could have a bit more presence, but otherwise it’s tidily produced.  There is minimal banter between songs (a good thing on disc) and the crowd noise is surprisingly low.  This could be perceived as a good thing, as overly noisy crowds can be distracting on disc, but there are times where a subtletouch of extra crowd audio could give the songs more warmth, providing the listener with a greater sense of the live energy and atmosphere of the performance.   Otherwise the sound engineers have done a great job and the whole package has been well presented onto disc.

Live albums are often difficult to nail but what is clear throughout Octane Twisted is that Porcupine Tree are incredibly tight and accomplished in a live setting and their long-term chemistry shines through.  That said, making emotional connections that flows organically between band and audience in a quality live show, is much more difficult to translate onto disc, and this is perhaps where Octane Twisted falls short.  It just doesn’t have that warm, intimate ‘feel’ that would naturally translate if you were in the audience from one of these shows (and evident on any truly great live album).   And maybe this explains the simultaneously engaging yet slightly empty vibe of the material, which is especially noticeable considering the emotional depth and power of Porcupine Tree’s music.  Not to say the band sounds tired or disconnected themselves, it just doesn’t translate as well emotionally as expected from a Porcupine Tree release.   Still, the quality of the song-writing and performances makes for a highly enjoyable, if slightly flawed live album.

The Incident portion of the setoffers no great surprises but the band find their groove quickly and the performances are all top-notch.  Highlights include the mesmerizing melodies and soft/loud dynamics of the “Blind House”; the superb title track; the grandiose epic, “Time Flies”; taut metallic crunch of “Circle of Manias” and the stellar musicianship on“Octane Twisted”.   The second disc will be a particular treat for many fans, featuring 7 tasty cuts stretching back into some of the earlier phases of their career.   Older tunes such as the dreamy sound-scapes of “Stars Die” and psychedelic musings of “Dislocated Day” are accompanied by a lengthy version of “Even Less” (from Stupid Dream) and live favourite “Hatesong”.  The excellent “Bonnie the Cat” from The Incident sessions is another highlight but the crowning effort is the 15-minutes of epic bliss as the beautiful “Russia On Ice” seamlessly morphs into “Anesthetize” from Fear of a Blank Planet.  The Deadwing classic, “Arriving Somewhere but not Here”, caps off the second disc in great style.  Overall the second disc really completes the package and lifts the quality of this live release a couple of notches.

Octane Twisted is a rock solid live album that will be a no-brainer purchase for long-time fans of the band, especially those that rank The Incident in the upper tier of Porcupine Tree’sextensive catalogue.  However, for all its stellar engineering and fine performancesit doesn’t quite deliver that knock-out blow.   Casual fans of the band who only own a small selection of their workwould be better advised to seek out some of their superb studio releases before shelling out the hard earned bucks for this one.   Yet for many of us this may be the only ‘new’ Porcupine Tree material we are graced with over the next couple of years; so delve in and share an insight and outsider-looking-in view into what it might be like to experience this great band in all their live glory.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Luke Saunders
January 3rd, 2013

Comments

  1. Commented by: gabaghoul

    this: “why not choose Deadwing or In Absentia from their recent era for this sort of one album live treatment,or for that matter Lightbulb Sun”

    you’re right, The Incident is their weakest effort in years. “Time Flies” was about the only terrific thing on there, and while I applaud the fragmentary structure and flow of the whole thing (it had a very Final Cut kinda feel), so much of it was unmemorable and dull.

    the second disc sounds excellent though, some great songs on there.


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