Steven Wilson never does things by halves. And Grace For Drowning is no exception. With this being one of my most anticipated releases this year (along with Opeth's Heritage) I was hoping that it wouldn't disappoint, and I can happily say that it doesn't.
Broken up into two discrete albums, Grace for Drowning starts with the beautifully mellow title track which leads into the thumping instrumental Sectarian. It's a driving, energetic piece which shows it's roots in seventies Prog and also alludes to the more jazzier sections which will appear on the album later on. Sectarians leads into the 'title track' of the first album, which is Deform to Form a Star. Now this to me embodies everything that Steven Wilson is all about. A beautiful ballad, incredibly well constructed and performed. Lush harmonies make up the sublime chorus, and to me, one of the best songs on the entire record (sorry, showing my age there). No Part of Me is up next, and this feels a lot more laid back - a light and airy track laid on a bed of soft electronica which leads into a heavier closing section. If anything, this track highlights the level of diversity which appears on the album as a whole - it would be impossible to label this album, or to pigeon-hole it into any one category, as there are bits of everything in here - and that is a good thing believe me. As the glitchy electronica fades, the soft piano of Postcard kicks in - and again, another one of Wilson's masterstrokes. An impossibly sad song, which climaxes in strings and choirs - magical stuff. Raider Prelude is exactly what it says, a short instrumental piece which prepares the listener for the second album's centrepiece. A short number, but it doesn't need to much more than it is. The final track on "Deform" is Remainder the Black Dog - an unusually titled piece which drifts from Jazz to Rock and back again. This track feels darker than the rest and is a good closer, as it paves the way for disc two.
Like Dust I have Cleared from my Eye is the second disc of the album and opens with Belle De Jour, a pretty little instrumental which lightens the mood a little after the closing strains of Remainder, but the mood isn't lightened for long, as the listener is then taken into the dark side of Wilson's imagination with Index - a dark and brooding piece where Fender Rhodes and electronic beats are the foundation for some of Wilson's darkest words - this track swings from minimalistic to frenetic and the ending could be described as epic as it builds into a crescendo of strings and electronica. Immediately crashing down from Index, the listener is taken into the quiet Track One, which has a few twists and turns of it's own to offer. The opening notes of Raider II really set the scene - this is the centrepiece of the entire record, clocking in at over 23 minutes. This track has everything - dark and mysterious, wild, rocky, jazzy, slow, epic, electronic - all under one roof - it really is a special piece of music. If there was one track to showcase the wonderful musicianship which went into making this album, this would be it. Absolutely wonderful. The second disc closes with it's title track which is a melancholy ballad set over electric guitar, and fades out to the tones of a hammond organ.
This is wonderful listening experience. The whole offering takes the listener on a wild ride of ups and downs, and is everything that you would expect, and probably lots that you wouldn't expect from a Steven Wilson project. This is not Porcupine Tree, it's not Blackfield or No-Man - but you can hear their influences - this is Steven Wilson doing exactly what he wants without the constraints of anyone else, and the result is incredible. Buy it now, you won't be disappointed.