In Absentia

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In Absentia

Cover art by Lasse Hoile
Studio album by Porcupine Tree
Released 24 September 2002 (2002-09-24)
Recorded Avatar Studios,[1] New York
March 2002-April 2002
Genre Progressive rock,[2] progressive metal[3]
Length 68:20
Label Lava
Producer Steven Wilson
Porcupine Tree chronology
Lightbulb Sun
(2000)
In Absentia
(2002)
Deadwing
(2005)

In Absentia is the seventh studio album by British progressive rock band Porcupine Tree, first released on 24 September 2002. The album marked several changes for the band, with it being the first with new drummer Gavin Harrison and the first to move into a more heavy metal and progressive metal direction, contrary to past albums' psychedelic and pop rock sounds. Additionally, it was their first release on a major record label, Lava Records. It was very well received critically and commercially, with it often being considered the band's crowning achievement, and selling over triple what any of the band's prior albums had in the past.

Background[edit]

Writing and recording[edit]

In the band's earlier years, while under Delerium Records, the band's music typically possessed more extended and abstract qualities typically associated to psychedelic rock and space rock[4][5] The band shifted their sound in the late 1990s when signing to Kscope/Snapper Record labels, to a more commercial, radio friendly sound that entailed shorter compositions and traditional song structures, while retaining progressive rock qualities as well.[5][6][7] However, by around 2001, they had again outgrown a smaller record label, and after changing labels again to Lava Records, decided to move in a more progressive metal direction.[8] The band had originally opposed to major record labels, believing that most labels didn't "get" the band, and their emphasis on albums over singles, approach in this era of music.[9] However, they chose Lava because they appeared to support this philosophy, Wilson attributing this due to other bands, namely Tool and Radiohead, achieving success with the same mindset.[9]

A number of other factors affected the change in sound beyond the change in record label. Many were key personnel changes and relationships. Most prominently was frontman Steven Wilson's meeting of Mikael Åkerfeldt from the Swedish metal band Opeth, which occurred when the two were separately interviewed by an interviewer who had interviewed both of them.[10] Impressed with their music, Wilson eventually agreed to produce the next Opeth album, Blackwater Park,[11] which inspired Wilson to move Porcupine Tree in a more metal direction as well.[12]

Another factor in the change of the band's sound was due to Wilson's meeting of Israeli rock singer Aviv Geffen. The two met when Geffen, a fan of Wilson's music, invited Porcupine Tree on a tour in 2000 in support of the band's previous album, Lightbulb Sun.[13] Touring together lead to a separate musical collaboration named Blackfield. Geffen, not being a fan of metal music, kept that project in more of a pop rock genre, sounding more like prior Porcupine Tree albums Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun.[14][15] This gave Wilson an outlet for that side of his music, allowing him to concentrate on more metal sounds with Porcupine Tree without abandoning the prior genre altogether either.[14] Rounding out the changes was the departure of drummer Chris Maitland, with the replacement being Gavin Harrison, who joined in early 2002. Maitland was unable to make a larger commitment with being signed to a major record label, and the band found Harrison's style more fitting to a more metal-sounding album.[16][17] Wilson summarized the band's changes at the time as:

In Absentia was all written before Gavin came on; even the drum parts were kind of programmed. But it’s one of those times sometimes in life when everything comes together. I’d written these songs and I was very much more interested at that time—having worked with Opeth—in the idea of combining a more kind of brutal or metal aspect back again into the fabric of the music. At the same time Gavin came along and Gavin was a very different drummer to our previous drummer, Chris Maitland. He was much more of a powerhouse and he was much more technical. He had more of a contemporary edge to his sound so it was just one of those really lucky things that he just came in and he played those songs and just blew everyone away and everything just kind of came together. And of course it was the first record we made for our new label and we got signed to a big American label for the first time [Lava Records]. Gavin was the final piece of that equation in a way—he just totally raised the bar in terms of not just the drumming but just the musicianship right throughout the band. Everyone was listening to Gavin and saying, “Fuck, wow. We really need to step up our game.”[5]

Concept[edit]

While not a formal concept album, many of the songs still have common themes related to serial killers, youthful innocence gone wrong, and criticisms of the modern world.[18] The album's title is also ties into this, with the phrase being Latin for "in absence"[19] or "in one's absence", often in reference to a person's rights when mentally unable to be represented in court in legal situations.[20] Wilson said of the title:

"It comes from…it's related to some of lyrics. It's about people on the fringes, on the edges of humanity and society. I have an interest in serial killers, child molesters and wife beaters…not in what they did but in the psychology of why, what caused them to become unhinged and twisted? Why are they unable to empathize? It's [In Absentia] sort of a metaphor - there's something missing, a black hole, a cancer in their soul. It's an absence in the soul."[21]

Release and promotion[edit]

The album was released on 24 September 2002. A few weeks prior to the album's release, a sampler containing "Blackest Eyes" and shortened versions of "Trains" and "Strip the Soul" was released.[22] The opening track, "Blackest Eyes", was picked up for airplay by major rock radio stations, but the song was not officially released as a single, nor did it chart.[9] The band toured in support of the album with the band Yes.[17] This is something Wilson would later regret doing, stating that the audiences of the two band's were too different, stating " the problem was that most of the people who came to see Yes had stopped caring about new music many years before and were really there just to hear their favourite Yes oldies."[17] The band would later do a second tour in support of the album with Opeth as well.[23] During this tour, in July and August 2003, the band released the Futile EP, which included songs recorded during the In Absentia recording sessions.[23]

Reception and sales[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars[24]
PopMatters (favourable)[25]
Rolling Stone 3/5 stars [26]
Sea of Tranquility.org 5/5 stars [27]

Reception for the album has been positive. It was Metal Storm's number 2 of the Top 20 albums of 2002[28] and number 46 on the Top 200 albums of all time.[29] Allmusic strongly praised the album, stating that overall, the album "...has the most immediate appeal of anything Wilson has released under this moniker up to this point. By keeping the songs at manageable lengths and avoiding the avant-garde electronica flourishes of the band's early days, Porcupine Tree has grown into a fully realized pop group without cutting any of the elements that also make them an important force in the neo-prog movement.[30] PopMatters similarly praised it, calling it "...an impressive album that drips with [King] Crimson’s progressive rock influence. But what sets this album apart is that Steven Wilson, the band’s frontman who wrote the songs and produced the album, was clearly set upon constructing intelligent popular music.[2]

In a 2009 interview, Wilson acknowledged that both he and his general fanbase have come to view the album as the crowning achievement and best album of his career so far.[3]

The album has sold over 100,000 copies worldwide,[17] which was stated to be over three times as much as any of their prior albums at that point.[9] The album sold 45,000 copies in the United States alone, compared to the 2,000 copy range of prior albums.[9]

Track listing[edit]

Original release
All songs written by Steven Wilson except as indicated.
No. Title Music Length
1. "Blackest Eyes"   Steven Wilson 4:23
2. "Trains"   Wilson 5:56
3. "Lips of Ashes"   Wilson 4:39
4. "The Sound of Muzak"   Wilson 4:59
5. "Gravity Eyelids"   Wilson 7:56
6. "Wedding Nails"   Richard Barbieri, Wilson 6:33
7. "Prodigal"   Wilson 5:32
8. ".3"   Wilson 5:25
9. "The Creator Has a Mastertape"   Wilson 5:21
10. "Heartattack in a Lay-by"   Wilson 4:15
11. "Strip the Soul"   Colin Edwin, Wilson 7:21
12. "Collapse the Light Into Earth"   Wilson 5:54
Total length:
68:14
European special edition
Released on 27 January 2003, it contains a bonus disc with three extra tracks.
No. Title Music Length
1. "Drown with Me"   Wilson 5:21
2. "Chloroform"   Chris Maitland, Wilson 7:14
3. "Strip the Soul" (Video edit) Edwin, Wilson 3:35
DVD-A release

Released in March 2004, the album was re-released on the DVD-A format, featuring the original album, the two special edition songs recorded during the sessions, ("Drown with Me" and "Chloroform"), and an additional song ("Futile"), all remixed in 5.1 surround sound, and the music videos for "Strip the Soul", "Blackest Eyes", and "Wedding Nails".[17]

Personnel[edit]

Band
Other
  • Aviv Geffenbacking vocals (on "The Sound of Muzak" and "Prodigal")
  • John Wesley – backing vocals (on "Blackest Eyes", "The Sound of Muzak", and "Prodigal"), additional guitar (on "Blackest Eyes")
  • Arranged by Porcupine Tree
  • Produced by Steven Wilson
  • Engineered by Paul Northfield
  • Mixed by Mark O'Donoughue & Tim Palmer
  • Mastered by Andy VanDette

Chart positions[edit]

Chart Peak
Position
France[31] 143
Germany 64
US Top Heatseekers 35

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Porcupine Tree". Free Williamsburg. Retrieved 2008-04-13. 
  2. ^ a b http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/porcupinetree-inabsentia
  3. ^ a b http://www.noisecreep.com/2009/07/02/porcupine-trees-steven-wilson-thinks-the-incident-on-par-with/
  4. ^ Raggett, Ned (26 April 2001). "Porcupine Tree". AllMusic. Retrieved 8 July 2011. 
  5. ^ a b c http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/interviews/interviews/steven_wilson_porcupine_tree_was_gonna_be_a_one-off_thing.html
  6. ^ http://www.aural-innovations.com/issues/issue7/ptree03.html
  7. ^ http://www.musoscribe.com/blast_from_the_past/porcupine_tree_lightbulb_sun.shtml
  8. ^ http://www.alternative-zine.com/interviews/en/110
  9. ^ a b c d e http://www.innerviews.org/inner/ptree.html
  10. ^ VIDEO: OPETH'S MIKAEL ÅKERFELDT INTERVIEWED BY FACECULTURE. Roadrunner Records Official Website. http://www.roadrunnerrecords.com/news/Video-Opeths-Mikael-kerfeldt-Interviewed-By-FaceCulture-23888.aspx. Published 12/15/12. Retrieved 01/28/12.
  11. ^ http://www.dprp.net/specials/porcupinetree/index.html
  12. ^ http://legacy.roadrunnerrecords.com/blabbermouth.net/news.aspx?mode=Article&newsitemID=8193
  13. ^ http://www.starpulse.com/Music/Blackfield/Biography/
  14. ^ a b http://designermagazine.tripod.com/PorcupineTreeINT3.html
  15. ^ Blackfield Allmusic
  16. ^ http://www.drummerworld.com/drummers/Gavin_Harrison.html
  17. ^ a b c d e http://www.musicdish.com/mag/index.php3?id=9387
  18. ^ http://www.aural-innovations.com/issues/issue21/ptree09.html
  19. ^ http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/in%20absentia
  20. ^ http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/in+absentia
  21. ^ http://www.voxonline.com/alternative/porcupine_tree/
  22. ^ http://www.dprp.net/reviews/inabsentia.htm
  23. ^ a b Official Steven Wilson - The Complete Discography (8th Edition)
  24. ^ "allmusic ((( In Absentia > Overview )))". www.allmusic.com. Retrieved 2009-10-25. 
  25. ^ "Porcupine Tree: In Absentia< Reviews". www.popmatters.com. Retrieved 2009-10-25. 
  26. ^ Walters, Barry (2011). "Porcupine Tree: In Absentia : Music Reviews : Rolling Stone". web.archive.org. Retrieved 6 July 2011. 
  27. ^ Batmaz, Murat. "Porcupine Tree: In Absentia". 
  28. ^ Top 20 albums of 2002 - Metal Storm. Retrieved 2009-11-09.
  29. ^ Top 100 albums - Metal Storm. Retrieved 2009-11-09.
  30. ^ http://www.allmusic.com/album/in-absentia-r607566/review
  31. ^ "lescharts.com - Porcupine Tree - In Absentia". lescharts.com. Retrieved 2009-10-25.