While prog champion Steven Wilson’s post-Porcupine Tree output has been a consistently dazzling array of treats – surpassing himself with 2015’s Hand.Cannot.Erase., which not only cleanly hit the bullseye but destroyed it completely – the shadow of his much-missed former band looms large.

Indeed, despite Wilson’s gentle rebuffing of the constant inquiries concerning another ‘Tree album or tour (which culminated in a slightly snide “Well, that band doesn’t exist anymore!” in a Facebook live Q&A), twenty years’ worth of beautiful prog-pop-rock-metal cannot be forgotten in a hurry.

Littering his solo shows with generous amounts of Porcupine Tree tracks soothes some of the enduring pain felt by those too late to sample the band in the first place (hello), but a growing consensus that there was something different about PT compared to Wilson’s solo work continues to gain ground – with, of course, full respect to the man to do whatever he damn well pleases (especially given the sheer strength of it).

With all this in mind, we revisit the muscular and brooding penultimate full-length Porcupine Tree album Fear of a Blank Planet. While difficult to sink your ear-teeth (eh?) into, and proving an unfriendly and even difficult listen to begin with, Fear of a Blank Planet rewards the inquisitive with stark, melodic beauty and invention.

The jumpy, restless title-track opener directly sets the tone and bleakness superbly, also providing the rest of the album not only with a non-more-direct entrance point but also possibly its only real chance of a single. That a radio-compatible song was intertwined with the rest of the album so seamlessly without standing out as an obvious piece of rock radio blowjobbery is excellent.

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It does, however, mark a stark contrast to the following slow meander of My Ashes, dragging the listener into its deep, dark proggy murk. But it is only when plumbing the depths of despair that the beauty of the music can truly be appreciated – needless to say, this isn’t quite the album you’d have as a sunny day soundtrack, rather a device for sucking out your depression through the ears.

The monstrous Anesthetize follows, the album’s mountainous peak and possibly Porcupine Tree’s crowning glory. While the album would still be a mesmerising collection without its centrepiece, the fearsome Anesthetize brings seventeen minutes of progceptual darkness, seamlessly encompassing the album’s lyrical themes with inspired metal riffery, none-more-bleak soundscapes and a gorgeous outro. Once fully under the skin, Anesthetize can – along with the rest of the album – absolutely fly by in the ear of the listener, with no heed paid to running times nor patience stretched, such is the musical craftsmanship and ability to toss off lengthy pieces due to having so many ideas to knit together, rather than aiming for length for its own sake.

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Sentimental and Way Out of Here continue in this vein of beautifully melancholic bleakness, with the latter packing despairing punch and lifting from mere sadness to screaming frustration. Lesser acts could end up sounding like some ludicrous depressed teen angst cobblers, but Steven Wilson’s lyrics never quite overstep the mark, eliciting pathos and always delivered in his sincere, nasal, wonderfully unremarkable whine.

Almost completing a subtly ranged palette of different shades of negativity, the band distorts their guitars again for the lumbering, insidious, disturbing Sleep Together. Reaching its slow-stomping climax with groaning orchestral strings, it rounds off a milestone in Porcupine Tree’s career and one of their most focused works. In creating a dark, dark space for itself separate from the rest of the band’s glittering back catalogue and solely occupying it, Fear of a Blank Planet stands tall as one of their much less accessible works but possibly their most rewarding.

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