Anyone who follows the progressive rock scene even a little bit will most likely have heard the names Steven Wilson and Mikael Åkerfeldt. The former is most well known for his brainchild Porcupine Tree, while the latter is the frontman of the notable Swedish prog metal outfit Opeth. Both groups have released ten studio albums over a two-decade period. Both have achieved outstanding success and critical acclaim in their respective fields. Both frequently cross the line between intense heavy riffs and delicate melodic passages. Yet they are two very distinct musical identities. Thus, it came as somewhat of a surprise and much of a thrill when it was announced that Wilson and Åkerfeldt would be collaborating on a brand new musical project known as Storm Corrosion.
The eponymous first album released by the newly formed duo in 2012 was not necessarily what we might have expected, though. In an interview back in 2010, Wilson stated “…we have this kind of passion [for] very experimental, obscure records, almost orchestral in their scope. And we wanted to make a record like that for a long time. It’s a long way from metal and it’s a long way from anything that, I think, Mikael has ever done…it’s actually a long way from anything I’ve done…The one thing we didn’t want to do is get together and do a prog metal supergroup, which would have been so easy to do – and kind of expected, in a way.”
So what exactly is this mysterious Storm Corrosion record, then? Well, to be honest it’s rather hard to describe (although listening to the embedded track “Drag Ropes” above will give you some idea). It’s eclectic, it’s minimalist at times, and it’s hauntingly beautiful…as well as just plain haunting in general. It’s definitely experimental progressive rock at its finest – but don’t let the term “experimental” lead you to believe that it’s a harshly abstract combination of songs. On the contrary, this album is an amazing voyage through the psyche of two of prog rock’s greatest minds. There is never a dull moment, but there is also never a transition that will knock you out of the meditative state that you’ll inevitably fall into it. On second thought, that’s a lie…there may be one or two surprises thrown in there, but that’s for you to find out!
If you are familiar with any of Steven Wilson’s solo work, then you will probably feel right at home with Storm Corrosion, although it is by no means rehashed material. It is easy to hear equal parts of Wilson and Åkerfeldt on this record, and they clearly work extremely well together. With two individuals with as much ego and creative stubbornness as them, it’s hard to imagine anything but a disaster resulting from such a collaboration, but through the ironic nature of the universe we are presented with easily one of the greatest albums of the year (no, but seriously).
I would say that the most entertaining (yet surprisingly accurate) description of the sound developed on this album would be the following statement from a reviewer on Prog Archives: “…much of the album has a folky feel to it, as if we were hearing Simon & Garfunkel’s evil counterparts.” It’s easy to hear the folk influence here; the instrumentation is generally kept very simple. It’s usually some combination of acoustic guitar, piano, vocals, and subtle electronic programming. Gavin Harrison of Porcupine Tree was called upon to contribute some minor drum tracks, but such elements are few and far between. What really sets this album apart, in my opinion, is the strong orchestral element that quickly becomes prevalent. There’s everything from stunningly gorgeous string arrangements on “Ljudet Innan” to eclectic woodwinds passages on “Drag Ropes.” Crisp, clear bell sounds accent the piano at times, while the flute takes the melody in the beginning of “Storm Corrosion” (from the album Storm Corrosion, by the band Storm Corrosion…that’s a lot of Storm Corrosion!). Electric guitar comes in briefly towards the end of “Hag,” but then quickly fades away.
Let’s not forget to mention the production quality on this album either. Hint: it’s a work of perfection. Steven Wilson has made a name for himself as an extraordinary producer. Aside from producing three of Opeth’s records (Blackwater Park, Deliverance, and Damnation), he was also responsible for remastering a large collection of some of progressive rock’s most classic albums, including Red and In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson, Aqualung and Thick As a Brick by Jethro Tull, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Tarkus by Emerson, Lake & Palmer. He produced Storm Corrosion together with Åkerfeldt, and their collective skill level really shines through in the mix. Each and every element stands out as clear as day while remaining in perfect balance with the rest of the instrumentation. As if this project didn’t already have enough going for it.
If you start this album expecting an epic progressive rock masterpiece, then you’ll certainly get it, but probably not in the way you assumed. Storm Corrosion is definitely not an album for casual, “quick fix” sort of listening – not that we should expect it to be. It is the work of two musicians who shared a common goal of creating something that had never been tackled before, and it stands as an exemplary testament to their maturity and creative genius. Regardless of whether or not you’re into the whole “prog” thing, the 47 minutes that it will take to listen to this creation is absolutely time well spent.