RETRO REVIEW: PORCUPINE TREE ‘In Absentia’

In the summer of 2003, I randomly purchased the Porcupine Tree album, “In Absentia” based solely on the cover. It was of half a face, close up and painted blue but aged and cracked with a hand pulling apart the eyelids grotesquely, the eye rolled completely back. Sounds pretty sweet, right? The cover satisfied my joy of all things “horror” and randomly buying an album just seemed like such a “cool” thing to do. Man was I going against the system! Plus, who the hell had heard of Porcupine Tree then?


“In Absentia” starts off with one of the heavier tracks of the album, “Blackest Eyes”. There are beautiful produced instruments, wonderful textures and great usage of musical space. Dynamically speaking, the song rolls from thick, distorted guitar tones to ambient acoustic passages. Very crisp production from the start makes the music a joy to listen to. But I’ll be honest, the first time I heard this track, I though, “meh…” and went to the next track, “Trains”.

I really do believe that I probably played this track about 20 times before I allowed myself to go to the next track. I was somewhat unhealthily obsessed with this track and made EVERYONE listen to it to appreciate the melodies and, especially, the vocal harmony breakdown before the 3/4 time bridge. When I finally went to track 3, “Lips of Ashes”, I decided to go through the rest of the album in one go. I felt slightly nervous that the rest of “In Absentia” couldn’t possibly match the beauty and uniqueness of “Trains”. There was no need to be nervous. This album was one hell of a journey, but worth every second I invested into it.

Later I would read online that there was a rumor going around that “In Absentia” is a concept album that revolves around the life of a serial killer. Singer/Guitarist/Songwriter Steven Wilson has neither confirmed or denied this, but rather has said that the lyrics are open to interpretation and people can take from them what they will.

With amazing production, songs that range from thick and heavy to mellow and ambient to heartbreakingly beautiful, “In Absentia” is not an album for casual listeners. However, if you’re willing to invest a little bit of effort to understand that not only is each song an individual piece but is rather part of a whole, you’ll be wholly satisfied with this