Storm Corrosion Review

At last Storm Corrosion is in my hands; it made a long journey, as the one that Steven Wilson and Mikael Ňkerfeldt undertook to complete this album, released in May 2012 by Roadrunner Records and long awaited by fans and insiders.
On the CD cover, painted by Hans Arnold, runs an extraordinary queue of red and black figures, realistic enough to look familiar but unreal enough to induce a subtle discomfort.
I start listening to the first track as I flip through the pages of the booklet, designed by well-known Carl Glover for Aleph (I own only the standard edition, but there are also a blu-ray+CD edition with seven extra tracks and a double-LP edition with exclusive artworks).

The opening of Drag Ropes is mellow and persuasive and, perhaps influenced by the domestic pictures of Steven and Mikael in the booklet, I start to recollect the traditional tales of my childhood, not mulled yet by the Disney factory. The suggestion increases when I catch some sounds that plunge me in the soundtrack of a Tim Burtonís film. As the initial sweetness disjoints in a multi-vocal litany, as haunting as a nursery rhyme, I watch again the expressive video of this song, black and bare as a nightmare. Meanwhile voices, guitars, keyboards and winds interweave in a tapestry with many ropes and returns, that rise and floats unpredictably to its bitter ending.
The next track, Storm Corrosion, has the most cryptic lyric of the album, thus the most evocative for me. The dreamy sadness of the flute and the guitar melts with Stevenís airy voice and brings me on a gray Atlantic beach, like in the artwork of The Sky Moves Sideways or Belle de Jour. The notes chase each others like the waves on a shoreline, slow and hypnotic, always the same and always different. Suddenly, sounds and scrapes from a 50ís sci-fi film burst on the scene, overtaking and smashing. The frame rips out and the anguish grows. Finally, the calmness comes back, but itís a thin shadow of its former self.
In Hag, Mikaelís voice gives body to a twisted song of love-hate, where a contained anger sinks from the rifts of a polite detachment, as keyboards and drums compose the inner landscape of a relationship ending.
Happy, despite the title, is the saddest song of the album and, at a first listening, the simplest. However, the nonverbal singing and the massive use of acoustic guitars walk far away from the trivial, and paint the same picture of Four Trees Down with elegant and gloomy lightness.
Lock Howl, the only instrumental track, marks a leap of the rhythm, well supported by the drums. Guitars and keyboards entwine and merge, condense in just one crystal tune, spread in hand claps, glide along slopes of winds, echo and shiver against invisible walls, up to the conclusion, as sudden as the slam of a door.
Ljudet Innan (in Swedish, ďbefore the noiseĒ) opens with Mikael modulating a tune that surprised (if not disconcerted) most of the fans of his former growling. Itís the beginning of a trip that, with many changes of moods and touching episodes, steals the thoughts. Iíve listened to this song many times, by now, but its ending always take me by surprise, as if the notes carry on through the silence.

Storm Corrosion, the ideal third element of the trilogy composed by HeritageĻ and Grace for drowning≤, push forward the boundary of free experimentation, eventually dissolving it.
Steven and Mikael gave themselves the freedom to drown in their deepest feelings and to draw from their visual and musical experiences without any prevention or prejudice, bolstered by their empathy, so unusual between occasional fellow workers.
The album builds up around two main elements: the guitars, which were Mikaelís task, according to the interviews, and the keyboards, Stevenís task; but it has so many and such composite sounds that itís impossible to list them all. By the way, the final effect is not a redundant saturation, but a steady stratification, like in a natural scenery watched by different point of views, in different seasons and with different moods. The accurate contribution of Gavin Harrison on drums, Ben Castle on woodwinds and Dave Stewart (already in Stevenís solo works) on musical arrangements are limited to whatís needed, never marginal and never superfluous.
The result is beyond any tag: at times extreme like contemporary classical music, at times simple like a folk ballad, the album is at the same time mellow, creepy, touching, disturbing, epic, sweet, twisted, alarming and comforting but Ė above all Ė never predictable. The listening requires great attention, it isnít a background music for everyday chores; but it gives you in return genuineness, depth and soulfulness.
My only regret is that live exhibitions of the duo arenít planned at present, because of Mikael and Stevenís full agenda; but Iím sure that a live concert would give another precious dimension to this work, already so complex and rich.

Review by Paola Macchiavello

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