2015 is over and now I continue to unearth all these hidden gems that somehow went missing last year. And I am unhappy to say that I really missed that one.
Hand. Cannot. Erase. from Progressive Rock adept Steven Wilson is a very special piece of work. It comes – at least in parts – across kind of similar in the djent heavy style of the latest Leprous record The Congregation, grungily mixing some Strawbs-ish elements into its tune. In fact, you will find a lot of early progressive hooks on this disc. All the more endearing, as they don’t make ’em quite like this anymore these days. And I am doubly amazed, ’cause its predecessor from 2013 The Raven That Refused to Sing left me strangely indifferent, even if technically extremely well done.
In truth, I was not very confident that Steven Wilson would come out with a creation topping it the notch. After the successes with Porcupine Tree and his other endeavors, there clearly was some sort of a stagnation. Even if he reportedly concentrated on his solo career for now. And pretty much dropped Porcupine Tree from its pedestal – at least for now. To my surprise, he just came back with a vengeance in 2015. The solo career he embarked on seems to become him. Hand. Cannot. Erase. is the fourth solo album.
This here bag of wonders is based on the story of Joyce Carol Vincent growing up safely at first, but getting somewhat lost at sea after the death of her mother at 11 years of age. She made it to adulthood just fine, but then later moved to a big city. This is where she somehow cut all connections with friends and family, supposedly due to domestic abuse later. Joyce died around 2001 due to health problems in her bedsit. Her remains were found three years later in that same apartment. Steven Wilson took that sad, sad story as the theme for Hand. Cannot. Erase.
The album hit the UK Rock and Independent Album charts both at #1. Not quite surprisingly with Steven Wilson hailing from the rainy isles. It was quite well received all over Europe and got a laudable rank 39 in the US Billboard 200. I was quite amazed that the US ranking wasn’t much better, but then this is not your usual Big Mac with Fries. It is something approaching French Cuisine.
You know, Hand. Cannot. Erase. really has a late ’70s, early ’80s flavor, reminiscent of the times of Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes and Magna Charta. What really struck me is the upbeat note at the beginning of the record, then getting darker, more psychedelic as it moves forward. Then ending with a cheerful, but at the same time strangely sad note. Now understanding the theme, it is clear why they structured the disc that way. It is the hallmark of stellar musicianship to portray a tune in that way.
Another remarkable feature of this are the lyrics. More often than not, the words in Rock and Metal are really indifferent, but not here. The way Steven Wilson managed to match the words with the music is absolutely amazing. No cheese in sight anywhere. At all.
And indeed, the first three tracks on Hand. Cannot. Erase. ooze happiness! First Regret with a hopeful, even bashful air. Then followed by some questioning in 3 Years Older. Hand. Cannot. Erase. (the title song) and Perfect Life still play on a pretty upbeat note, whereas the latter veers downwards fast. Then starts Routine in all its sad splendor and it always leaves me somewhat depressed.
The video for Routine sponsored by Kscope is superb by the way. And yes, I know that it was actually released for 4 1/2 (the EP in 2016 – containing a selection of songs of the last two albums). But this one really permeates that perpetual sadness and essence that is so very prevalent in some parts of the record. And here the words match the music and again tie in perfectly with the video. It might not be fully aligned to the story line. But point is, folks, it catches the essence. Big time.
From then on the music grows more and more disturbing. Home Evasion projects some sort of unease, definitely away from the sad tune of its predecessor. This one contains one of rare solos and a very good one to boot. Regret #9 has got all the trappings of something straight out of Pink Floyd. This is not a bad thing, the song is superb in itself. Now, the solo of Guthrie Govan on this track just sends shivers down my spine – the cherry on the icing of this Pink-ish cake.
From there on the mood goes downhill fast, culminating in a quite disturbing Ancestral – some 13 1/2 minutes of that. I am disturbed. Mind you, it is not the quality of the music declining, it is the overall mood of the tracks. The album ends in style with Happy Returns, kind of on an upbeat note, leaving you sadly out of joint at the end nevertheless. But that one is really good, seamlessly followed by the outro Ascendant Here on…
To enjoy Hand. Cannot. Erase. you need to sit down in your easy chair and relax, close your eyes and let the music sink it. It is for sure not your usual piece of thumping metal, ready to be devoured and enjoyed. It will ask for a piece of your soul first, only then it will deliver.
Frankly, this time Steven Wilson‘s tune really got my attention straight from the start. And it is an amazing production: The crystal clear and crisp style used to structure and produce the tracks, perfectly aligned to the theme and overall mood of the record is mind-boggling.
Although sometimes the album portrays a feeling of sadness that almost has a physical impact on ye – if you choose to immerse yourself, that is. Hand. Cannot. Erase. is a very juicy piece of Progressive Rock and you should own a copy. Definitely.