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coverpic flag England - Luna Kafé - Full Moon 14 - 12/14/97

Porcupine Tree
Coma Divine

The mission of Porcupine Tree is, in the words of guitarist/vocalist Steven Wilson; "to drag progressive rock kicking and screaming into the nineties." On Coma Divine we can hear them taking this concept to a stage in Rome a few nights in March 1997, with outstanding results. On this live album you get selections mostly from the last two albums, The Sky Moves Sideways (1995) and Signify (1996), and one song each from On the Sunday of Life (1992) and Up the Downstair (1993). All delivered to an enthusiastic Italian audience.

Steven Wilson writes most of the material, which people often compare with Pink Floyd. When listening to the grand, melancholic songs of Porcupine Tree I can certainly see why people make that comparison, but I'm actualy reminded more of the ambient techno of the Orb and similar bands. There's also a bit of psychedelia involved, especially on the oldest songs. I think a lot of this comes from a combination of Wilson's echo-drenched guitar sounds and the spaced-out sounds of keyboard/synthesiser man Richard Barbieri.

The first thing that came to mind when I played this CD was that the sound is very high-tech for a live album. The sound is very crisp and crystal clear, every instrument can be heard clearly all the time. Which is a good thing, considering the amount of talent collected here. Wilson, along with Barbieri, Colin Edwin (bass) and Chris Maitland (drums, percussion, backing vocals) are all fine musicians. And by that I don't mean just their technical skills, but also the ability to focus on the songs. They know very well when to play and when to keep quiet.

The most obvious difference from the studio versions of the songs is the stretching out of the rhythm section. Particularly on Dislocated Day, where Steve Wilson plays all the instruments on the studio version. Live, Edwin and Maitland take the song to new heights applying creative use of dynamics and hyperactive drumming, making it a very different experience. There's also an extended version of Signify, in which they take the tune further to the left and flip it around. Suddenly it's a completely different thing. The band performs with a controlled enthusiasm throughout the album, occasionally going berserk before laying back again.

I should also mention the brilliant artwork for the cover. It's completely original, yet at the same time resembling the artwork for Signify.

If there's a negative side to this CD, it must be the phrase "additional recording" in the liner notes. I get really annoyed when bands start fixing their live recordings in the studio. It's a bit like cheating, isn't it? However, I can't imagine that they've had to fix much, they're all excellent musicians. I've yet to find out exactly what has been fixed, so it's not a big deal to me. All in all Coma Divine is a worthy addition to the collection of any lover of British prog.

(Special thanks to Patricia McLoughlin for sending me a copy of Coma Divine when the local record stores couldn't get it for me.)

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You may also want to check out our Porcupine Tree articles/reviews: Incident, Signify, Stupid Dream.

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