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Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson says high-gain metal guitars don't sound heavy anymore

Steven Wilson
(Image credit: Angel Manzano/Redferns)

Frontman of English rock outfit Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson is a musician who pushes the boundaries and challenges the status quo, and he’s not afraid of ruffling feathers with his comments.

Last month, for example, he took aim at the practice of electric guitar shredding, likening it more to “sport” than music.

“It’s like – the best analogy I can give is, if we’re talking now, if we’re trying to communicate through language, and I would say everything to you at 100 miles an hour, I would just gavel the words out without putting any emphasis, or emotion, or feeling, or enunciation as I’m doing now,” he told Hack Music Theory.

“That’s not communication, and I feel the same with guitar shredders. It’s very impressive, but it doesn’t communicate anything to me that I would really feel there [points to chest].”

And now, Wilson has criticized the widespread use of heavily overdriven guitars in metal music, saying the fact they are always resorted to has led to a dilution in their impact and heaviness.

“Particularly with heavy guitars, it’s become such a trope, you know, to use that sound, that it actually no longer even sounds heavy anymore,” he says. “It’s almost like the equivalent of using a string pad. That guitar sound has just become part of the texture of the music.

“One of the other things I’ve found really interesting is to take a really heavy riff – something that you would traditionally perhaps play on a really overdriven metal sound – but to play it on a very clean Fender Telecaster sound, which is again something I did a lot on this record.

“So for example the main riff on Rats Return – which is almost like a traditional polyrhythmic metal riff – but it’s all played on a Telecaster with an almost clean tone. And it sounds, to me, heavier, than if I’d played it with a whole bunch of overdrive.”

He continues: “So it’s the combination of me playing bass in my way with a very trebly sound, and very melodic approach, and these very clean Telecaster guitars, and suddenly it seems heavier than it would have been if I’d actually tracked up a whole bunch of metal guitars.”

Porcupine Tree's latest album, Closure/Continuation, arrived June 24 via Music For Nations/Megaforce Records. Its tracklist includes, alongside Rats Return, Harridan, which is characterized by an eclectic smorgasbord of cavernous acoustic guitar strums and angsty overdriven lead stabs, and the deceptively complex Of the New Day.

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Sam is a Staff Writer at Guitar World, also creating content for Total Guitar, Guitarist and Guitar Player. He has well over 15 years of guitar playing under his belt, as well as a degree in Music Technology (Mixing and Mastering). He's a metalhead through and through, but has a thorough appreciation for all genres of music. In his spare time, Sam creates point-of-view guitar lesson videos on YouTube under the name Sightline Guitar (opens in new tab).