So, Steven WIlson has turned Angry Metal Guy into Sad Metal Guy:
My biggest complaint about Hand. Cannot. Erase. is the state of existential sadness that it leaves me in every time I listen to it. Even before I knew the story, the record oozed loss, sadness, and hurt deep enough that I would walk away with a knot in my stomach, but couldn’t keep myself from pressing play again as soon as I got the chance. With stellar musicianship, a truly masterful production job that balances a whole band, electronic sounds, and the London Session Orchestra to perfection, Hand. Cannot. Erase. demonstrates how Wilson is blossoming as a composer to complement his skill as a producer, and his vision really is beautiful.
The whole review is excellent and worth reading. Here is a sample of some important observations:
I see his rise as attributable almost entirely to the fact that he’s the most talented producer of his generation. Furthermore, he’s a man who appears to have become less willing to compromise on the records he produces, meaning that he has taken the right side in the Loudness War, and is using his power and status for good. The result is, of course, that the music he produces, mixes (or masters), remixes/remasters, and/or performs sound so good.
One of the things that differentiates Hand. Cannot. Erase. from The Raven that Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) is its tone. The production here is smooth and wet, without that trashy live sound that TRtRtS utilized. On H.C.E., there’s a heavy touch of reverb to soften the edges off, and as the record develops it gets more dreamy and distant. Early on, however, the use of what I will loosely call “electronica” on “First Regret” and “Perfect Life” is a reminder that Wilson isn’t in the business of making a ’70s prog rock cover band. This balance of the new and the old gives this record its unique flavor, while still allowing Wilson to quote at his leisure, drawing heavily from Floyd, Camel, Tull and the one I hear maybe the most in the balance between the bass, guitars and drums: Rush.