Steven Wilson is definetely one of the most talented and hard-working musicians of our age, and I don't think can anybody argue with that.
Speaking for myself, I'm a fan of Porcupine Tree since the '90's, owning about 10 studio albums + a few Ep's in my collection. Furthermore, I have 3 albums from Blackfield, 1 from No-Man, and 3 of Steven Wilson's solo works.(In vinyls cd's and MP3's)
I included 'The Raven that refused to sing' in my list with the best albums of 2013, but I never thought of it as a 'masterpiece'.
Knowing these facts, it's up to you to continue reading this post or stop right here.
Having the really big sucess of 'The Raven' on his shoulders, Steven Wilson had 2 options for his next album: To continue in the same style and record one more sucesfull and well appreciated album in the Prog circles, or try something different.
He chose the second option.
Hand.Cannot.Erase is a very different album in comparison with 'The Raven' in almost every aspect. Starting from the cover, continung with the lyrics, and of finaly musically.
I will not make any comment for the cover (which I didn't like), but that's the least important. The important is what is hiding on the inside, right?
Let's take a look at the lyrics: In 'The Raven' the lyrics were mostly metaphysical stories, horror tales, and in general there was a dark and gloomy background. This new album was "build" around the true and very sad story of Joyce Carrol Vincent, who lived a lonely life, and when she died her body was discovered after 2 years. (You can wiki her name and read about her life, which I recommend you to do). In that sense you can say that 'Hand.cannot.Erase' is a concept album.
And now let's take a look at the music: 'Hand' has a very different and more "fresh" sound in comparison with the previous album. The compositions are more melodic and simpler ones, and in many ocassions the guitar is been replaced by synthesizers. (As the main instrument).
'The Raven that refused to sing' was a classic modern Progressive Rock album, but I wouldn't say the same for 'Hand.Cannot.Erase'. This album has a "lighter" approach to Progressive Rock, and in some ocassions is even "flirting" with Pop. But the fans of Progressive Rock shouldn't be afraid, and they should keep their faith in Steven Wilson. Why? Because the album includes some breathtaking Prog moments, on which the performance of the extremely skilled and talented musicians is setting once more very high standards. Fine examples are the songs '3 years older' (one of the best songs here), 'Regret #9' and of course 'Ancestral'. (Without a doubt the best Prog song by far in this album).
One very interesting fact is the addition of female vocals (in some songs) which must be a surprise to all those who are familiar with the works of Steven Wilson.
I will conclude this article by saying that if someone ask me the question; "is 'Hand.Cannot.Erase' better that 'The Raven?", the easy answer would be 'No'. But that would be very unfair, because these two albums are different in almost everything. Surely the standards of 'The Raven' are very difficult to be repeated, but what we have here is a true & tragic human story, "dressed" with beautiful music, and some Prog explosions which are impossible to be ignored.