Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Pain Of Salvation album review by Matt Spall

Matt Spall offers a very personal review of prog band Pain of Salvation.--MMB
Artist: Pain Of Salvation
Album Title: In The Passing Light Of Day
Label: InsideOut Music
Release date: 13 January 2017
I suspect I’m not in a minority who include Pain of Salvation as one of their most important musical discoveries. Here is a band that have released easily some of the best progressive metal music ever written and any time they bring out new material, there is a buzz of excitement, an intake of breath and fevered anticipation.
If truth be told however, the Swedish quintet led by the irrepressible Daniel Gildenlöw, have given me much to deliberate over the years. I hold ‘The Perfect Element: Part 1’ and ‘Remedy Lane’ in the highest regard, with both of them featuring high up in my all-time albums list. But I am less enamoured with some of the output since. ‘Scarsick’ was interesting shall we say. But in particular, there’s the ‘Road Salt’ double which is very well written and passionately performed but which ultimately left me quite cold due to its overall approach and complete abandonment of anything even remotely heavy. I admire the band for trying something that their heart desired but it simply wasn’t for me.
And so, when I heard a rumour that Pain of Salvation might just return to their heavier roots with album number ten, I wasn’t sure I could believe it. Well, I should never have doubted the word of Daniel Gildenlöw, even if he did tell me directly during the press rounds for ‘Road Salt 1’ that he couldn’t see himself ever returning to metal. The result is ‘In The Passing Light of Day’ and it is rather magnificent.
Before tackling the music, I feel that the subject matter and lyrical content of ‘In The Passing Light Of Day’ needs to be fully explored. Pain of Salvation and founder Daniel Gildenlöw in particular have never shied away from confrontational issues be they inspired by personal experiences or otherwise. This record is no different as the catalyst has been Daniel’s own medical problems of late. And when I say ‘problems’, I am understating things drastically as he nearly died. As such, it is hardly a shock to note that ‘In The Passing Light Of Day’ is a dark and claustrophobic, gritty and raw record.
Under normal circumstances, this would be sufficient to make the album a challenge for listeners, even the absolute die-hards. However, for me, it has been even tougher as my last remaining grandmother sadly passed away mid-review. As you might imagine, this has added another dimension to an already powerful listening experience.
Two days ago, I sat by her bedside for the last time, holding her hand and chatting nonsense whilst life became ever more of a chore for her. It brought back painful memories as I did exactly the same with my only brother at a hospice bedside eight years ago as he left us to an aggressive form of cancer.
So when Daniel sings, ‘…you’re watching me slowly slip away, like the passing light of day…’ within the epic, closing title track, it resonates with me more than you could ever imagine. OK, he isn’t singing about an elderly lady coming to the end of her life or a brother being cruelly taken from his family in the prime of life, but the parallels are there and I take great meaning from his words. I even toyed with not reviewing this album for a short period as it became so difficult to listen to without breaking down. I wasn’t focusing on the album from a reviewers standpoint, I was feeling it, living it and using it selfishly to help me with my own grief.
I make no apologies for the sombre tone of the review thus far because I think that in many ways it reflects the oppressive darkness that cloaks much of the record. It isn’t a carefree, easy listen and it is more powerful and memorable because of it. I love the fact that Daniel feels able to open up through his music, just like I feel I can bare all when I write.
That being true, there is also a sense of positivity that runs through this album, like a delicate gossamer thread of hope, of light, of better things on the horizon. In many ways, this added ingredient just makes the album even more of an emotional rollercoaster for all concerned.
The previous quote then eventually leads to ‘…and although I wish that I could stay, it somehow strangely feels ok…it is what it is and I’ll find my way through the passing light…’ and the ultimate bittersweet line of ‘…I’m in too much pain to feel afraid…’ Not exactly cheerful, but with a touch of positivity and maybe even a oddly comforting insight into what both of my family members and indeed Daniel, must have felt in the midst of their ordeals.
The most powerful and emotive of lyrics will fall flat however, if the music that sits beside it, underneath it and within it is deficient. On that score, Pain of Salvation have no worries. In progressive music terms, I am still in the early days of digesting the music having only listened to it for three weeks but in that time I have listened to little else it has to be said. Is it their best work to date? That would be a big call to make at this stage but it certainly ranks highly in my estimations.
Given the subject matter, the return to heavier climes is a perfect fit, accenting the anger, despair, and frustration of the central themes very well. However, this isn’t a one-dimensional heavy album. It flows from all out bombast to sections of intelligent complexity to quieter more minimalist landscapes and back again as the mood of the tracks dictate. And what I really find intriguing and enjoy more than I thought is the fact that the band have not completely ditched the sounds and textures that were explored on the ‘Road Salt’ albums. As a result, there is a tangibly organic feel to much of the output; acoustic guitars and occasional nods to bluegrass can be heard amongst other things whilst the whole thing is wrapped up in a production courtesy of Daniel Bergstrand (Dugout Studio) that is far from over-polished, thus retaining a certain purity, honesty and rawness to proceedings. It works brilliantly, quite frankly.
What also works well is the way in which the music sounds fresh and vital but also isn’t afraid to borrow from the band’s past either. As well as the ‘Road Salt’ echoes, there are passages where I also hear elements of the ‘One Hour By The Concrete Lake’, ‘Remedy Lane’ and ‘Be’, the latter mainly through the way in which the songs are accompanied by sound samples to depict the hospital setting of the album, introducing songs, closing songs and indeed dissecting them, adding a sense of theatre in the process.
In fact, listen carefully enough and there are influences to be heard from all corners of the band’s rich history. It is a clever trick when the band itself is markedly different in 2017. ‘In The Passing Light of Day’ sees mainstay vocalist and guitarist Daniel Gildenlöw joined by drummer Léo Margarit, bassist/vocalist Gustaf Hielm, keyboardist/vocalist Daniel Karlsson and guitarist/vocalist Ragnar Zolberg in a line-up that has now been stable for the past four years. Regardless of their relatively new relationship under the Pain of Salvation banner, there’s no denying that together, they are a highly talented bunch of musicians.
The album begins with ‘On A Tuesday’ which wastes no time in laying down the heavier credentials of the album thanks to a thundering groovy riff backed up by an expressive bass line from Gustaf Hielm and dominant drumming courtesy of Léo Margarit. The heaviness gives way to Daniel’s narration that is a recurring theme throughout the album, adding that important personal dimension. The chorus of sorts that explodes is a thing of real quality, which then returns at various points within the 10-minute track.
Ragnar’s higher-pitched, almost feminine sounding vocals make their first appearance atop a gorgeous piano melody from Daniel Karlsson accented by orchestral embellishments. Much has been made of Zolberg’s voice but I have to say that I really like them and find that they add something very valuable to the overall sound of the music.
The track ebbs and flows tremendously, returning to an all-out tumultuous metal attack full of urgency before falling away to allow a lone piano before the striking melody is built on with sampled, electronic effects that introduce a sinister edge. It builds and builds to a heady, oppressive crescendo from which there is no escape.
‘Tongue of God’ follows, starting quietly in stark contrast to what went before. The bass of Hielm is again a focal point for my ears before the heaviness is reintroduced via a commanding riff. The echoes of the early days are writ large across this composition thanks to the overt power and sense of anger that pervades.
By now, anyone worth their salt will have heard the lead single ‘Meaningless’ and seen the dark and provocative video to accompany it. I adore this track to the point where I’m borderline obsessed by it. From the intriguing, odd-sounding opening melody to the quirky, slightly tribal-sounding bass and drum-led verses to the all-out power and melody of the insanely catchy chorus, not to mention the emotive lyrics, this has class written all over it. The word ‘anthemic’ is over-used at times, but by hell it’s deserved here.
By contrast, ‘Silent Gold’ is a stripped down, organic piece of music where the piano and vocals of Daniel take centre stage almost exclusively at least for the first half. This is where the ‘Road Salt’ influences reveal themselves most clearly but in the context of what surrounds it, it’s a really delicate and lovely composition with real character. There’s a similar vibe to ‘If This Is The End’, complete with more slide guitar, albeit it is blended with starkly juxtaposing segments of heavy material to create a real Jekyll and Hyde piece in many ways.
‘Full Throttle Tribe’ opens with those hospital-derived sampled sounds before a typical, almost ubiquitous Pain of Salvation syncopated beat and riff enters the fray. There are more electronic sounds to be heard before the chorus hits, making a real impact as it does. The minimalist mid-section is gorgeous, accented by what sounds like a heart monitor, before the track concludes with a reprise of the striking chorus and then a monstrous down-tuned, swirling and churning djent-esque breakdown.
The second ‘single’ off the album comes in the form of ‘Reasons’ which displays many of the hallmarks of older Pain Of Salvation including more syncopated riffing and unique vocals of Daniel Gildenlöw which descend into more venomous spoken-word diatribe territory as the song develops.
‘Angels of Broken Things’ is one of my personal favourites. It builds from humble beginnings, via a really insidious and simple melody and dark atmospheres to eventually erupt into one of the best extended guitar solos that I have heard in a long time. It is technically very adept but what is more impressive is the expressive nature of it and its eloquence. It more than adeptly conveys a feeling of pent up frustration and a full-on release of it, along with relief, misery, hope, and a million other strong human emotions, all of which Daniel must have felt during his ordeal. It’s a real head back, air-guitar moment of giant proportions.
There is then more heavy, groovy and intense listening courtesy of ‘The Taming of A Beast’ which contains within it some of the most crunching riffs on the album as well as being a bona-fide slow burner that has burrowed its way into my affections after a sticky start.
If all this wasn’t enough, arguably the very best is saved for last in the shape of the title track of sorts, ‘The Passing Light Of Day’. For all of the aforementioned reasons and more besides, this is the point at which the tears really start to flow and I’m taking deep breaths. It is the culmination of a superb album, a 15-minute smorgasbord of fragile emotion, musical peaks and troughs, poignancy and utterly magical beauty. The song moves from quiet and introspective, to heavy and complex and back again whilst always maintaining the intensely personal feeling, as if we’re voyeurs infringing on the privacy of two souls going through hell.
And I swear blind that I hear a subtle reprise of ‘Ending Theme’ from ‘Remedy Lane’ buried within the composition. But regardless, the final moments are the icing on the cake in that they reintroduce the early melodies sumptuously embellished by some rich and spine-tingling orchestral additions. Quite often I find myself listening to this track in the open air at night and so, on more than one occasion I have ended up staring at the stars, with tears rolling down my cheeks, covered in goose bumps. It seems the appropriate thing to do, a response entirely fitting with the tone and messages conveyed by this remarkable album.
I’m not sure there’s much else to add at this stage. 2017 may have only just begun but Pain of Salvation have laid down the marker for all others to reach. After a few releases that didn’t move me, ‘In The Passing Light of Day’ has redressed the balance and then some. If this is what intelligent and emotional progressive metal sounds like in 2017, I don’t want the year to ever end.
The Score of Much Metal: 9.75

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