REVIEW: PAIN OF SALVATION – “In The Passing Light of Day”
I first heard of Pain of Salvation shortly after the release of ‘Remedy Lane’ in 2002. I was floored by the emotional intensity and raw honesty of the album, and the rather unique take they had on progressive metal. It soon proved itself to be a masterpiece and has remained one of my favorite albums. Exploring their back catalogue, Daniel Gildenlöw and company became one of my favorite bands as well. However, I’ll be totally honest and say despite these great albums, I haven’t been impressed with anything they’ve released since. ‘Scarsick’ was particularly disappointing, especially as it was meant to be the sequel to the absolute masterpiece that is ‘The Perfect Element: Part One’. However when I heard they were returning to their prog metal roots for next year’s ‘In The Passing Light of Day’ I was cautiously optimistic, although I still wondered if they had it in them after all the years and the lineup changes to release a truly exceptional album. And as it turns out, not only do they have it in them, but they’ve put out one of the best albums of their career.
Along with returning to making progressive metal, they also returned to concept albums. In this case they put the listener in the place of main vocalist/guitarist/band mastermind Daniel Gildenlöw and his experiences while in a hospital in 2014, during which he came very close to dying. It’s an inhumanly personal, honest, and revealing thing to do, and the respect that is due him for having the bravery and trust in his audience to put this album out should know no bounds. It’s a painful, sometimes ugly, lyrical journey that he takes us on, perhaps even more so than on ‘Remedy Lane’.
The album begins with “On a Tuesday” and from the very first note they let the listener know that their promise for a metal album has been fulfilled, with heavy, jarring, irregular chords that hit you in the face. It’s the heaviest they’ve sounded in years, and put a smile on my face from the first seconds of hearing it. The story sets up with Daniel speaking “I was born in this building/ it was the first Tuesday I’d ever seen/and if I live to see tomorrow/ it will be my Tuesday number 2,119.” And it continues with both word and song putting the listener in the middle of a hospital experience, the smells, the fears, tears, the calls to a God that may or may not be there, all of it. And the first three songs continue in the classic early Pain of Salvation heavy sounds, the rhythms courtesy of bassist Gustaf Hielm, and drummer Léo Margarit bounce and move in what would be to someone unfamiliar with much prog metal in very unsettling and unusual ways. Unusual time signatures spring up like daisies, but the whole time they are ground solid to the music being played over it. Even with the heavier moments of BE and Scarsick they haven’t done anything similar to these early songs in fourteen years.
They switch gears and slow everything down with “Silent Gold,” a hauntingly beautiful piano driven song, presumably directed towards Daniel’s wife. His voice at times nearly breaks as he sings it, and his vocal melodies will worm themselves into your mind for hours afterwards. It’s simply heartbreaking at times, and one of my favorite vocal performances by him from any album, mostly due to the sheer vulnerability of it. On the opposite side of his relationship spectrum we have the incredibly angry, and pummeling heavy “Reasons,” which seems to suggest a rather ugly moment in his relationship with a list of reasons for things falling apart around him. Or perhaps I’m reading more into it than is necessary, but it’s a striking piece regardless.
Much of the remaining album is a bit softer in nature, more of the prog rock side of things than the metal side. The heaviness is never far away though, and it looms darkly over the songs threatening to come back, like the next painful night writhing on a hospital bed. In many ways it’s the perfected combination of their more recent sound, and their old, and it works very well. Although the music has its complex moments, there are no solos to speak of, and no one’s technical virtuosity is put on display. But still the keyboard work of Daniel D2 Karlsson and the guitar work of both Gildenlöw and Ragnar Zolberg are always appropriate and perfectly played. The work of the entire band is very impressive throughout, they just don’t feel the need to hit the listener over the head with it and shout for attention, something which can’t be said for many lesser prog metal offerings. And we’re even treated to some highly effective accordion use on “If This is the End” in between the heavy riffs and reflections and the coming peace with either life or death.
The album ends with the fifteen minute title track, and fittingly as it closes the story and our musical journey it is the highlight of the album, musically, vocally and above all emotionally. It starts with and is mostly a soliloquy of sorts to his “lover and best friend,” and is a reflection of their past together, and her watching him as he’s gone through his illness and all moving “like the passing light of day.” It’s a topic anyone who has ever loved and who has ever been in a relationship for a long time can relate to, and put themselves in the place of, for the simple fact that pain and struggles come into all our lives. Maybe not in the form of illnesses, but something will come as sure as death will separate eventually. The song takes its time building, starting very slowly, letting the lovely and hard hitting melody lightly carry the song along until the seven minute mark when everything gradually picks up. The music builds and drives, and Daniel’s vocals return to his classic grit, and he reflects on what he would gladly take back but can’t, and all the things that come and pass. It’s stirring, real, and a perfect closing to an album. It drew its share of tears, and likely will for anyone who can relate to the things most elemental and basic to our common humanity. Not very metal to admit perhaps, but if you worry about such things this genre and band aren’t for you anyway.
In many ways this album feels like the “spiritual” sequel to ‘The Perfect Element’ even though the two have no story in common. By that I mean musically, the method of storytelling, and some of the darker reality and uglier aspects of the lyrics are closer to that album than any of their others. I’ve long hoped that since we were given the rest of “He’s” story with ‘Scarsick’ we would also get an album telling the rest of “She’s” story. Part of me doubts that will ever happen, but if it does, they’re on the right track with what they’ve done here. My lone, and rather minor, criticism is that I don’t think this current lineup has the vocal chemistry as those on the first four albums. Even though Daniel is fantastic as always, I have a different opinion when it comes to Ragnar’s vocals. In the end, everyone will have their personal opinion when it comes to his vocals. However, and as I said my critique is fairly minor, but reviewers are obliged to be honest.
In The Passing Light of Day is the first masterpiece of 2017. Pain of Salvation has crafted a frequently brilliant work of modern progressive metal, one as emotionally, and lyrically deep as anything the band (or any other you care to think of) has done. And it will go down among their very best, on par with Entropia. Fans of the band who have been waiting for a return to their early sound should have nothing to complain about, and anyone curious about the band would be wise to pick it up. Highly, highly recommended.