REVIEW: PAIN OF SALVATION – “Panther”
Long one of the stalwarts and innovators of the prog metal community, Pain of Salvation are set to release a new album after their triumphant return to the genre in 2017. ‘Panther’ marks the eleventh album of the band’s 20+ year career, and sees the very welcome return of guitarist John Hallgren, who contributed much to the band’s early albums and their success. Any PoS release is worth taking note of, and this new album is no exception.
As noted there have been some changes in the band’s lineup with Hallgren returning to the fold. His entrance was made possible by the exit of Ragnar Zolberg, a departure I was more than a little pleased to hear about. Otherwise, the group responsible for the exceptional ‘In The Passing Light of Day’ remains intact. Unsurprisingly ‘Panther’ is another concept album. This time around it focuses on the inhabitants of a city populated by dogs and panthers, with the dogs representing “normal” people, and panthers being “outsiders.” To be honest, I’m less than enthralled with the concept and am not sure why we need yet another story to pump up the fragile egos of people who think they’re incredibly unique for looking at the world a little differently, but that’s as it may be.
The album starts off with the first single released, the jaunty, and electronically dominated “Accelerator.” Like many, I was a bit taken aback with the sound at first, but it quickly wormed itself into my ears the more I listened and the more it unfolded. It is certainly unlike any opening track they have done before and works incredibly well. Like all the songs it is dominated by yet another stirring and emotional vocal delivery by Daniel Gildenlöw, who continues to prove that he is one of the best vocalists in the genre.
The follow-up song “Unfuture” is more in the classic PoS vein, starting off bluesy, but quickly taken over with heavy riffs, and their unique take on the prog genre. Heaviness is predominant for not only this song, but the rest as well, although at times it takes a back seat, only to remain a hovering threat to explode at any moment. “Restless Boy” is an example of this, with much of the songs being electronic in nature, with modified vocals, and softly sung lyrics, only to have the song explode with guitars and screams. The mixture of the two, and the less than the predictable way the band does it is quite effective.
The sound changes up a good bit during the title track “Panther.” Much of the song goes back to electric beats and vibes, the vocals done in a “rap style.” And by that I mean the style is done on ‘TPE1’ and not on ‘Scarsick’. It works well enough, but the “dog and panther” theme becomes even more cringe-inducing when singing ‘sometimes I feel like a panther living in a dog’s world’. Others of course (most likely younger) won’t mind it all as much, but Daniel has been one of my favorite prog lyricists for 18 years or so now, and I just feel it falls short compared to his earlier concepts and themes.
The album closes with “Icon” which is also the longest of the album, running a little over 13 minutes. It is fairly typical of PoS album closers, meaning the metal and progressive nature of the music is heightened, and they try to go out in a big and memorable way. After a nearly 3 minute instrumental introduction, the vocals come in, and the story begins to come to its conclusion. The lyrics work a bit better through this song, as the character spends more time on internal reflections upon growing up, and the changes that take place during this time in someone’s life. Internal reflections and relationships, be they good or traumatic, have always been Daniel’s greatest strength as a lyricist and songwriter, and so it is with this song as well. And while it doesn’t have the emotional devastation of “Beyond the Pale” or “The Perfect Element” it does end the album on a high note, and the performances are excellent as always.
‘Panther’ stands as an unusual album in Pain of Salvation’s canon; what it lacks in depth of story, it makes up for in exceptional music and performances. While being more electronic in nature than earlier albums, it still retains its prog-metal soul, and the band continues to grow and sound like no one but themselves. While I personally find the end results a bit mixed, there’s enough high-quality music here to keep their fans happy, and quite possibly make a few more as well.