PAIN OF SALVATION – “ROAD SALT TWO”
INSIDE OUT (2011)
Early October 2000. Spending a whole morning counting imported goods was part of my responsibility as a record shop salesman – a process that I thoroughly enjoyed as it meant that I was amongst the first people in the store to get their hands on new releases. It was on a rainy autumn day that I first came across Pain Of Salvation’s third studio album “The Perfect Element, Part I” and it was on that very same day that my appreciation of music changed. This band helped me realise that technical compositions with unusual time signatures can really co-exist with deeply melodic themes and I have reserved a very special ‘space’ for the music of this band which has remained unchanged this past decade. During that period of time, both the band and its devoted fans have matured in equal terms – a maturity which seems to have reached its zenith in their latest opus, entitled “Road Salt Two” and which will soon find its way into record shelves and MP3 players around the globe.
As most of you already know, there is a first part to this musical concept, fittingly entitled “Road Salt One” which was released back in May 2010. This album found the band sporting a 70s sound while slightly stripping down the musical layers of their compositions in the process. Well, imagine that “Road Salt Two” is equally immersed in a 70s musical sensibility but also comes across as the darkest and more emotionally intense of the two siblings. Furthermore, it finds the band once again in a highly creative and boundary-breaking mood, bringing together elements from diverse musical genres with unnerving ease and thereby unsettling your emotional state almost straight away. The most important thing about these twelve compositions, however, is that they are so intelligently crafted that, though stripped down, they will demand many listens from their audience prior to revealing their innermost secrets – something that only albums of immense quality are capable of achieving.
The introduction to the band’s eighth studio album comes in the shape of the orientally-themed instrumental “Road Salt Theme” and it is not long before the combination of a haunting guitar riff and Fredrik Hermansson’ s sensational mellotron melodies in “Softly She Cries” convince you that you are in the presence of a great album. Daniel Gildenlow’s musical genius is once again audible in the four minute “Conditioned” – a composition where groovy riffs magically combine with American twanging guitar melodies in its short refrain. No other song is simpler in its structure than the acoustic guitar opus “Healing Now” but also no other immediately qualifies as a “classic”, unlike the song in question. Daniel’s truly heartfelt vocals will almost certainly invade your emotional defences and will infiltrate your inner thoughts and feelings, leaving you feeling pleasantly ‘exposed’ in the process. The upbeat melodies of “To The Shoreline” will bring back some normality while the heavy & darker riffs of “Eleven”, another highlight of the album, will prove that you can still head-bang to a Pain Of Salvation tune.
“1979” comes across as a very personal track and its simple melodies are based on Daniel’s emotional vocals and Fredrik’s beautiful piano tunes, both supported by a much fitting orchestral theme. The dark repetitive sounds of “The Deeper Cut” may lead to a few comparisons with the band’s compatriots Opeth, while “Mortar Grind” starts as a 70s infused slow atmospheric theme and ends with Daniel presenting us with some of the most aggressive vocals of his career. More beautiful melodies are provided through the soft and touching themes of “Through The Distance” while the eight and a half minute “The Physics Of Gridlock” finds the band in a truly experimental mood, mixing harmonic groovy guitar themes with haunting keyboard tunes and ends with a long, almost ‘cowboy western’ style, narration in…French! The closing theme of the album is the three and a half minute “End Credits” – another clever instrumental piece whose orchestral arrangements combine elements from most of the compositions that preceded it, thus further enhancing the album’s musical unity.
Looking back at the band’s musical journey since its early inception back in 1991 (1984, if you take into consideration their earlier incarnation as “Reality”), one is left totally amazed by how far these guys have evolved as musicians. It may be true that demanding time signatures are no longer part of the picture, but the band has more than compensated us with an abundance of diverse elements which, on paper, should not be working well together but which, in reality, gel perfectly and not only preserve, but further enhance the unique character and personality of this band. Had it not been for the Arch/Matheos band releasing the amazing “Sympathetic Resonance” almost simultaneously, I would say that “Road Salt Two” would be the main contender for my ‘album of the year’ list – as things stand, it will be a long and hard battle! Simply put: this is one of the absolute highlights of the band’s career and an album that fans of good quality music simply have to have!
Rating: ***** (5.0/5.0)
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