I'm not really new to prog, but Pain of Salvation is a band whose records have been eluding me for quite some time now. This was the only record I could find by them, and despite many critics panning this album for various reasons, I have found that there was a great deal to enjoy on this record. If all prog metal is as good as this, I surely must get their other stuff!
Musically the band pulls off a lot of tricks and cards here. The band sounds like some combination of the more rock/metal elements of Porcupine Tree (without the Mellotron or dreamy Pink Floyd moments), embellished with Faith No More-esque vocals, chugging guitar riffs, and incomprehensible melody lines. They even pull off a disco beat on the aptly titled Disco Queen (is this an ABBA tribute of sorts?). Variety is not something we have to complain about here, as the band switches from frenetic rap-metal (Spitfall) mode a la Rage against the Machine into power ballad territory with the somewhat mellower Cribcaged.
But what is most interesting here is the concept album. Daniel Gildenlow, the band's primary composer, is one angry man on this album, and seems to take his cues musically from some of the more leftfield bands out there. Frenetic shrieks ala Serj Tankian on the hardcore-tinged Flame to the Moth. Hip-hop verses out of the Tom Morello rulebook on album opener Scarsick and the subsequent Spitfall. A decidedly pop-punk antic on the first single, America. Even on what starts out as a mellow song, Gildenlow turns the whole song into a *** you festival and namecalling all his favourite scapegoats (film stars, companies, commercials) like a shopping mall checklist.
Some people might be put off by the aggressive tone the PoS frontman takes here. But, in fact, the band pulls a new one lyrically on us: they have never seemed so mundane. With former albums exploring such concepts as the nature of mankind, the existence of God and other philosophical concepts far beyond the simple-minded brains of the masses, this seems like a more easy to digest take on the world, still being bleak and depressing but giving fans who could not comprehend the conceptual nature of previous albums a much easier time to relate to and understand what Gildenlow is trying to get across.
And that is where the strength of this album lies. It is varied, complex, and musically out of the wazoo (as the band manages to mix disco beats with densely layered prog rock), but it remains accessible and digestible enough (even with the somewhat more extended song lengths) without sacrificing any of the complexity, and on top of that carrying a message that despite becoming cliched and obsolete still rings with a truthful poignancy. It may be a little different for fans of the older material to stomach, but once you acclimatise to another different face of this truly progressive band, you'll be well rewarded. One of the albums of the year, easily.