The Band: Daniel Gildenlöw (Lead vocals, Acoustic guitar)
Frederik Hermannson (Grand piano, Harpsichord )
Johan Langell (Drums, Percussion, Vocals)
Kristoffer Gildenlöw (Acoustic basses, Cello)
Johan Hallgren (Guitar, Vocals)
Released: 2004 (Inside Out)
Pretentious. Overblown. Genius. Unclassifiable. All of those words have been used to describe this album, the fifth studio offering from Swedish progressive metal band Pain Of Salvation, and quite frankly, all of them have their merits when used to describe this. Everything that makes prog fans drool, and prog haters reach for the off button is present on this album, from the Latin song names, through the incredibly dense concept, to the music which changes time signatures almost as often as it changes style. If anything, it’s this musical variation that really marks out this album. On their previous releases, Pain Of Salvation has been nearly unanimously classified as simply a progressive metal band, and rapidly developed a large following among fans of the genre. With this album though, which includes elements of folk, rock, metal, crazy amounts of effects, and sounds that simply sound as if they came from another planet, Pain Of Salvation took the step forward away from stereotype, and towards far greater respect.
The concept alone is so complicated that virtually nobody can categorically claim to know exactly what’s going on. The general idea though is this; God creates humanity in order to be able to understand himself, having gone through something of an existential crisis on the first song. Things immediately start going downhill from this point, with mankind rapidly seeking to take over everything it approaches, while characters are introduced who reflect all that is worst about materialistic popular culture. Forgetting their origins, God despairs of them, saying that he has no choice but to leave them to their own devices. Of course, the fact that he created mankind to understand himself, and then mankind greatly disappointed him, reflects on the role of God, as portrayed on this album. If you’re not confused by this point, then you’re about to be. After God abandons earth, and seemingly fades away completely, the world descends into chaos, culminating in a drop of the world’s population to 1.2 million people. The formerly materialistic “Mr Money" re-emerges, saying ironically that he’s reached his goal of being top of the hierarchy, only to realise there is no-one left for him to be above. As humanity fades away, the album ends with the seeming re-emergence of God, implying, in true progressive rock fashion, that everything’s involved in a never ending cycle. That’s the simplified version of my interpretation of the concept, which is actually told in such a way that makes The Mars Volta’s lyrics look comprehensible.
Anyway, now that we’ve got the basic details about the story of this album out of the way, how about we move onto the music? Opening track Animae Partus
is a purely spoken word piece, with distorted voices (both male and female) representing God wondering how and when he was created. The final words of the song, “I will spend the rest of forever trying to figure out who I am", mirrors the uncertainty present all the way through the album, as well as the obvious: if God has no idea what he’s doing, then does humanity even have a chance? Deus Nova
contains keyboards and distorted guitars playing under a mechanical voice counting down years and the numbers of people in the world at each of these years. Stopping at the year 2000 AD, the song then continues with far calmer vocals talking over ambient effects, saying that the world was created as an image of God’s mind, in order to teach him something. The first “real" song on the album is Imago (Hominus Partus)
, which has a surprisingly folksy sort of feel, with the lyrics initially being about the beauty of the earth, before lines such as “Give me of the forest, give me of the trees,
Give me anything as long as it's for me" show the nature of mankind taking over. The music for this song is very beautiful, and borderline medieval in nature, thanks to flutes and percussion that adds more layers to the music, allowing the building of a real atmosphere. Pluvius Aestivus
is a five minute instrumental, based heavily around Hermannson’s keyboard playing, although the string section in the background increases the air of melancholy again, perhaps reflecting the disillusionment of God in seeing his creation already going wrong, in spite of his best efforts. Both very relaxing and beautiful, this is one of the easiest songs to get into on the album, with the climax where other instruments enter the music being even more remarkable.
Lilium Cruentus (Deus Nova)
is definitely the angriest song so far, and reflects the fact that Pain Of Salvation has their influences firmly rooted in metal over any other genre. The drumming is clearly to the fore here, along with a chorus that is rapped more than anything over very punchy guitar riffing. The lyrics seem to reflect man now mourning on the brevity of life, and it’s probably telling that anger is the dominant emotion, rather than grief or something similar. As with a lot of progressive music, voices in the background with spoken word interludes add even more drama to the song, which makes it one of the most majestic on the album. After the anger of this song comes a chant, with deep voices pleading with the lord to help them over the sparsest of acoustic guitars which drifts along, never really leading the song. This is highly hypnotic, continuing for nearly four minutes, before the appearance of “Mr Money", and a girl. In a spoken word dialogue he first gets her name wrong, and then tries to get her to perform various “indiscreet" acts on him while he drives his car. It’s a crude pastiche of a certain type of businessman, but nevertheless allows the concept to continue flowing.
serves as the centre point of the album in the eyes of many fans, weighing in at over 10 minutes long, and has a funk influenced intro leading into a slow, moody instrumental section while vocal interplay continues between Mr. Money and Miss Mediocrity over more vocals about his wealth. Something that should be noted about this album is the quality throughout of the lyrics. While a lot of progressive music relies on instrumental interludes, the lyrics on this album are undeniably the most important part of the music, including savage attacks on modern life. Just looking at lines such as “I Could have bought a Third World country, with the riches that I've spent. But hey, all modern economics claim that I deserved every single cent", it’s clear what the point which the band is trying to make is. That’s not to say the music loses anything though, as Dea Pecuniae
has squealing guitars, and at times sounds as if it belongs on Broadway, so great is the drama that it conveys. The song also contains Mr Money looking at his isolation over dissident keyboards before the return of his self-glorification set over sheer musical jubilation. It’s a prog song that has everything, and as such is a clear high point of the album. Vocari Dei
is a simple instrumental with spoken vocals from many people reflecting on their relationship with God, in the form of answerphone messages left for him. Again, it sounds like it could be very corny and overdone, but like so much of the music here, it’s strangely touching and effective. Maybe it’s because of the themes reflected are so regularly argued today, “Why did the two towers have to fall?", but this song is undeniably thought provoking, and another brilliant interlude.
, the drama returns in full force. An opening heavy riff leads into more Patton-esque vocals with humanity seeming to renounce God, in lines condemning his “golden cage", while more of Pain Of Salvation’s roots come up with crunching metal riffs that would be worthy of some of metal’s biggest names. The whole atmosphere is one of drama and doom, before the voice of God comes in over a gorgeous piano part, wistfully singing about “drifting away" and pleading for help. The juxtaposition of the violent destructiveness of humanity and the simple elegance of God is a poignant one, and as the song continues to build, with string sections, soaring guitars and pure bitterness all being in the mix, it seems as if pure aural drama is coming out of your speakers. The final words of God (“I failed…we failed") ends the song, and with it a portion of the album. Nihil Morari
is hugely introspective with another brilliant string section allowing more time for reflection after the majesty of the previous song. Reflections on what humanity has done, and how they have now run out of resources dominate the lyrics, before more massive riffing breaks in after about 2 minutes. The vocals become increasingly furious and desperate, as the narrator realises that humanity has grown too much, and that while people think they have attained a higher plane of being, most of the world can’t do the most simple things to ensure our own survival. As the music enters what sounds like a realm of pure chaos, a final countdown of the growth of mankind begins, culminating in 9 billion people by the year 2050. For the last minute and a half of the song, the singer repeatedly apologises for man’s lack of ability to see what the consequences of his actions would be, and for what they have done to the world. The implication is clear; some great disaster has struck humanity, ending life as we know it today.
is largely instrumental, with one line of “2,060 AD: 1.2 million people" leading into hugely powerful music which owes more to Wagnerian opera than anything else. Omni
then begins, with what sounds like news anchors discussing the horrific tragedy of what has happened to humanity over a funereal organ. This becomes continually more discordant while mourning voices pray for some sort of intervention, now that the worst has happened. In an ironic moment, Mr Money then returns, singing about how he’s at the top of the world, only to see life has rejected his species. Iter Impius
is a very confused song, as you can imagine, with lush piano harmonies belying the content of the song, which is dazed, hurt and horrified. After previously talking about how all he needed was himself to prosper, Mr Money now seems to see that he is truly alone, and suddenly there is nothing he can do about it. It’s something of a wake up call, and leaves him resigned to his fate, accepting that he has nothing left to look forward to except accepting his role as the “ruler of ruin". It’s a point I’ve made before, but this song sounds like the penultimate act of an opera, rather than a song near the end of a rock album, and it says something that even by the standards of this album, this song vies for the most dramatic moment.
At this point though the album becomes still more complex. Military style drumming leads into Martius/Nauticus II
, in which a character seems to assume the role of divinity, in the line “I am all, omni, BE!". This line leads into heavily syncopated drumming over an eerie sounding choir, making the music suddenly uncomfortable, as if pondering this latest development. A version of the folksy refrain from Imago
then celebrates the absolute power of this character, singing jovially, “I am every forest, I am every tree", in what is a complete U-turn on basically everything that has gone before. The final track, Animae Partus II
doesn’t clarify this in the slightest, with one ghostly female voice saying “I am", before a long pause ending in the voice of a young girl saying “there’s room for all people in God’s kingdom. Right by the mashed potato." Quite what you’re meant to make of this is anyone’s guess, but I’ll leave it to you to interpret.
This is not an album which you should get as an introduction to progressive music. This is not an album which you should get immediately after getting into progressive music. What it is though is not so much an album as a philosophy on life set to music. While that may sound pretentious, this CD refers to themes which people think of all the time, but yet remains vague enough to allow any listener to interpret it. The ending could mean many things; humanity rebuilds itself in the form that God wished, humanity rebuilds only to fail again, or even that humanity is rebuilt, only in the role of Gods ourselves. Having looked into this quite extensively I can’t categorically say which one, if any of these, it is, and it seems that no-one else on the Internet can either. The album has its flaws, such as at times it seems to be perhaps too dense, and there are moments that grate on it, but it’s definitely something that you need to hear if you like progressive music. It was criminally unnoticed by the mainstream media last year, but as soon as Broadway buys the rights to this, it’s no exaggeration to say we could have a musical more dramatic than anything Lloyd Webber has ever thought of on our hands.
Lyrics for the album can be found [URL=http://www.darklyrics.com/lyrics/painofsalvation/be.html]here[/URL].