Review Summary: High expectations fail to be met with Pain of Salvation's new, simpler and ultimately disappointing effort.
To be honest, it’s hard to tell whether Scarsick
is truly a bad album or whether it’s just disappointing by Pain of Salvation
’s usual impeccable standards. Daniel Gildenlow and crew have a fairly lengthy list of credentials to live up to; their previous albums ranged from the guitar-based, dark and gritty Entropia
to the wildly diverse Perfect Element Part One
to the ridiculously overblown and symphonic Be
, and above all the group has become known for operating outside genre boundaries, both musically and lyrically. A new album was always going to carry the weight of expectation, and in the case of Scarsick
the problem is either that the quality is genuinely low, or that the expectation was just too high.
In the end I think the album suffers from a combination of both factors. Scarsick
just feels like too much of a step back for the band in all areas – I expect a certain degree of complexity from Pain of Salvation, and this album fails to deliver in that department. Let me explain why.
After the sprawling, pretentious album that was Be
, the band promised that their next album, Scarsick
, would be more stripped down and band-orientated. They delivered on that promise, but overdid it; in comparison to Be
, there’s just nothing here
. The main focus is on the guitars, which are dirty and close in the mix, and by ordinary Pain of Salvation riff-standards this wouldn’t be a problem. However, the band resorts for the most part to downtuned and uninspired chug-chug nu-metal riffs, or aimless noodling that fades in and out; see the title track for examples of both. The extended song lengths, once a strength of the band, become a stumbling block, as Gildenlow and company find themselves unable to sustain interest throughout their compositions – Scarsick
damage the start of the album by being altogether far too long, and Idiocracy
could benefit from a two-minute pruning.
Several times the band approach their former heights, only to be let down in one way or another. Cribcaged
is a song about the shortcomings of the American upper class which features an interesting, western-inspired introduction, and is quite a strong song for the first half. But for some reason Gildenlow completely drops the ball lyrics-wise; the chorus starts with ‘successful people, dressed up people, smiling people…’ and then continues to drop adjectives ad nauseum
. Another section sees Daniel start every line with the word ‘fuc
k their lack of originality’? Hypocrisy if I ever saw it.
In short, the variety that powered previous albums is conspicuously missing here, bar a few examples. America
’s frantic, folk-punk inspired stylings are a welcome refreshment from the blandness of the two opening tracks, and the song brings back some of the flawless syncopation that characterised former albums. Enter Rain
is appropriately majestic for the album closer, although it’s not a patch on the title track from The Perfect Element Part One
. And then there is Disco Queen
is literally a disco track, one that goes for eight minutes. It opens with a dance beat and an incredibly cheesy yet catchy vocal hook, and continues on its merry way, shamelessly emulating the 80s all the while. The chorus sees Daniel putting on his silliest voice and chanting ‘My Disco Queen!’ while the backing vocals shriek ‘Yes Disco!’, as if to aggravate the listener’s acute sense of outrage. The song is so ridiculously out of place on the album that it’s impossible to take seriously, and once I got over the whole ‘OMG WHAT ARE THEY DOING’ factor, I realised that it’s actually quite good, if a little too long.
So while Scarsick
is enjoyable in places, in the end the number of flaws makes for an underwhelming listen. The band drops the musical, lyrical and conceptual complexity that they do so well (the ‘concept’ is more of a tired rant on the state of modern America than anything else, touching on the obvious points of capitalism, consumerism, religion, corruption, idiocy and all the rest). The album just isn’t as engaging as their previous work, and it’s hard to judge the disc by itself, given the quality of that work and the expectations surrounding the new album. Disappointing. 2/5