Review Summary: The further stagnation of Pain of Salvation.
Remember when Pain of Salvation was considered one of the leading innovators in progressive rock? It wasn’t that long ago, if I remember correctly. It’s only been ten years since the release of their landmark album The Perfect Element, Part I
, an album still considered a classic in the genre. From their, they kept the goodwill flowing with two more instant classics, Remedy Lane
and the ambitious BE
. For a band with three consecutive progressive rock masterpieces under their belt (and even before that, two very solid albums), it’s amazing how quickly the good will for the band dried up. I mean, yes Scarsick
was underwhelming, and ultimately a bit of a disappointment, but surely one clunker can’t completely derail a band’s entire career? And yet, judging by the lack of buzz around Road Salt One
’s release, you may be tempted to believe otherwise. Has the world simply moved on, or is there some greater cause behind the rejection of Road Salt One
Yep. There is.
Sorry to be blunt, but if we’re going to tiptoe around it we’re not going to get anywhere: Road Salt One
is clearly the weakest release of the band’s career, and it’s hard to tell who should be held at fault. The band’s label famously went bankrupt last year, preventing the band from taking part in the Progressive Nation ’09 tour, which may explain the greatest shortcoming of the album, the production. It’s awful, and not in the way that you can simply overlook and focus on the music. It actively sabotages numerous songs on the album, from beginning to end. Opening track “No Way” sounds completely hollow throughout, as if there’s no weight to any single part of the music. “Tell Me You Don’t Know” clearly was intended to have a low-fi atmosphere, but they take it about three steps past that into the direction of demo quality. Even otherwise good songs like “Sisters” suffer, with some of the worst sounding climactic cymbal crashes I’ve ever heard; someone clearly had no sense for how to properly mic the drums on this album. Oh, and don’t even get me started on “Linoleum”. Calling it potentially the worst song the band have ever recorded is perhaps a tad harsh, but only barely.
When a song manages to succeed, it generally does it in spite of the laughable production. “Road Salt” wisely only includes the two instruments on the album not hampered by the production, the keyboard and Daniel Gildenlow’s vocals, resulting in a solid if unmemorable ballad. “Innocence” embraces its 70’s guitar influence, blending it with that classic Pain of Salvation sound with interesting results. “Curiosity” is actually the one track on the album I’d call “great” unconditionally, perhaps critically because it’s the only track on the album that has something resembling a pulse. For the most part, the album is content to loaf around at a consistently slow pace; picture BE's pacing, without the rich orchestration or ambition that defined that album. With "Curiosity", it sounds like the band is having fun, and that kind of infectious quality carries over into the song, giving the album a song that might actually get stuck in your head.
Sadly, the rest of the album is mostly a slog, primarily because you get the sense that you’ve heard everything on the album before. “Of Dust” is basically a less compelling version of “Nauticus (Drifting)” from BE
; “Linoleum” is “Spitfall” without the compelling dementia. That lack of creativity permeates even the lyrics, which revolve in large part around endless platitudes about “the road”. It’s such a trite metaphor that it’s actually moderately embarrassing that a lyricist as good as Gildenlow would sink to such depths. Without the creativity of previous releases, and with truly awful production to accompany these half-baked songs, the band is essentially shooting out both good feet. Then again, two bad albums do not kill a legacy. It takes three to make a trend, and with Road Salt Two
coming later this year, I certainly hope they’ve been saving all their good songs and production value for album #2. If not, we may be looking at the moment where Pain of Salvation stop being genre innovators and becomes that band that “used” to be awesome. I’d say I’m hopeful, but to quote the album, “Maybe this time the road is just too rough / To take me home”.