Review Summary: How does it feel to be you?
I have to be honest: I have had a phobia for pouncing feline covers since Shining’s Animal turned out to be one of the worst duds in the history of duds. However, judging a book by its cover is never a good idea, especially when the book is written by Pain of Salvation - or ‘Remedy Lane’ would never have gotten the critical praise it got, and ‘One Hour by the Concrete Lake’ would have been left to rot in your local record store’s warehouse shelf – let’s be serious it's not like the band has its ‘forte’ on the imagery side. Alas – let the music speak, dear Sputnik, let the music speak.
And boy, it does.
It all starts with ‘Accelerator’, first single off the disc and preview of yet another major turn in the Swedes’ melodic arsenal; a newborn love affair with dystopian synths and off-balance drum beats (the malicious might say "weirdly produced") melted with the traditional “humanity bad, out of the norm good” lyrical doctrine already touched in multiple occasions and the classic iconic belting of the band’s mastermind, Daniel Gildenlöw, still one of the the top dogs (aehm, panthers) of the lyrical Metal landscape (the song final crescendo is a definite proof, if any was needed).
While this new mix may not appeal to all of the already quite tested fanbase of Pain of Salvation, it actually provides a breath of fresh air to their compositions. Tracks such as ‘Unfuture’, with its slow and captivating stride reminiscent of the ‘Be’ days, get a new layer of complexity and novelty through the added electronics, that do not however denature the broody and soulful atmospheres the group is known for. In ‘Restless Boy’, the band takes all the gimmicks above and cranks them up to the max, crafting an absolute bomb of a track; the added electronic ‘oompf’ on the drums in the third act of the track, with their glitchy double bass pattern, oozes of originality and will probably lead you to some of your most awkward headbanging sessions of 2020.
Counterpoint to the electronic madness of the first three tracks is the magnificent ‘Wait’; the song is opened by a melodic combo of piano and guitar, of a quality that harkens back to the best melodies of ‘Remedy Lane’. It is arguably the highest emotional point of the disc, with Daniel’s pen etching the story of seeing someone you love move on, and the desperate attempts that might ensue to change ourselves in a drastic fashion while life goes on and you are still there, stuck. The added “beating of the clock”-sounding synths providing again an additional layer to the song and echoing the lyrics that just work fantastically.
Thematically, the disc was panned to be a little bit too much on the "holier than thou" side based off the three singles. Title-track ‘Panther’, with its rap verses and cheesy chorus being the main culprit here (but I dare you to not sing it out loud – it is infectious). But on a more careful read of songs such as the aforementioned ‘Wait’ and ‘Keen to a Fault’, the themes touched add a potential more compelling key of deciphering who Panthers truly are: they are not those scoffing at the world, but rather those that are forgotten, misinterpreted, that do not understand modern day's inner workings and are suffering because of it.
These themes are further touched in ‘Species’ (a spiritual successor to ‘Idiocracy’ and ‘Flame to the Moth’, with its arabesque melodies and "f**k the world" lyrical tones) and in the closing ‘Icon’, yet another fantastic power ballad in the band’s catalogue, slowly developing with its brooding atmosphere and a delicate piano melody weaving the ever-changing choruses. Its lengthy crescendo is enriched by a guitar solo and a lyrical nostalgia that few bands can describe so well with sound – it is an apt ending to the disc and flows so well you will not believe, when the last aggressive refrain and second dissonant guitar solo ends, that it lasted thirteen damn minutes.
‘Panther’ showcases that Pain of Salvation can still meticulously craft melodies that inspire thought provoking ideas, as they have aimed and succeeded to do throughout the almost thirty years of the band's existence – it is a wonderful work dedicated to all that recognize themselves as “the outsiders, the diagnosed, the medicated, the hungry, the sad, the ones walking around daily trying to understand how to fit in with this species, with this era”. And with 2020 objectively being one of the worst years in the post World War reality, it quite succeeds in describing how it feels to be us.