Review Summary: While outstripped by the intensity of later "Remedy Lane" and the emotional introspection of "In the Passing Light of Day", "The Perfect Element, Part 1" provides a window into all of what Pain of Salvation would soon become.
To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the album that put them firmly on the progressive rock/metal map, Pain of Salvation has released a remastered and remixed version of The Perfect Element, Pt. 1. For many progressive music fans, this album is a classic, and the idea of remixing and remastering it may give fans some pause.
However, from the outset, it's an obvious improvement - "Used" hits with a new ferocity with each word vocalist Daniel Gildenlow spits, and "In The Flesh" surrounds you much like a blanket of unwanted skin with its propulsive guitars and piano. "Idioglossia" receives some particular love as the drums and sizzling bass alike gain additional clarity. The moment the strings enter on "The Perfect Element" (the title track) is made somehow more powerful than ever here due to this as well.
The album itself is the first part of the band's concept of the same name - "The Perfect Element" - which would be continued yet not finished by 2007's "Scarsick". A concept album tracking the lives of two young people through youth and adolescence, the album tackles sensitive subjects such as abuse, both physical and sexual ("Used" and "In The Flesh"), self-destruction ("Ashes"), as well as loss of innocence and trauma ("Her Voices"). Gildenlow and band handle these subjects deftly, not shying away from visceral language when needed.
The songs themselves are a fantastic distillation of who this band is - Pain of Salvation have made a living out of reinvention over the last 23+ years, from the progressive metal of 1997's "Entropia" of to the unnamable brand of "future-prog" that gives 2020's "Panther" its lifeblood.
"The Perfect Element, Pt. 1" is a shining example of this, as it flits among several genres, sometimes even within the same song. While used to pulse-pounding dramatic effect on "Used", as well as the most surprising and captivating moments on the album (the goosebump-inducing, spellbinding last 5 minutes of "Her Voices"); it falls flat in other places, such as the spoken word section of "Morning on Earth", which is otherwise a very pleasant song. This stands in contrast to the way "Song for the Innocent" unfolds in its second half - it's a slow build throughout to an electrifying guitar solo to close - a prime example of doing that shift just right.
Pain of Salvation would go on to hone their skill at these sudden shifts to avoid such whiplash (see: Remedy Lane's trio of "Fandango", "A Trace of Blood", and "This Heart of Mine (I Pledge)" for some true genre roulette) but it does hurt the overall product here when not handled delicately.
One major issue I always come back to with this album is that short of "Her Voices" and "In The Flesh", there's precious few moments that reach the same intensity as moments in later Pain of Salvation tracks such as "A Trace of Blood" or "Angels of Broken Things". It's these lack of truly memorable moments that's made it hard to dig into and enjoy this album as deeply as I would've liked to over the last two decades, but that's also not to say that it is a bad
album. There is a tremendous amount of care and heart put into this set, and it's made even moreso obvious with the fresh coat of varnish that the remix provides.
Exclusive to the remix/remastered version is a bonus disc containing four live tracks, an instrumental version of "Ashes", the choir portion of Her Voices, and a strange track called "Absolute Kromata", which is a humorous cover of Killinggänget's (a Swedish comedy group) song "Absolut Kromata 9". This disc makes for a nice bonus, but it would have been nice to have a little more meat by way of B-sides or rare tracks to properly celebrate the 20th anniversary.
"The Perfect Element, Part 1" ultimately serves as a testament to Pain of Salvation's true potential, a first major landmark on their way to new heights. While outstripped and overshadowed by later albums, the raw emotion and excellent musicianship make this album worth returning to - it is Pain of Salvation's jack-of-all-trades, giving a little something for everyone.