...

Last Friday Swedish prog metal band Pain of Salvation released The Passing Light Of Day. It is one of the band’s better records and shares many qualities with the band’s classic run in the early 00s. Lead singer & songwriter Daniel Gildenlow has always had a theatrical sense of melody, and his melismatic approach to singing often pushes his work into camp. But the band grounds those sensibilities in whip-smart songwriting and an equally unique approach to rhythm. The best Pain of Salvation songs jitter and soar in equal measure.

...

...

Including live albums, this is the band’s 14th release. That’s a lot of music to digest, doubly so given lead singer & songwriter Daniel Gildenlow’s penchant for ambitious lyrical conceits and dense arrangements. To help you sort through all of it, we’re going to break down the Pain of Salvation discography with a new edition of So Grim, So True, So Real.

So Grim, So True, So Real offers a new way to think about a given band’s discography. In this feature, we will highlight first, the low point in a band’s body of work (So Grim), and then the album which, to the best of the IO team’s estimation, most people hold in the greatest esteem (So True) and finally one album which holds up as the best listening experience, regardless of what fans and critics insist (So Real).

...

...

So Grim: Falling Home (2014, InsideOut)
Gildenlow has never treated his body of work with kid gloves. Like a lot of prog musicians, he has a sense of play about his own music. He’s a tinkerer, always willing to try new arrangements of old songs when the mood strikes him. Given how static most metal bands can be about their old stuff, this is refreshing. Hats off to Gildenlow for having guts.

But dude, DUDE, this shit sounds like Phish. And in case you’re just joining us here at Invisible Oranges (welcome! Grab a beer and yell at Joseph about Reign In Blood) that is not a compliment. At this point Pain of Salvation had completed revamped their lineup from their classic era, leaving Gildenlow as the sole center of gravity. To give the band credit, this new batch of musicians are all incredible players, especially drummer Leo Magritt & guitarist Ragnar Zolberg, but doing acoustic “jazz” covers of Pain of Salvation is not a good use of that raw talent.

The song selection doesn’t do them many favors either. The Scarsick material doesn’t translate well to the acoustic setting, while “1979” & “Stress” are among the weaker Pain of Salvation songs to begin with.

There are a few bright spots. “Chain Sling” is pretty much unruinable regardless of the arrangement, and this update barely messes with the original formula. “Perfect Day” would be a solid mid album track on a more traditional Pain of Salvation album. But none of these momentary lapses into good taste can justify the cover of “Holy Diver”. Look, I’m not even some kind of Dio purist, I will go to my grave defending Killswitch Engage’s cover of the very same song, but holy shit is this bad. The idea of Pain of Salvation, one of the most earnest metal bands on earth, treating this song to a sub-Richard Cheese ironic jazz cover is fucking unconscionable. It reeks of the worst kind of musical condescension. It’s the sound of polite chuckles in response to someone pouring their heart out. Not only is Falling Home inessential, it highlights Gildenlow’s worst impulses and misrepresents their material to a gross degree.

...

...

...

So True: The Perfect Element, Part I (2000, InsideOut)
On The Perfect Element, Part I Pain of Salvation figured out who they were. The band’s first two albums, Entropia and One Hour By The Concrete Lake, both had their moments, but could never balance their interest in big obvious melodies and head-spinning musicianship. The Perfect Element made their musicianship catchy. The album’s best moments use tricky rhythms to take already strong melodies to another level (see the bridge of “In The Flesh” or the instrumental workout during “Her Voices”) or simply but their egos aside and wrote great rock songs (“Ashes” & “Morning On Earth”). They had also gotten better in every measurable way. Gildenlow delivered the most bonkers vocal performance of his career on “Reconciliation” and songs like “Idioglossia” and the title track are all time prog metal classics.

The Perfect Element didn’t just improve the details of Pain of Salvation’s sound, it also sharpened the image of their big picture. This was the first album where Gildenlow’s use of leitmotifs (aka recurring melodies that signify certain characters or themes) was more than window dressing, but instead a fundamental part of his toolbox. It also narrowed his lyrical focus from the global to the personal, detailing the specific ways in which modern society’s indifference has damaged the lives of two individuals. It seems like this was an “aha!” moment for Gildenlow, since every Pain of Salvation album from this point on, with one notable exception that we’ll get to soon enough, focused on the human first and the structural second.

This album is what fans think of when they think of Pain of Salvation. No wonder they clamored for a sequel.

...

...

...

So Real: BE (2004, InsideOut)
Part creation myth, part thesis on Malthus and environmental collapse, with a digression into the world’s worst Twilight Zone episode where a gleeful capitalist becomes a popsicle only to unfreeze long after the rest of humanity has died off. It’s his theory of everything, his attempt to answer life’s biggest questions in the loudest voice possible. It’s over confident and completely ludicrous, but also completely sincere. Albums like this are an inevitable part of the prog life cycle. Once a band hits their stride and delivers on their potential they will set their aim higher and over reach for their magnum opus. BE is Daniel Gildenlow pulling up from halfcourt on every prog metal cliche and swishing it.

Or, almost swishing it. The middle chunk of the record suffers from Gildenlow’s reach not quite going far enough. The one-two punch of “Nauticus” and “Dea Pecuniae” is 15 minutes of extreme douche chills. I will take Gildenlow’s corny rapping over his ‘Negro Spiritual’ impression and god awful 90s video game voice acting any day of the week.

It is a testament to the quality of the rest of the record that this middle chunk doesn’t sink the whole affair. Starting with “Vocari Dei” BE delivers on the absurdity of its premise, depicting the end of the world with real pathos and insight. By expanding his palette into woodwinds and strings Gildenlow maximized his potential as an arranger. The final act of the album is a tapestry of leitmotifs, all woven into each other.

Pain of Salvation are great because even among the crowded field of progressive metal, they refuse to reign in their ambition, and BE is their most ambitious album by far. For that reason alone, it is their best album.

...

...