March 2014, Daniel Gildenlow posted a status on Facebook detailing his then recent hospitalisation due to a nasty flesh eating bacteria. The news stunned fans of the Swedish music legend’s progressive rock band Pain Of Salvation, who quickly rushed to social media to wish him well and support him on his road to recovery.
Nearly three years later, and Daniel is (presumably) fully recovered and releasing a new Pain Of Salvation album. Their first album of new material since 2011’s Road Salt Two (Falling Home being an acoustic covers album with one original song), and the second album with the lineup of Gildenlow (lead vocals, lyrics, guitar, various other things), Ragnar Zolberg (guitar and vocals), Gustaf Hielm (bass guitar), Daniel Karlsson (keyboards) and Leo Margarit (drums). Thematically, the album continues the band’s tradition of concept albums, by dealing with the topic of Daniel’s illness and hospitalisation. One thing making this album different from previous releases by the band is that all of the songs were co-written by Gildenlow and Ragnar. Daniel has collaborated with people a few times before, there were some tracks on the first two POS albums with co-writers, and a few little bits in other songs that were written by other band members, but for the most part Gildenlow writes all of the band’s material himself. This album changes that, and – in my opinion – changes it for the better. Maybe it was a revitilisation that the band needed, but by bringing Ragnar in on the songwriting process, the band has crafted a fantastic album.
For a long time now, hardcore POS fans have been crying for the band to return to their metal roots, and bring a heavier offering than the Road Salt albums and Falling Home. Then you get the people who say that everything turned to shit after Remedy Lane, and that Scarsick was awful. I’m not one of those people. In fact, Scarsick is probably my favourite POS record personally, and I really enjoyed Road Salt One. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of Road Salt Two, it was still a good album, but something felt slightly lacking to me. Maybe it was the heaviness of prior releases, but elitists need not worry, for the heaviness is back in full force on this new record.
The album opens with the song On A Tuesday (which is 10 minutes long by the way). Daniel opens the album with the lyrics “I was born in this building, it was the first Tuesday I’d ever seen, and if I live to see tomorrow, it will be my Tuesday number 2119”, an interesting reflection on life – and death. The song in general seems to be a reflection on humans in general, as is evident by the lyrics of the chorus. It’s almost like Daniel saying “isn’t it crazy how people are, trying so hard to be accepted despite the fact that we’ll all die eventually”. Some may see it as morbid, but the fact is, it’s pretty much true, and an accurate representation of what his thoughts probably were, being faced with the very real possibility of dying. Musically, the song is a stunning opener, with these staccato riffs opening the song, eventually leading into a downright catchy chorus. If I had to compare the song, I’d compare it to some of the band’s work from The Perfect Element Pt. 1, it has the ambition and the scope but it’s modernised, it doesn’t retread old ground. A lot of progressive acts nowadays try so hard to recreate the nostalgia of 70s prog rock (e.g. Opeth), but Pain Of Salvation manage to make it modern and up to date, a rare thing in today’s prog rock world (or at least, to me it is) because it simply isn’t as prominent as it should be.
The album continues with Tongue Of God, one of the record’s shorter tracks, and one of the many references to God on the record. The lyrics at the start of this song are interesting: “I cry in the shower, I smile in the bed” seems to be referring to how Daniel kept a brave face when in the hospital bed, when there were people around, but when he was alone and showering – or just alone in general – he was able to let loose. Maybe I’m taking the lyrics too literally, but that’s how I perceived it. This song also contains one of my favourite lyrics from the album – “the things the living tell the not dead” is a poignant line and really stuck with me.
Track three is Meaningless, a song that was released as the first single. Interestingly, the song is actually a reworking of a song by Ragnar’s band Sign (the song being Rockers Don’t Bathe if anyone wants to check it out, it’s on Spotify) and it’s a very interesting song. It opens up with this strange sound which is apparently Ragnar’s voice fed through a distorter and a sampler. If so, it’s fucking genius and I love it. If not, I still love it. Lyrically, it reworks some of the Rockers Don’t Bathe lyrics to suit the album. That said, I’m still not entirely sure on how it fits in with the concept (especially due to my belief that the album takes place over one day). With the sexual lyrics, maybe it’s Daniel reflecting on sex, and how he wants that euphoria again? I’m not entirely sure, maybe more listens will clear it up, but the song itself is fantastic, and Ragnar’s vocals in the chorus are incredible.
Up next is Silent Gold, the shortest track on the album at three and half minutes. Not too much to say about this song really, it’s a nice, subdued piece of music, with Daniel’s calming vocals crooning over it. Just a nice song, but due to its brevity (in contrast to the other songs) it almost feels like an interlude. That said, it shouldn’t be ignored, it is a full song, and a good one at that.
Now we get onto what may be my favourite track on the album (at the moment) and a song that I predict will be a fan favourite – Full Throttle Tribe. A 9 minute epic which seems to describe feelings of isolation in the lyrics “I never signed onto this mankind, no colour, race or creed felt truly mine”. Isolation and loneliness is a theme that POS have explored in the past, and this song almost seems like Daniel saying that he didn’t ask for this. He didn’t ask for this illness, this situation, but now that he’s there he has to come to terms with it as he sings “this will be my tribe, my family” and “this will be my creed, my legacy, will you follow me”. My interpretation of these lyrics is Daniel saying that even though he doesn’t want to be in this situation, it’s something that maybe has to happen. He never asked for life, but he’s going to make the most of it, and should he die, his legacy will be in this, his music. I could be way off with that interpretation but that’s just how I see it personally. Musically, the song is fantastic with a driving melody, these nice electronic keyboards in the background and a few occasions of random bursts of staccato noise with Daniel’s vocal delivery speeding up frenetically. Definitely a highlight of the album.
Reasons is the next song, opening very heavily, and with a staccato (I’ve used that term a lot) chorus melody of the line “these are the reasons” repeated. The song took a while to grow on me due to its experimental nature, but I grew to really enjoy it as a single, and it fits really well within the concept of the album.
Angels Of Broken Things is next up, and if there is any song on the album that captures the sense of being in a hospital, it’s this one. When I was first listening to this album, and Daniel sings the opening lyrics “sheets of spotless white, voices fading out, thoughts are growing dim as my longest night begins” it took me back to April 2016 when I myself was in hospital for three days having to have my blood flushed for over thirty hours. It was a horrible experience, and those lyrics brought me back to that. Not in a bad way, but I remember lying in the bed, the sounds of the machines, the doctor’s voices as they walk past and for the first time in the album, I actually felt like I was there. That’s a testament to Daniel’s ability as a songwriter, and to the band as well, because the song has a marching rhythm that could be compared to hearts beating (same with Full Throttle Tribe), but as he sang the line “as my longest night begins” you know that he’s in for a bad time. He’s about to undergo surgery and it’s not going to be fun, as Daniel sings “this isn’t my night” and he calls to the angels to take him away from “this world of broken things”. Truly a fantastic song, and an emotional highpoint.
The Taming Of A Beast is next, and it opens with a more upbeat rhythm (presumably signifying the end of the surgery) as Daniel sings in his lower register at the start, with lyrics that seem to be about how he’s thankful for this experience in a strange way. He says that he needed something to shake him up and strike him down. “The storm has come and rooted me up” – I can only assume the storm being the illness. I also want to just mention the point in this song where Daniel yells “I wanna taste it all” and the chorus comes in. A moment that gave me goosebumps and made me want to headbang (and I never headbang).
The penultimate track now – If This Is The End – and one of the most interesting songs on the album, for several reasons. Thematically, the song is Daniel reflecting again and asking the question that many of us have asked if we’ve been in similar situations – “is this it?”, “is this the end?”. I imagine that this song is set whilst Daniel is waiting for the results of his surgery, unsure of whether it succeeded, so he’s asking questions around the theme of “what if this is the end?”. What makes the song so interesting though, is that it contains three reprises to previous Pain Of Salvation songs. First off, you have a lyrical reprise from track one “On A Tuesday”, where Daniel again mentions his Tuesday number 2119 (this is what leads me to believe the album is set over the course of one day), another lyrical reprise from the song Meaningless (“is there something cutting to the bone”) and a subtle musical reprise of the song Ending Theme from the band’s 2002 album Remedy Lane, arguably their most acclaimed work. The believed Ending Theme reprise comes in at around about 4 minutes 50 seconds, if you listen carefully you can hear what I presume is Ragnar’s guitar in the background playing a riff almost identical to that of Ending Theme. This wouldn’t be the first time that POS have used reprises in this way, they did it several times on The Perfect Element Pt. 1 and Remedy Lane, and the use of it here is extremely interesting, due to the contexts of these songs. What if this was the end for Daniel? What if this was his true ending theme?
And finally, the epic 15 minute closer title track, which happens to be the longest song ever recorded by the band. This song is the climax of the record, and has Daniel in conversation with who I can only presume to be his wife/partner (I don’t know if he’s married or not). The surgery seems to have been a success, Daniel is okay, and this was not the end. It’s a very somber and relective song – “Though life has worn us down, through sun and rain, your eyes are still the same, deep blue against all grey, “love don’t be afraid” you seem to say, “I am here for you, all the way, my lover, my best friend””. I can only imagine this is Daniel being visited by his wife/partner after finding out the good news. I don’t want to go into too much detail about this song because I’ll be going on forever (and this review is already very long) but it’s an amazing closer to the album, and contains another reprise to Ending Theme, this time a lyrical one, with the words “ending theme” sang as backing vocals after the halfway point of the song. Another genius reprise. Oh, and there is also a line in here “better burn out they say, than fade away” – I’m not going to say who that is a reference to because you should hopefully already know, but I noticed it and felt the need to point it out.
Overall, this album is amazing. It’s a return to form for Pain Of Salvation, their best album (in my opinion) since Scarsick, and it may go down and my favourite album by them period. I’m hesitant to make that claim now though, because the album is new, and I need to give it more time to grow on me before I can make such a claim, but this album is fantastic. It’s heavy, it’s beautiful, it’s conceptual, it’s everything you want from a Pain Of Salvation record and then some. It’s a shame that the album came from such a horrible situation but – as I’ve always said – if you make something good come out of something bad then it was all worth it. I’m not sure if Daniel feels the same way, but he managed to make an incredible album out of a horrible experience. Kudos to him. And kudos to the entire band, for making such a great record. Finally, I’d just like to say that I was surprised with Ragnar’s contributions. I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t a big fan initially when I heard him on the Falling Home song, I felt his vocals were a bit too high for my tastes, but when I heard him on Meaningless I was blown away, and I expected to hear more of him vocally on this record. I kind of thought he’d been brought in as a guitarist and co-lead vocalist but his vocal role on this album is restricted to mainly backing vocals. However, that is understandable considering the highly personal nature of the lyrics, I just thought I’d say that I was very impressed with Ragnar’s contributions here, and the way he was able to bring these songs to life with Daniel. Obviously, I don’t know exactly what parts he contributed, but I know that he did, so props to him, apologies for ever doubting you.