Sound — 8
The last few years have not been kind to Pain Of Salvation. Between losing 60% of the band's lineup not long after the release of the band's last "proper" album, "Road Salt Two" ("Falling Home" was "merely" an album of acoustic renditions of the band's past material and some select covers), the birth of a special-needs child, and, perhaps most relevantly, frontman Daniel Gildenlow's sudden affliction with necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating bacteria), Pain Of Salvation is left in a situation in which most bands would crumble under the weight. Add to this the polarizing effect that the "Road Salt" albums have had on their fanbase, as well as mixed reception to the band's new lineup (featuring guitarist/vocalist Ragnar Zolberg, bassist Gustaf Hielm, who actually played with the band in their early days and went on to record on Meshuggah's "Chaosphere" album, and keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Daniel "D2" Karlsson, along with founding member Daniel Gildenlow on guitars and vocals and relative newcomer Leo Margarit on drums), and you've got a lot of strange, tense energy going on. Perhaps testing the waters, the band released a remixed and remastered version of their cult classic "Remedy Lane," which also included a live version of the entire album performed by the entire new lineup, and it gave a lot of fans their first taste of what this new lineup could do in the context of Pain Of Salvation's classic work.
"In the Passing Light of Day" represents something of a triumph for the band. While most bands in Pain Of Salvation's shoes would simply implode, crumble, and ultimately fade away, the band effectively continues to plow on, and use a lot of the experiences of the past few years to inspire this intense, emotional new record. Now, I'd like to get a few things out of the way, first and foremost. Firstly, this new album is NOT a "return to form". The band has never really had one particular form to confine themselves to in the first place, and very few of their albums truly sound alike. The sound on this record does hark back to some of their older material at times, but only occasionally. And while the "Road Salt" albums may have had a dividing effect on fans, there are still many who agree (myself included amongst them) that they are indeed great records. Secondly, this album is NOT "Remedy Lane Part 2." No matter how much you want it to be.
Musically speaking, the album opens on a very high note with the epic "On a Tuesday." This is the first time Pain Of Salvation has opened an album with a 10+ minute epic, and if you're a fan of classic Pain Of Salvation, this opening track is going to be right up your alley. With interesting rhythmic interplay (is that 35/16 time or a bar of 7/4 followed by a bar of 7/16 or just five bars of 7/16!? Seriously pushing into Meshuggah territory), great riffs and a sort of multi-sectional structure that goes from swelling verses and a very powerful chorus into slower keyboard-led sections to a sort of slow, symphonic build-up to the end, this is a track that is sure to satiate Pain Of Salvation fans. And while it's complex with its shifting time signatures and climactic structure, it still has a lot of great, compelling melodies, and shows the band's penchant for great songwriting, as opposed to the genre's all-too-prevalent tendency to instrumental noodling. Opening with a very Steven Wilson-esque piano part is the much shorter "Tongue of God," featuring a sort of loud/soft dynamic between its ballsy guitar riffs and its vulnerable, pained verses. The track did very little for me at first, but eventually kind of grew on me a little, possibly because of its earworm of a chorus. The track itself is kind of reminiscent of "Ashes" from "The Perfect Element Part I," in its sort of dynamic shifts and its dark atmosphere, but "Tongue of God" doesn't seem to quite have the immediacy of "Ashes," and almost kind of feels like it's over just a little too soon. "Meaningless" is, in many regards, similar to "Tongue of God," as a short track with a rather dark sort of atmosphere to it, and a very similar kind of dynamic shift between its verses and choruses. The song started life as a piece by current guitarist Ragnar Zolberg's other band, Sign, called "Rockers Don't Bathe," though there are numerous changes to the song to make it Pain Of Salvation's own, though it is, as far as I can tell, the first time the band has ever done this. The song features some trademarks of Pain Of Salvation's sound, though, including Daniel Gildenlow's sort of "spoken/shouted rap" vocals that have featured on many of the band's albums. Strangely enough, the sample of Ragnar's vocals that opens the track sounds practically indistinguishable from the original version by Sign, but it still feels like a Pain Of Salvation song through and through.
"Silent Gold" is perhaps the only real blemish on this album, as far as I'm concerned. This piano-led ballad, partially written and performed by Swedish record producer Peter Kvint, is rather uninspiring musically, and has a melody I consider to be somewhat annoying. The performance is exemplary on this song as anyone would expect from Pain Of Salvation, but it's just not my favourite song in the band's discography by a long margin. Thankfully, it's rather short, and leads into another one of the album's centerpieces, "Full Throttle Tribe," another song with very light shades of the band's past material strewn throughout it. Clocking in at nearly nine minutes long, this is another intense journey of a track, much like the album's opener, and features more of Pain Of Salvation's unique rhythmic interplay, with the band's drummer, Leo Margarit, playing with lots of 7s and 5s in the meter. Despite this rhythmic complexity, the band manages to squeeze in some memorable melodies in the chorus, great dynamics, and some dramatic and intense instrumental passages throughout the song. "Reasons" seems to channel bands like Leprous (though it's debatable whether Daniel listens to the band or not) by taking a lot of the rhythmic interplay of the previous song, especially the persistent polyrhythms in 7/4 time, and condensing it a little into a shorter song structure, with lots of great heavy riffs, even touching briefly on djent at times, and a somehow annoying-yet-catchy-as-fuck chorus consisting only of the lyrics "these are the reasons" over and over again. "Angels of Broken Things" takes the polyrhythmic interplay up to eleven, with many time signatures going on, possibly at the same time between guitar, vocals, and drums, and yet still sounding very much like a cohesive, coherent song. It's not one of the most interesting songs on a musical level, and kind of counts as one of the album's softest pieces, kind of sounding a bit like a sort of Pink Floyd pastiche. The song features the only proper guitar solos on the record, performed by both Daniel and Ragnar as far as I can tell, and they're decent enough solos, but they don't exactly inspire me to pick up my guitar and learn them in the same way some of their past solos have. Still, an overall decent song.
"The Taming of a Beast" is a kind of swaggering, grungey song, keeping with the sort of primal theme of the lyrics, with a persistent pentatonic keyboard run and guitar riffs that seem like they might have been left over from the "Road Salt" sessions. By this point in the album, the tone of the record has changed from a sort of new Pain Of Salvation sound with threads of the "classic" PoS DNA throughout it, to something a little more akin to the experimentation on the band's past few records, and this continues with the penultimate track "If This Is the End," a song that starts off with a very folk-y aesthetic (though played with clean 7-string electric guitars rather than acoustics as one would expect) complete with what sounds like accordion and very old-sounding vocals, before a brief buzz of distortion heralds the entrance of the band's more metal aesthetics. There are a couple of very familiar lyrics and melodies in this part, one harking to the beginning of the album, one harking to an earlier album altogether. In a lot of ways, this track is almost like a miniaturized version of the album's epic-length title track, clocking in at fifteen an a half minutes, which also opens with a very folky sort of clean guitar part that eerily reminds me of Sigur Ros circa the "( )" album. This contemplative section builds up dramatically (also ending up using that "familiar melody" along with even more familiar lyrics harking back to a past album) over several minutes to an incredibly emotional, heavy climax that, while not one of the fastest, loudest or most complex riffs on the album, may be the heaviest on an emotional level, having brought me to tears the first time I heard it. About the only problem I have with this track is how after this climax, the rest of the track is just more repeats of the chorus melody, which is a beautiful chorus, but I feel like it gets repeated too often throughout the track.
Production, handled by Daniel Bergstrand, is organic and very reminiscent of the band's work on the "Road Salt" albums, especially in the drum sounds, guitar tones, and keyboard sounds, though I found the album a little compressed and loud in the mixing for my liking. The instrumental layering is right on the money for this album, though, and I feel like slight compression and volume issues aside, this is a very lovely-sounding Pain Of Salvation album on many different types of equipment, from cheap headphones to decently expensive speakers. It's even one of the few albums that sounds decent through the tinny speaker on my smartphone (don't hate me, we've all listened to music on subpar equipment out of necessity before).
Lyrics — 9
"I was born in this building
It was the first Tuesday I had ever seen
And if I live to see tomorrow
It will be my Tuesday number 2119"
One of Pain Of Salvation's defining characteristics is that each of their albums is a concept record, and this is no different from their past works. While the music on this album was written mostly by frontman Daniel Gildenlow and new guitarist Ragnar Zolberg (a first for this album where every song is credited to a co-writer), the lyrics and concept on this album are, as usual, handled solely by Daniel. And that concept is all of the feelings and thoughts one has in a hospital bed, when they are positive they are on death's doorstep, starting right from that opening line above, with life ironically almost coming full-circle for Daniel. Through the album, there are songs detailing with themes of faith in god (or lack thereof), guilt, nihilism, anger, a longing to cling to life, and the pain, both mental and physical, of enduring such a lengthy stay in the hospital.
One can really feel the pain he feels during his stay with a lyric like the one in "Tongue of God": "I cry in the shower/And smile in the bed/"Don't be afraid" I hear people say/As if it will let me live if I'm just brave/Then the clouds of death would simply draw away." While the first part may seem a little melodramatic on first listen, Daniel details his surgery from necrotizing fasciitis (protip, don't Google Image Search this illness if you want to keep your lunch down) and the hole in his back, meaning his crying in the shower was definitely from the physical pain. Tracks like "Meaningless" and "Reasons" deal with other very negative emotional subject matter, such as guilt and anger, though it's not clear to whom he is directing these to. There are spots of positivity and other emotions like fear throughout the album, and almost lining up with the five stages of loss and grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. In the final track, "In The Passing Light Of Day", we're taken back to Daniel's first day in the hospital, a description of his relationship to his wife Johanna, and a series of climactic emotional verses where the singer seems to accept that he will die and lists his biggest regrets: "All those times that I went away/All those times that I couldn't stay/Wish that I could give them back/Wish that I could give them back/All those times that I failed on you/All those times that I turned on you/Wish that I could take them back/Wish that I could take them back."
I wish I could go into more detail about the concept but I also need to give space to talk about the vocal performances on the album, and for the most part, they are exemplary. Of course, Daniel's vocal prowess needs no introduction to those who are familiar with the band. Daniel's vocals have always been the centerpiece of the band and he's as strong as he ever has been on this album. Emotionally evocative, powerful, melodic, and dynamic, there's very little change in the vocal department for Daniel. Backing vocals on the album are provided by Ragnar Zolberg, who actually gets a decent amount of lead vocal spotlight on the album as well, more than past guitarist/backing vocalist Johan Hallgren got, which is kind of a shame, because Hallgren was an amazing vocalist in his own right. Ragnar, however, seems to be a bit of an acquired taste when it comes to his vocal style, with his high-pitched, almost childish voice constrasting rather sharply against Daniel's. Personally, I don't mind his vocals, but I can easily see why some may not, kind of for the same reason I can see why a lot of people do not like Geddy Lee's vocal style. Thankfully, his vocal showcases are not as frequent as one might imagine when hearing "Meaningless" for the first time.
Overall Impression — 8
Pain Of Salvation has managed to come back from some of their darkest days with a revised lineup and a revitalized energy. Eschewing flashy instrumental passages for intricate rhythmic interplay and deep, melodic songwriting, along with some of prog-metal's most deeply emotional lyrics, the band really sounds like nothing else in the genre. Rather than retread old ground on the album, Pain Of Salvation seeks to move forward on new ground. In fact, the production and performance on this album, in my opinion, better mirrors Daniel's comment about the "Road Salt" albums sounding "like 1976 on steroids." There are moments on this album that are heavy, and even technical, while some are softer, contemplative, and tender. Dynamics play an important role on this album, and sometimes the jarring buildups to loud climaxes cutting out to near-complete silence are what really sets the emotional mood.
In many respects, the band has seen a lot of success on this album. However, it's not a perfect album, and there are a couple of moments that aren't as great. Some tracks tend to meander a bit, especially the longer ones, and "Silent Gold" and "Angels of Broken Things" are just very uninteresting tracks to listen to for me. Some of the tunes in the first half of the album, such as "Tongue of God" and "Meaningless," are also somewhat uninteresting as well. The lack of guitar solos through most of the album may give some fans of the band's old style a cause for concern as well (though arguably, PoS has never been solely about instrumental show-offs). As well, the album seems a bit plagued by a lot of the "they changed, so it's broken" concerns that have plagued the band since just about any album since "Remedy Lane" (or "BE," or "Scarsick" or "Road Salt One," depending on who you ask).
Although this album is clearly not a repeat in style of any of their past albums, it does contain those few vital strands of Pain Of Salvation DNA, from the personal lyrics of "Remedy Lane" to the rhythmic interplay of "One Hour by the Concrete Lake," to the heaviness of "Scarsick" and the raw production of the "Road Salt" albums. It still manages to sound like its own album despite all of these minor connections to past albums, and shows a band that will hopefully continue to move forward on future albums.
Overall, this has turned out to be a good album, even if it's nowhere near Pain Of Salvation's best work. It's good to know that even after a brush with death and the replacement of nearly the band's entire lineup, the band is still capable of putting out decent quality work.