Sound: Pain Of Salvation sure has come a long way since releasing their first album, Entropia, in 1997. Their first four albums all followed a pretty generic prog-metal template, featuring tight drums, noodle-y guitars, clear clean vocals, fretless bass, and pristine productions. And while these traits won over the likes of most of the prog-metal fanbase, there wasn't really as much experimentation as that fanbase would like to have you believe. By the time 12:5, "BE" and Scarsick were released, the band began to lose some of their core fanbase, while experimenting more on their sound. So this path has left Pain Of Salvation at Road Salt One, following the November 2009 release of the Linoleum EP, which served as a sort of teaser to the album. The sound was much more stripped down, raw, and jammy than Pain Of Salvation's past albums. Much of this had to do with the replacement of previous drummer, Johan Langell, with current skinsman Lo Margarit. His presence is felt on many of Road Salt One's tracks, as his style is much more manic and unrestrained than Langell's ever was.
While you'd be hard-pressed to find many guitar solos on Road Salt One (just the standard-edition opener, No Way, and a couple of brief solos in She Likes To Hide and the stomping blues number Tell Me You Don't Know), Margarit's drumming prowess is shown to great effect on just about every tune he plays on. Fredrik also takes a more forward position on this album, playing a lot more Rhodes electric piano and organ and even a little bit of Mellotron to add a bit of 70's prog flair. The one thing that is pushed back in the mix in comparison to other Pain Of Salvation albums is guitar. There's very little riffage on the album. In fact, the closest thing to a "traditional metal riff" on the album takes place in the song Where It Hurts, which might also be the closest thing on the album to a more "traditional" Pain Of Salvation prog-metal song. But the production has turned what would be a very tight prog-metal tune into a raw 70's-esque rocker. The production on this album does seem to give the impression that this band has gotten very tired of the tight prog-metal productions of the past and want to look into more retro sounds. Much of the album sounds as if it could have easily been released in 1976. The vocals have a very compressed sound, and even a little distorted, as if the album were tracked to analog tape.
Much of the album's music will be a turn-off to fans who expect the band to release another The Perfect Element Part I or Remedy Lane (read: pretty much all of their fans), but there's a lot of really good music on this album. The opener on the standard edition (the limited edition starts with a brief bonus track, What She Means To Me), No Way, carries a really awesome retro rock tone that doesn't really feel dated. She Likes To Hide is a soulful bluesy tune which is really simple in its superficial lyrical sound, but deeper in meaning when you read between the lines. Sisters counts among one of the most beautiful and captivating tunes the band has released since Remedy Lane, and gives off this instant-nostalgia factor that even the best turn-of-the-decade indie bands cannot claim. Of Dust comes off as a grittier and darker Nauticus, complete with gospel-esque choral vocals. Tell Me You Don't Know stomps with a Led Zeppelin-like grooviness and a four-to-the-floor grittiness that'll make you think you're in the Louisiana Delta jammin' it up with Robert Johnson. Sleeping Under The Stars has a Faith No More-like wit and eccentricity to it that makes it seem like a more controversial version of Dea Pecuniae, complete with the arrogance of the typical rock star. Darkness Of Mine is a deceptively simple tune which takes on so many different emotional facets in its relatively short four minute length, but centering on addiction and depression. Linoleum, in exactly the same mix as shown on the EP, still stomps and still rolls along with that stoner-rock vibe, and the beautiful middle section of the song still provides one of the best musical contrasts on the entire album. Curiosity might be the fastest song on the album, but its cheery demeanor does not detract at all from the flow of the album. Where It Hurts might win over the most past fans with its more traditional prog-metal riffage and high-pitched vocals. The title track, Road Salt, which was featured in Melodiefestivalen (Sweden's national competition to join Eurovision), is an incredibly lovely tune with a very sparse piano/vocal arrangement that is unlike just about anything heard on a previous Pain Of Salvation album. The closing track, Innocence, features Daniel Gildenlw's only fretless guitar playing on the album. The track has a very psychedelic vibe to it and has the densest musical arrangement, with even a string section at the end of the song wailing away on their instruments.
At the close of the album, it feels like a solid musical journey. It's very different from all of Pain Of Salvation's previous works (even Scarsick and "BE"), and yet, distinctly feels like something only Daniel Gildenlw could create. While there's not a lot on this album to pander to the prog-metal fanboys, who will undoubtedly criticize this album and question Daniel's motives and abilities, they're quite frankly wrong, and this album is full of quality music. Pretty much the only problem with this album on a sound basis is that the production can cause some of the songs to sound a little dated. This is especially more true with songs like Where It Hurts and Innocence, which have a very modern musical sound, but a very retro production sound. However, this retro production makes tunes like Tell Me You Don't Know sound authentically retro, and songs like Sisters sound emotional and nostalgic. I couldn't imagine either of those tunes sounding good with a sterile, modern production. // 9
Lyrics: The lyrics on this album all seem to follow a theme of life choices. And I'm not talking "lifestyle" choices, but the choices that one must follow in life. Superficially, sexuality makes up the bulk of this album's lyrical subject matter, especially in songs like Sisters ("If she looked me deep into my eyes and softly asked me to/I'd be in her bed and in her flesh and waste the life I knew"), No Way ("Cause when I hold her in the night/All that is wrong will become right/and I know that she feels it too/Cause no one loves her like I do"), Sleeping Under The Stars ("Wait darling wait, and don't worry cause you will see/semen stains wash out surprisingly easily"), and probably most blatantly, Curiosity ("My love will puncture your skin/my love goes all the way in"), but there are underlying currents of unease with each of these choices, like in Sisters ("But this thirst has emptied every glass, and we should say good night/God, help me say goodnight") and Road Salt ("Maybe it's not enough/Maybe this time it's just too much").
The choices each character in each song may define that character forever, and so the emotional delivery of these lyrics is often quite fitting. Daniel does some amazing things with his voice on this album, and this may very well be his best album, vocally. From incredibly tender singing in Sisters to bluesy swagger in Tell Me You Don't Know to shouting at the end of Linoleum, all the way to typical metal falsetto in Where It Hurts, Daniel has pretty much every vocal base covered. If I had to criticize anything to do with lyrics and vocal delivery, it would probably have to be the overemphasis of sexuality on the album, and the production compressing and distorting a lot of Daniel's vocals. // 8
Overall Impression: So, this album, as I've already stated, does not compare easily to any other album by the band. While many will, whether in jest or not, try to compare this album to previous concepts like Remedy Lane or The Perfect Element Part I, Road Salt One seems to stand all on its own among the Pain Of Salvation canon. Nothing about this album is designed to reign in the typical prog-metal fanboys that this band undoubtedly attracts, but if you're willing to look with an open mind beyond the fact that this album is "different" from other Pain Of Salvation albums, you'll find that this album is a worthy successor to such albums as Remedy Lane and The Perfect Element Part I.
On the whole, this is a very solid listen, from beginning to end, yet a very varied listen. Many different sounds are displayed on the album, from metal to old-school progressive rock, to gospel, to even carnival-like music.
The biggest disappointment I had with this album was reading the credits and finding out how little of this album featured members besides Daniel Gildenlw. Johan Hallgren plays very little of the guitar on the album, Fredrik Hermansson sits out on much of the first half of the album, and even Lo's drumming is not featured on a few songs. While Daniel is impressive on drums and piano (he also played all of the bass on the album, save for No Way and Innocence, played by The Flower Kings' Jonas Reingold and ex-Meshuggah's (and ex-Pain Of Salvation's, coincidentally enough) Gustaf Hielm, respectively), this album will leave some wishing to hear more of the current incarnation of the band than just a few tracks in the second half of the album. I know I wouldn't mind hearing more of Johan and Daniel noodling away on some tracks.
The album is an incredibly solid listen from beginning to end, but if any songs had to stand out the most on it, No Way, Where It Hurts and Innocence would have to be my top picks. All three are incredibly different songs, but they're all very full songs that showcase all four current members doing what they do best.
So in conclusion, I find this to be a very enjoyable album that shows the best of the present mindset of Pain Of Salvation, and while there are a few rough edges here and there, this album should be more than capable of satiating the appetite of most fans of progressive rock who are looking to try something new, and may even manage to re-convert some of the fans who lost faith in them with Scarsick. But this is an album that still dares you to let it get under your skin. It's a very unapologetic album, and may prove to be very difficult for some fans. So don't say I didn't warn you. // 9