Sound — 8
POS are back again with the second part of their "Road Salt" sequence. Here on this record, they leave behind some of their past trademarks like polymetric clicky drums and overprocessed guitar sounds, but they do bring themselves a bit closer to their past work on this second part of the saga. It's easy to criticize Daniel Gildenlow for wanting to sound like a 1970s throwback on this record, but it does work with Pain Of Salvation's trademarks well, as evidenced in songs like "The Physics Of Gridlock" and "Through The Distance", both songs which recall former POS albums like "Remedy Lane" and "The Perfect Element Part 1" in structure and complexity, yet still sound like their current style. While the band does brush close to a more commercially viable sound at times (As on the rocker "Softly She Cries"), there seems to be a lot more complexity to this record's music than on "Road Salt One", with lots of interesting fretless guitar flourishes and interesting musical sounds. Many of the songs contain a very nostalgic sound, with tunes like "To The Shoreline" recalling some of Jim Morrison's prouder moments, and "Eleven" reminding us of an era of Mahavishnu Orchestra and Black Sabbath. While the guitar solo is not as evident in the "Road Salt" sequence as other Pain Of Salvation records, Daniel and Johan still impress us in tracks like "Eleven" and "The Physics Of Gridlock", and while riffs like the one in "Conditioned" definitely sound a little cliche, there definitely seems to be a return to a riff-oriented sound on this record, with even the acoustic track, "Healing Now", having a very convincing mandolin riff. The production is the only real problem with the album. The guitars, drums, keys, and even the bass (for a first time since Kristoffer Gildenlow's departure in 2005) are mixed very well, but the vocals are definitely a bit overly loud. While it's clear that unlike a lot of their work, this is a very vocalist-oriented album, the mix does sometimes seem a bit too "searing" for my tastes. Had they toned it down a bit, this album could have the potential to be one of their most endearing, if dividing, works.
Lyrics — 7
Vocally, Daniel and the boys have never been in such top form. Leo Margarit, besides being one of the best undiscovered master drummers of our time, is also quite the backup vocalist. Johan Hallgren gets a bit of spotlight here and there on the record as well, especially when taking a lead like in "Softly She Cries". Daniel's vocals definitely seem to be improving and widening in range. "Healing Now" contains quite the folk/prog vocal line that immediately recalls Jethro Tull, Camel, and Harmonium. Lyrically, the album does suffer a bit. It's clear that this is a continuation of the "Road Salt" concept, which seems to revolve around decisions, sexuality, love, affairs, and human emotions. But it's hard to shake the feeling that Daniel's creativity was running out lyrically, guessing by the number of times Daniel rhymes "die", "cry", etc. A lot of the lyrics seem a bit more positive than "Road Salt One"'s, though. The real stars of the show vocally seem to be the background vocals, especially on songs like "To The Shoreline". Johan and Leo are amazing backup vocalists, and they are used to great effect on nearly every song. The re-done vocals in "Mortar Grind", which appeared on their 2009 "Linoleum" EP, sparkle much more with the addition of Johan's and Leo's vocals. "The Deeper Cut", already sounding like a much proggier cut that could have fit on 2007's "Scarsick", has one of the most hypnotically psychedelic choruses of any track they've ever released.
Overall Impression — 9
This album sequence is one of the least-hyped releases of Pain Of Salvation's history, even despite appearing in "Melodiefestivalen", Sweden's contest to enter "Eurovision", with "Road Salt". It's clear to see why, with Road Salt One dividing most of their fanbase into two camps of either "love it" or "hate it". This album might succeed to draw back a few of the "hate it" folks, but I'm not counting on it. The bluesy sounds on the record that detered so many from part one are still ever-present on this record, even though a good number of the tracks sound much more "prog". But not 1998 prog. More like 1975 prog a la Camel. This is still no guitar hero album like "The Perfect Element", and even though Leo Margarit is one of the most amazing drummers out there, fans of the band's past material might still be unimpressed by the lack of metal-sounding drumming (but please don't try to tell me that songs like "Eleven" are not complex enough, with its fusion-sounding five-on-four drumming pattern). One of the only pitfalls of this record is the track "Mortar Grind". Despite receiving a hefty vocal facelift, it's still a two-year-old song that essentially hasn't changed since its original recording. I am included in the crowd of people left a bit disappointed by the decision to waste a bit of space on a new album with a song that's so old. Apparently, a bunch of other tracks had been written for the album, and any one of them would have fit well. Especially a number like "Tip Toe Two", an instrumental bonus track from "Road Salt One"'s Japanese release. It's rhythmic sound and heavier riffage would have fit in well with tracks like "Softly She Cries" or "Eleven". Overall, this album is definitely deserving of praise. Where "Road Salt One" divided those that loved or hated the new sound, this album is going to cement those opinions firmly in place. Being one that loved "Road Salt One"'s sound, this album definitely appeals to the part of me that loves 70s prog. But my hope is that the band does something different on their next album. The hype for this album was not really as worth it, and hopefully the change on their next record is much more apparent.