Pain of Salvation - Road Salt Two (Inside Out Music)

At times bewildering but always classy return from the Swedish progressivists...
Release Date: 
25 Sep 2011 - 11:30pm

Much like its distant musical cousins Opeth, Swedish progressive unit Pain of Salvation finds itself at a crossroads and in a degree of turmoil. Hell bent on exploring the ‘progressive’ pigeonhole it's been allocated, the band runs the risk of alienating longstanding fans in larger numbers than it attracts new ones simply by satisfying its own creative wanderlust. Just the other day I was told by a longstanding fan of the band that something ‘has gone wrong with Daniel Gildenlow’s brain’ of late, the reason being perhaps that the gifted vocalist/songwriter hasn’t made the same album repeatedly over the last few years.

Whatever your standpoint – and your reviewer really has no axe to grind here, having come to this remarkable band late in the day – the first thing to pick up on is what a stunning album Road Salt Two is. The first two tracks, Softly She Cries and Conditioned are weird, neo grunge rockers, weaving together strands of Faith No More, Jeff Buckley and, erm, Lenny Kravitz into an exciting mix that would have smashed US radio apart were this 1993. It isn’t, and so you find yourself thinking ‘what the hell are these blokes up to?” Feelings of confusion are leavened slightly by the fact that both songs are crackers, the latter in particular if only because it brings to mind pleasant memories of some of former Poison guitarist Richie Kotzen’s bluesy solo work.

Healing Now continues the grunge theme, though Led Zeppelin 3 looms large here too; but once again, any disappointment at the lack of prog metal or derivatives thereof is more than compensated for by the sheer quality of tuneage your being offered up by way of recompense.

To the Shoreline brings a bit of that celtic folk that Euro metallers are so fond of to the table, and it’s the first song on the album that finds the listener idly sifting remnants of this evenings dinner out of his (or her) beard and inspecting them for remastication prospects. But it’s a short enough song and, by the time the muscular classic rock riffage of Eleven is booming out of the speakers you’ll be back with the band and concentrating on the matter in hand. Eleven is the sort of tortured, visceral jam metal the Black Crowes have been churning out over the last decade, all wailing axe, vocal and Hammond interplay, the whole drenched in period charm and instrumental prowess; it’s also the first traditionally ‘progressive’ song on offer, in terms of the fact the extended mid section brings to mind seventies pomp behemoths Kansas.1979 is, despite its title, slightly more contemporary in feel if only because a looped beat props up the verses; Gildenlow puts in a great performance here, and carrying the sparse instrumentation of the song along with the sheer passion of his delivery.

The Deeper Cut is, simply, stunning. The sort of epic, overblown storytelling that Uriah Heep might have attempted when the late, lamented David Byron was at the vocal helm, it is, by turn, passionate, epic, and indeed, overblown, but once again the marvellous arrangement means that it never becomes bloated. This truly is progressive music in terms of where it comes from, if not in striving to move forward or expand horizons. Like Opeth (and I’m pained to keep comparing the two acts but it really is a comparison worth making), Pain of Salvation has accepted that to move forward artistically it's had to go backwards historically. If you as a listener can embrace this decision then, as with Heritage, you’ll find Road Salt Two to be a tremendously rewarding album. The Deeper Cut is the best example of this principle at work, though by no means do the other tracks follow the template any less effectively.

Mortar Grind is more straightforward, a nice piece of balls out seventies metal that allows Gildenlow to throw in a few Mike Patton yelps as the band stretches out and bangs its head beneath him, ending with a throat shredding scream that’ll help you remove any ear wax that’s been outstaying its welcome recently. Through the Distance sounds like pastoral English synth rockers Talk Talk filtered through the ever present Zeppelin lens, but it is too short at just under three minutes to really develop what is an absolutely cracking idea, And then, with the album drawing to a close we’re back to the post-grunge bucolic Americana of The Physics of Gridlock, with the band again investigating what Soundgarden might have sounded like had Jeff Buckley and Chris Cornell been indulging in a bit of narcotic-assisted Freaky Friday-styled role reversal in the early nineties. The answer to that question, if you’re wondering, is surprisingly rather good – and French speaking.

All in all, then, as a non partisan observer, I have to say that RST is a rather good album – though I know there will be many who can’t agree with me…