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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Pain of Salvation

Scarsick

Review by Julie Knispel

Sweden’s Pain of Salvation’s Scarsick is the follow up, nearly three years on, from the band’s critically acclaimed concept album Be. Released on InsideOut Music America, Scarsick sees the band continuing in thematic arenas, releasing an album that deals with the problems facing modern society. Scarsick also marks the first studio release since the departure of bassist Kristoffer Gildenlöw; his brother (and band leader) Daniel Gildenlöw handles all bass duties on this release, along with guitar and lead vocals. It’s a difficult task to review Pain of Salvation without focusing somewhat on Gildenlöw’s well-known political stance. “America,” as one might guess, offers Gildenlöw ample opportunity to preach from his musical pulpit (an analogy appropriate for a musician whose fervent fan base often worship him with a devotion verging on the religious) about the evils of the United States. While he should be commended for sticking to his guns, at the same time...well, we’ve seen this scene before, and it grows older and more worn with each iteration. Scarsick is an intense album, occasionally threatening and in your face. Eschewing the interleaving, interlocked pieces that typified Be and other conceptual pieces, the individual tracks here stand alone as songs while maintaining a unified thematic feel. While Scarsick breaks no real new ground for the band (the disco beat in “Disco Queen” notwithstanding), it is an album that should satisfy the band’s growing fan base. It may not necessarily bring in any new fans, nor might it expand their notoriety beyond the prog-metal genre, yet it remains a typically solid Pain of Salvation release.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Scarsick
The album opens with its namesake track. A heavy metallic rocker with a flanged bass guitar intro, Gildenlöw spits the lyrics out venomously, with a spoken delivery that invites comparison to Rage Against the Machine’s Zach de la Rocha. The song begins to spell out this release’s overriding concepts...illness, both personal and societal, damage and despair. It is at once an ominous and threatening track.
Spitfall
“Spitfall” continues in a vein similar to the previous track. Gildenlöw’s lyrics take aim at wealth and those who keep it from helping the teeming masses, while remaining sarcastic and ironic. The interleaving guitar playing by Johan Hallgren and Gildenlöw is excellent, adding depth and heaviness.
Cribcaged
This song opens with a deceptively mellow tone before developing into a scathing, vitriolic mid-tempo rocker with Gildenlöw screaming out a series of “f**k you’”s to a plethora of people and socio-political classes. While the repetition certainly builds, one wonders if the same result could have been achieved without resorting to base language. The music is skilled and enjoyable, with occasional nods to Beatles-like melody, but the lyrics, despite their obvious passion, really detract.
America
The title here says it all. Even casual PoS listeners know of Daniel Gildenlöw’s dislike for American politics and society, and this is his vitriolic screed against those elements. It’s a fast paced rocker with some excellent drumming courtesy of Johan Langell. Again, the song offers excellent melody and hooks, yet feels hamstrung due to its overt political message.
Disco Queen
While quite unique, owing to its danceable disco beat and funky rhythms, this piece follows in a similar tradition to “In The Flesh” or “Ashes” from previous releases. Gildenlöw states that this song deals “with the prostitution of the soul and its principles.” One of the longer tracks on Scarsick, it is at once odd yet strangely engrossing.
Kingdom of Loss
While many previous tracks on this album feature multiple voice parts, they are used to excellent effect on “Kingdom of Loss,” which also shows extensive use of sampled audio tracks and dialogue. The song fits into the thematic boundaries set down earlier, contrasting the reality TV/MTV/Baywatch culture with what reality actually is. “It’s all on sale...welcome to Planet Earth, please don’t ask us what it’s worth,” Gildenlöw sings plaintively, presenting perhaps the heaviest message on the album without resorting to political blindsides.
Mrs. Mondern Mother Mary
A short piece, this song fits a wide range of dynamics and styles into just over 4 minutes. The musical arrangements here are key, with tight instrumental interplay and a punchy mix that really suits this newer PoS lineup.
Idiocracy
After a short series of tracks eschewing an overt political message in favour of more universal themes, Gildenlöw’s political anger returns in force. The band’s sound here is heavily electronic and processed, with effects-laden vocals, digital synths and pulsing drum/bass rhythm work. Interspersed throughout are seemingly out of place acoustic sections with distinct Italian elements resting uneasily over heavy bass drum beats. An excellent harmony guitar solo at approximately 5:30 is a distinct highlight.
Flame of the Moth
Musical intricacy and extreme heaviness work hand in hand on this penultimate album track. The disparate elements work well here, with the more complex parts allowing the heavy bridges and choruses to seem even heavier as a result. Vocals range from layered and deftly arranged to screamed and nearly wordless. In some ways, the lyrics seem to be a message to the band’s fans: “I want you to remember I stood my ground and said, ‘no’” perhaps point to Gildenlöw’s decision not to compromise his values and beliefs in order to tour the United States.
Enter Rain
Perhaps the strongest track on this album, and one that nearly redeems it for this reviewer after the scathing “America” and “Cribcage” is “Enter Rain.” Heavy, powerful, yet with an irresistible hook that remains lodged in my craw for hours, it is on this track that I begin to see what others find so palatable in this group.
 
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