Pain of Salvation – ‘PANTHER’

By Ellie Odurny

For a band who’ve been around for nearly 30 years, Pain Of Salvation sound anything but tired. The prog pioneers continue to deliver truly progressive albums, with ‘PANTHER’ serving up new sonic elements, more overt production, and an evolution of sound that takes the listener on a conceptual journey of acceptance and rejection in modern society. The title track encompasses the theme of the release, comparing thought patterns of so called “normal” folk with those who are wired differently, repeating the lyrics “I feel like a panther, trapped in a dog’s world”.

Opening track ‘ACCELERATOR’ displays an immediate departure from the rawer, metal notes of previous album ‘The Passing Light of Day’, with an electro intro, offbeat rhythms, and those  notable tortured vocals from singer and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Gildenlöw. Electronic effects are prevalent throughout the album, with hefty doses of synth, layers of additional rhythmic scatterings and even some moments of tuning manipulation, most notably the autotuned vocals in ‘RESTLESS BOY’.

Fans of the heavier side of the prog rock scene might not be hugely keen on the marked electronic influence on ‘PANTHER’, however there’s so much more here on offer, you’d be hard pushed not to find elements of the album that impress. The unpredictability of Pain of Salvation is a large part of their charm, and ‘PANTHER’ has ample twists and turns around a plethora of musical styles and facets.

The churning, down tuned bass and half time beat of ‘UNFUTURE’ lead into moody, sultry vocals welcoming us “to the new world”. This track sees a return to a more classic prog rock sound, but not without a healthy dose of falsetto wailing over the crushing guitars. Similarly, ‘SPECIES’ channels the dark, raw emotion of Gildenlöw’s vocals, building the intensity from gentle, quiet simplicity to angry, harmonised passion in the space of a few minutes.

‘RESTLESS BOY’ isn’t just an autotuned intro, it builds subtle synth to morph into a choppy, frantic beat packed full of jarring metal drum sequences. This typical prog dalliance with unusual time signatures continues for the next couple of tracks, it being the defining element of hugely varied writing styles that still manage to merge together seamlessly to convey the concept of the album.

‘WAIT’ marries an emotive Spanish guitar sound and melodic piano with a Tubular Bells-esque ostinato, all set to a tricky irregular beat that simultaneously makes the melody harder to follow yet more intriguing all at once. ‘KEEN TO A FAULT’ mixes jagged electro rhythms with a more regularly timed prog rock chorus, the subtlety of the lyric-laden verses erupting into an impassioned cry of “every time I close my eyes, I can hear the roar”.  There’s still a hint of synth through the heavier parts of this middle section of the record, which helps bring a sense of cohesion to a collection of music that goes off on tangents even within a single track.

‘FUR’ is a surprising addition to a prog album with only 9 tracks, an acoustic instrumental interlude that somehow packs a barrel full of emotion into just one minute and 34 seconds. Bringing an old-world sense of magic and mystery with the medieval sounds of plucked strings, it serves as a dark fairy-tale inspired introduction to title track ‘PANTHER’. A song that combines a nu-metal style brand of rapping with an isolated, clean sung chorus accompanied by the simplest of piano lines might well be one of the more divisive tracks from the album, but it fits perfectly within the narrative, setting the scene for the emotive ‘SPECIES’ and ‘ICON’ to close out ‘PANTHER’ in true epic prog style.

At 13 and a half minutes, ‘ICON’ is the longest track on ‘PANTHER’, a lengthy outro being one of the few slightly more predictable traits Pain of Salvation have shown over the years. It sits on the slower, more delicate side of songs on the record, complete with a rare guitar solo bringing real rock ballad energy to the last few minutes of this musical journey.

There is so much going on with ‘PANTHER’, it’s definitely an album that demands multiple listens to uncover the complexities of the writing, performance and production. That’s okay though, because you’re going to want to stick this one on repeat and dive into the beautiful prog masterpiece that Pain of Salvation have once again created.

ELLIE ODURNY

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