Pain of Salvation – Panther
Let me start out by saying that it’s hard to have an open mind when reviewing an album of a band that’s been around as long as Pain of Salvation has been.
Officially Pain of Salvation started their career in 1984, when the band formed under the name of Reality. In 1991 the band name got changed to the one we know now. Basically, these guys have been making music since the year I was born and they’ve been progressing their sound for just as long.
They’re a band that, while keeping their own sound, have always introduced new elements into their songs. And the latest creation in that long line of albums – this will be their 11th official studio album – is “Panther”.
We dive right in with the first song. Syncopated drums by Léo Margarit in unison with bass by Gustaf Hielm (who recently announced his friendly departure from the band) thrust us into ‘Accelerator’. Combined with a heavy keyboard lead by Daniel Karlsson we can immediately hear that Pain of Salvation is not going to mess around on this album. A modern sound, for sure, to a song on which the vocals maybe take a back foot. Released on July 3rd of this year, it was the first taste we got from the new album. It’s a song to be reckoned with, while still staying within the boundaries of the sounds we know from Pain of Salvation.
Pain of Salvation – Accelerator (click here if video doesn’t play)
‘Unfuture’ is a song that has elements that take us back to the “Remedy Lane” days of the band. Starting out nice and heavy, it has all the things that could make it into a classic: recognizable melody, the driving force of the rhythm section, quieter sections that amplify the heavy ones. But while it does have heavier sections, the song has a looming feeling about it. Every time you feel like they’re going to kick off, it dies back down on itself. The actual heavy sections are few, but the industrial production centered in this song seems to set the tone for the rest of the album.
The start of the third song, ‘Restless Boy’, wouldn’t be amiss on any of the later Anathema albums. We hear synths that bring to mind the late eighties, early nineties synthpop periods with the vocals getting the Kraftwerk vocoder treatment.
Halfway through this second single of the album takes a dramatic turn though, with the rhythm section thrusting the song in proper Pain of Salvation fashion towards the end.
Pain of Salvation – Restless Boy (click here if video doesn’t play)
Do you know the kind of songs that just meander on while still being catchy? ‘Wait’ is one of those songs. The song is led by a piano melody that switches between a classic piano and more synthy sound.
Gildenlöw manages to permeate the entire song with a certain urgency, without resorting to extreme vocal antics. The autotune or vocoder effect comes back in this song a few times, tastefully done. Not over the top but used to accentuate the vocals and it definitely fits within the direction they took with this song. ‘Wait’ clocks in at 7 minutes and 5 seconds but somehow magically feels like it’s a prog epic and also much shorter at the same time, in a good way.
‘Keen to a Fault’ is by far my personal favorite song on the album. In this song we’re getting a taste of the more modern metal style that we’ve heard on “In the Passing Light of Day”, combined with a seventies feel, with a guitar and synth melody underneath it all that reminded me of ‘Sirus/Eye in the Sky’ by The Alan Parson’s Project when I first heard it. Everything that I know and love about Pain of Salvation comes back in this song. Gildenlöw’s signature talk-singing, epic chorus melodies, the works. It surprised me that this song wasn’t one of the singles Pain of Salvation put forward for the album.
Following ‘Keen to a Fault’ we get a bit of a breather on the album. ‘Fur’ comes across as a storytelling intermezzo on the album that could also be used as an intro during live performances. The meandering feeling that we got earlier comes back here with a folky guitar melody, and we’re slowly led to the title song of the album: ‘Panther’.
Pain of Salvation – Panther (click here if video doesn’t play)
‘Panther’ is a song that will be riddled with surprises for many people. The third single off the album starts out like a Linkin Park song. Gildenlöw raps the verses on this song, like he’s been known to do on the albums “Concrete Lake” and “Perfect Element, part I” as well. The first chorus starts out tiny and vulnerable, but then the song turns around, kicks you in the stomach and continues more aggressively. The second chorus starts out just as tiny as before, with just piano supporting it, and slightly builds up before the song fades at the end of the chorus. This will be seen as an experimental song for most recent Pain of Salvation fans but is definitely on par with what the band has produced before.
Continuing the trend, ‘Species’ starts out with an acoustic bit that could’ve fit in perfectly on the “Road Salt” albums. Diving deeper into the theme of the album Gildenlöw sings about how he sometimes hates his own species. Whether this is a reflection of the real world, or the world that Pain of Salvation created for this album, with a dichotomy between the Panther and Dog races, is unclear. The song itself is on par with the rest of the album: it’s a good song, catchy at times, but doesn’t stand out as exceptional across the board.
Clocking in at 13 minutes and 30 seconds, the band have saved the longest and most epic song for last:’Icon’ starts off with a very subtle piano intro, a melody following the chorus vocal line. When the piano fades away the guitars fade in, followed by the rest of the band.
Drums hurry the song onwards to the first verse, where they drop off again. The build-up in ‘Icon’ is well thought out. We get teased at the start, get a drop off into a bit that meanders on like a small stream, all the while guided by Daniël Gildenlöw’s haunting voice. Slowly more instruments get added to the mix, piano, guitars, more backing vocals, and in the second half of the song the build-up extends to proper metal again that we got teased with in the start. Margarit’s drums drive the song to an extended guitar solo with an amazing vintage guitar sound, after which Gildenlöw takes the wheel again with a haunting intermezzo, followed by another aggressive part which in turn fades out into the end of the song and, unfortunately, the album.
Pain of Salvation is one of those bands that define the progressive metal genre, and it shows in Panther. While these songs are obviously a step in the next direction they want to go, there’s also a lot of recognizable moments reminiscing on their long history as a band. Some of the elements remind the listener of the earlier studio albums, but that might not be surprising since Johan Hallgren is back in the band.
A great album to start for the new listener, and at the same time an album that the avid fan needs in their collection of Pain of Salvation albums. Panther neatly fits into the long list of amazing albums Pain of Salvation released, while deftly putting its progressive foot down on some new, previously undiscovered ground. For me, the album comes in neatly in the middle of my favorite albums they’ve produced in their long history as a band.
- Unfuture (06:46)
- Restless Boy (03:34)
- Wait (07:04)
- Keen To A Fault (06:01)
- Fur (01:34)
- Panther (04:11)
- Species (05:18)
- Icon (13:30)