Reviewing a Pain of Salvation album is an immense task. As deeply as I analyze lyrics and as complex as their music is, it can take a good month or two to come to my final opinion on one of their albums. We’ve been waiting for a proper new album from the band since 2011, and the major question surrounding “In the Passing Light of Day” is whether or not it will be worth the wait. The answer? An emphatic yes!
Pain of Salvation is set to release “In the Passing Light of Day” in January 2017, and, for some, it will be considered a return to their earlier sound. PoS has always been known for their darkly poetic, heavily syncopated music; full of emotion and very desperate situations. In the last two studio albums, their sound became less technical, slightly classic rock in style at times, and just lighter overall. I’m here to tell you that, while the band has definitely returned to a darker, heavier sound; much of the album still plays like a Road Salt era album, too. It’s like a combination of the maturity and restraint of the latter with the energy and dark emotional jams of the former. I honestly feel, though, like that is exactly what I wanted to hear.
The bands consists at this point of Daniel Gildenlöw on vocals and guitars; Ragnar Zolberg on guitars and vocals; Daniel Karlsson on keyboards; Gustaf Hielm on bass; and Léo Margarit on drums. PoS has been plagued with lineup changes, probably contributing to the silence from their camp. Of note, though, is that Ragnar is providing primary backing vocals for Daniel, sometimes even taking the lead. Some have complained about his high pitch, but I happen to like his voice, especially in combination with the gritty personality of Daniel’s vocals.
Like other PoS albums, the lyrical themes are front and center; being intensely personal and ranging from angry to lustful to apathetic. The protagonist finds himself doing things he knows are wrong and destructive, but he keeps guilt at arm’s length, cherishing it like it’s the only feeling that is his alone. However, it seems like there is something new in the band’s arsenal that I haven’t heard in the past: hope, albeit in a perverse sense. This album is based on Daniel’s recent medical scare, and so the feelings are extremely primal and desperate.
Yet, he tries to find himself in other people and novel sensations, but there’s always this nagging feeling in his heart. Yes, it feels like the album progresses from desperation and anger into an epiphany of sorts that really changes how he views the people and things in his life. There are these contagious feelings of hope in the brokenness and mire near the end of the album; hope for healing and this belief that somehow things can be made right again if he can just focus on the moments and loved ones at hand, mainly because time will pass and we will all die anyways. It’s this weird mix of hopefulness and fatalism that I find fascinating. Part of me does feel like the hope comes too late, as if the protagonist is on his death bed. That would be so like Pain of Salvation.
These themes are surrounded by haunting monologue from Daniel, heavy riffs, delicate keys, and an awesome rhythm section. Daniel’s voice, as always, is rich with emotion, impressive in range, and larger than life. Ragnar’s vocals are higher pitched, but extend the emotional ceiling even higher. Daniel and Ragnar lay down some impossibly off-kilter grooves, especially on “On a Tuesday” and “Tongue of God”. Lighter acoustic guitar is present, too, providing a great contrast. Daniel Karlsson’s keys are bright and beautiful, and Gustaf and Léo provide real traction with fantastic bass grooves and very precise drumming with oomph.
“In the Passing Light of Day” is certainly an album of contrasts: light and dark, heavy and soft. The songs “Full Throttle Tribe” and “Reasons” seem to be a transitional spot in the album, both thematically and musically. After this song, the protagonist seems to be much more aware of his own problems; and the music leans in a Road Salt direction, though there are still some heavier parts. The second half of the album really does take more time to appreciate. It somehow feels more refined, but lacks some of the energy of the first half, though I believe that is by design. The album ends on a lighter, softer note that you might expect, with what I would call “cajun” tones, but maybe I’m hearing things. After many listens, though, some of the songs on the second half are becoming some of my favorites.
My favorite songs are definitely “On a Tuesday”, “Tongue of God”, “Meaningless”, and “The Taming of a Beast”. “On a Tuesday” is without a doubt my favorite. It starts out heavy and desperate, and ends with this magnificent melody that replays over and over, and you just don’t want it to end. I’m actually surprised more reviewers aren’t talking about “Tongue of God”. Not only is this probably the heaviest track and has an awesome groove, but it also seems to be a dialogue with God in one of the strangest, but also strangely relatable, ways ever.
Everyone has heard “Meaningless” a billion times by now, since it’s that addictive and awesome, but “The Taming of a Beast” is one of the tracks that slowly grows on you. It’s heavy at points, yes; but it’s one of my favorites because you can hear the struggle and the reformation happening in his heart. It’s spellbinding. The final track is the title track, and I love it more for the lyrical content than anything else. It’s rather slow in its progression, but *oh* so personal. I enjoy the fragile melody more and more every time I hear it.
So, Pain of Salvation’s long-awaited album is a wonderful return for the band. I don’t really feel like they ever lost their edge or creativity like some other people do. In fact, some of my favorite songs from them are on the Road Salt albums. However, this new album is a sublime combination of the new and old; of light and dark. The emotions may be stronger and more desperate than ever, too, with the highly personal aspect coming into play more and more. I feel that “In the Passing Light of Day” is a personal masterpiece, and definitely one of the best albums the band has ever produced. I’m excited to see them play live this year, and I’m hoping we’ll hear more from them more often in the years to come.