Pain of Salvation // Road Salt Two [Ebony]
Rating: 4.0/5.0 —Great, but less inspired
Label: InsideOut
Websites: painofsalvation.com | myspace.com/painofsalvation | facebook.com/painofsalvation
Release Dates: EU: 2011.09.26  | US: 10.10.2011

In 2010 Pain of Salvation, best known for their progressive stylings and vocalist who wishes he could talk rhythmically like Mike Patton, released a record that blew me away and shook their fanbase: Road Salt One.  It was shocking mainly because it was a largely not tech-geek-progressive and it was very 70s rock influenced. This left some long-time fans peeved, at best. They wanted something different. Well, Road Salt Two is definitely not that something different. It is stubbornly more of the same and it may have lost a bit of its luster with a year to sit on it.

Road Salt Two is yet again a dirty 70s rock influenced record without a metal riff to show for the 51 minutes of music that are contained within. It starts out with the “Road Salt Theme” (which, actually, doesn’t appear to be thematically in context with the first disc) and drops right into blues-based rock riffing in “Softly She Cries.” While a tad banal at first, it gently transfers back into the “Road Salt Theme” so smoothly that the inattentive may straight up miss the development. This exemplifies the writing on this album, actually. As I pointed out in reference to Road Salt One, Gildenl takes the most hackneyed, cliched and overdone genre in the entire world (blues rock) and adds a personal twist to it that makes it not only enjoyable but deep and fascinating. “Conditioned” works like this as well. It starts out like a fucking Lenny Kravitz song and then morphs into something sinister and/or melancholy.

The record also has its more “downy frowny” parts like third track “Healing Now” or “1979,” which borders on nostalgic crap but has its own naive charm. “Through the Distance” is reminiscent of “Sisters” in tone and vocal performance, but it doesn’t have the same emotional poignancy. These tracks work to build the valleys in the grittier, more progressive landscape that is this second Road Salt installment and they work well in that. The peaks, then, are “Eleven,” “The Deeper Cut,” “Mortar Grind” and the 8 minute and 43 second “The Physics of Gridlock” which is a particularly excellent song. These show off a more progressive Pain of Salvation than we saw on Road Salt One. On these tracks the rhythm section performs admirably and really convincingly, making for some fantastic, driving and yet subtle music.

Pain of Salvation 2011What finally makes this album a great record is that the songwriting is top-notch and the feel is spot on. Gildenl’s vocals steal the show again, but unfortunately the entire album doesn’t live up to what I see as the best track “To the Shoreline,” which should be the marquee track from this album (and should be their 2011 Melodifestivalen entry). It’s a faster track with a flute part that sounds like something that comes straight off of Camel‘s Snow Goose. The track is only 3 minutes long, but it’s just a tremendous piece of writing that I have listened to probably 300 times since I got the record. Unfortunately, that means that the rest of the record pales in comparison, and that kind of sets it back.

The other major critique that I had of this record was that the “characters” if you will, sound like case studies from someone’s book on personality disorders. Really? She feels empty inside? Like a black hole? Has she been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, by any chance? Her unpredictable mood swings definitely seem like they fit the criteria. And the main dude sounds like he has a hell of a Jesus complex, out saving the ladies left and right. While this was definitely there on the last record, it didn’t feel as hackneyed. On 2 we’re forced to sit through three songs where Daniel rhymes “cry,” “die” and “why” in a number of different constellations and it comes off as a bit uninspired at best.

Even if it’s a lyrical bust, musically Road Salt Two is a smashing success, even with all the caveats. I understand that it can’t be easy to do a project like this and I think others who have tried to do similar things have also probably looked back on them and felt like they didn’t come off as well as they could have (Opeth, and Guns ‘N’ Roses both come to mind). And really, it’s tough for me to listen to both records all the way through in a single sitting. But on its own, Road Salt Two is an enjoyable disc from a talented group who has now definitely lured me in. I’ll be checking out whatever they do next and hoping it will be as great as this is.