Pain of Salvation – Panther Review

Oh boy, have we all been waiting for this one. No album has lived in infamy quite like In the Passing Light of Day, which gave rise to the Sweaty Manbun Phenomenon here at Angry Metal Guy. Hard to believe that was three and a half years ago, but when it’s talked about on a monthly basis, it can seem like yesterday. Now Pain of Salvation are back with Panther,1 their eleventh studio release. Once again a conceptual work, Panther looks at the differences between “normal” people (dogs) and “spectrum” people (panthers). While not as gripping as the band’s life-or-death themes from the previous album, the contradictions presented here are perhaps more relevant than ever, as our differences are both celebrated and derided like never before. As always, the key to presenting a concept will be in the songwriting. Will Daniel Gildenlöw and crew bring it like last time?

Right off the top it’s obvious that Panther is a sharp contrast to its predecessor. “Accelerator” is a frantic, dark, murky song, aided in conveying such an aura in no small part by Gildenlöw’s fantastic vocal. Nobody is better at evoking mood in this manner, and throughout Panther he shines.2 Also obvious is the lack of emphasis on guitars. This may be due to the departure of Ragnar Zolberg after ITPLOD. We need to wait until the final three minutes of epic closing track “Icon” to hear guitars tear through the mix. Elsewhere they are more of an additional layer bolstering the atmosphere laid down by vocals, oversaturated drums, and washes of keys.

“Fur” is a brief interlude, and leads into the one massive misstep on the album: the title track. Welcome back, Rapping Daniel! We missed you.3 Why the rest of the Pain of Salvation crew doesn’t stand up and say “No” is beyond me, but the rapping in (Sex) “Panther” is not something anyone needs to hear in 2020, and it jars the listener completely out of the album. It takes that song, with the chorus of “How does it feel to be you, she once asked me, I said I feel like a panther, trapped in a dog’s world,” and the follow-up, “Species,” (“Sometimes I hate my fucking species!”) before my nerves are unrattled and I can enjoy “Icon.” Pain of Salvation have shown themselves adept at recording lengthy, elaborate, gripping closing tracks, and this is no exception. “Icon” brings the record to a massive finale through eerie keys, smashing drums, layered vocals, and a harrowing lead guitar break.

The rest of Panther revels in the grime of a city’s underground, of a world inhabited by both panthers and dogs, but overrun by the latter. The production, the attitude, the lyrics – they all play into this claustrophobic, slightly off-putting feel quite perfectly, but like many Pain of Salvation recordings, this makes the record initially more inaccessible than it should be. Oddly, the songs that are most enduring happen to be the most delicate, earnest numbers. “Wait” features a wonderfully descending piano melody, layers of electronica, and a sublime performance from Gildenlöw, who when not rapping is simply stellar. “Wait” is one of the most beautifully melancholic songs in recent memory, and is followed by the wistful “Keen to a Fault,” which traps me in some sort of time of yore, with circular synths and an ebb and flow arrangement that effectively lowers one’s heart rate.

Let’s face it, anything after the emotionally-charged In the Passing Light of Day was bound to be a letdown, and Panther is no exception. But that doesn’t make it a lousy album. There are plenty of songs that perk the ears up, and when one gives in to the record’s mood, it’s enjoyable in a nasty, gritty sort of way. Pain of Salvation (well, more specifically Gildenlöw) have crafted a dense platter of electronically thick prog. Aside from a couple of missteps – most notably the return of Rapping Daniel – the band has delivered a sonically pleasing album that fits in with today’s mood. Fear not, loyal readers: you won’t have to worry about seeing another sweaty manbun in our side banners this year, but give Panther a listen: prog rock fans will likely find something that works for them.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps MP3
Label: InsideOut Music
Websites: |
Release Worldwide: August 28th, 2020

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Or Sex Panther, as Angry Metal Guy Himself refers to it, which I now can’t stop thinking about.
  2. Not as much as a sweaty torso shines, but shines nonetheless.
  3. No we didn’t.
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