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Pain of Salvation: Road Salt Two

Although Pain of Salvation has never been a band to play it safe, Road Salt One's dramatic deviation from their distinct style left their fanbase a bit puzzled. The seventies' heavy rock vibe was a shocking change in direction from this established progressive metal act, and a large chunk of their dedicated following considered it inferior to any of their previous creations. Road Salt One may not be my favorite Pain of Salvation album either - far from it, actually - but it is a record that I enjoy, and I did eagerly wait for Road Salt Two to see if these Swedish masterminds could do an even better job at this decidedly-retro sound. After thoroughly enjoying both parts of the Road Salt saga, I can confidently conclude that Road Salt Two is the superior observation and an all-around excellent album from Pain of Salvation. The songwriting is more impressive this time around, there are more progressive rock and metal tendencies, and there's a strong conceptual feeling that was lacking a bit on Road Salt One. Road Salt Two isn't without its flaws, but it's still a highly impressive effort that open-minded fans of the band will hopefully enjoy. Pain of Salvation may never return to making masterpieces like The Perfect Element, Remedy Lane, and Be, but that doesn't take away from the fact that Road Salt Two is one hell of an album. Fans of 70's heavy prog with unique Gildenlöw flavoring should be sure to check this one out - just don't expect anything even remotely close to "vanilla prog metal"!

There are a few noticeable differences that I will point out shortly, but Road Salt Two is by-and-large a very similar album to Road Salt One. The music is still played in a very raw and unpolished seventies' hard rock style, and the retro keyboard palette, intelligent songwriting, and commanding vocals from Daniel Gildenlöw keep the album from ever descending into mediocrity. Road Salt Two's main unique feature is that it seems to have much more of a "prog-touch" than their previous effort, and that's a certainly a good thing in my opinion. When I say that this album is more "progressive", don't think that it ever implies vanilla progressive metal - the music here just tends to feature deeper, more complex, and more emotionally charged songwriting than it's predecessor. And, honestly, I think that's what gives Road Salt Two a slight edge. There are a few uninspired blues riffs that I could've done without, but it is obviously an integral part of the retro atmosphere that Pain of Salvation are aiming to create with the Road Salt saga.

The album opens up with the short orchestral piece entitled "Road Salt Theme", and even though no parts of this song were heard on Road Salt One, they are all heard again before Road Salt Two ends. "Softly She Cries" is a heavier track that's filled with doomy metal riffs and a haunting synthesizer melody - an excellent way to open up this chapter for sure. "Conditioned" is the leading single from Road Salt Two and (unsurprisingly), it's the weakest track here by a substantial margin. It's not a bad song by any stretch, but the repetitive blues riff lacks the depth and emotion to really grab me until the climatic ending section. "Healing Now" is a folky acoustic song, and an absolutely beautiful composition - one of the highlights for sure. "To The Shoreline" is one of the most progressive tracks here, and the jazzy drumming parred with the captivitating synthesizers and moving choruses make this a contender for the best track on the album. After a filthy hard rock riff, "Eleven" moves into more grunge-y territory that's completed by Gildenlöw's gruff vocal performance and the pulsating bassline. Don't expect this track to ever become repetitive, though, as the instrumental middle-section is one of the most interesting moments on Road Salt Two. The first truly beautiful piece of music on the album come in the form of "1979" - a rather short ballad with serene lyrics and heartwarming melodies, as well as a terrific arrangement that reminds me of something I would've heard on Be. "The Deeper Cut" opens up with a complex and progressive riff that sounds more like traditional progressive metal than anything else you're bound to hear on this album. The emotionally challenging second half of the song features one of the most impressive builds I've ever heard, and Daniel Gildenlöw's vocal performance is nothing short of stunning.

"Mortar Grind" was also featured on the Linoleum EP from 2009, and I still enjoy the song just as much as I did back then. It's not the best track on Road Salt Two, but its haunting melodies are definitely more effective within the concept of a full-length album. "Through the Distance" is the second ballad on the album, and is every bit as beautiful as "1979". The melancholic lyrics matched by the lush arrangements make this another one of my favorites. The "epic" of the album is in the form of "The Physics of Gridlock", a near-9 minute epic that sums up the album pretty well. I wish that the spoken word section in French were omitted as it really takes away from the power of the track, but the rest of the composition is top-notch for sure. "End Credits" closes up Road Salt Two almost exactly how it started, and this is another (slightly longer) orchestral piece that features a few more themes from the album. I think this is the perfect way to end the album.

As we're used to from Pain of Salvation, the musicianship is excellent across the board. Daniel Gildenlöw's expressive vocals are at the forefront of the music, but his work on the guitar and bass shouldn't go unnoticed either. Johan Hallgren's guitar playing is equally impressive, and Leo Margarit's drumming is not only technically demanding, but also emotionally impressive. Frederik Hermansson's eclectic choices of keyboard tones always suit the music perfectly, and even though he may not be the most prominent figure in the band's sound, no song would be complete without his tasteful additions. Unfortunately, the production is a bit of an issue for me here - just like on Road Salt One, the production intentionally sounds muddy and "vintage". I tend to think that it just sounds really low-quality most of the time, and I really miss the polished production of Pain of Salvation's earlier works - Road Salt Two would've benefited greatly from a more impressive sound quality.

Pain of Salvation may have lost a little bit of their "bite" and inspiration over the last few years, but I refuse to think that they've become any less of a creative force in the progressive rock community. Road Salt Two is not a flawless masterpiece like The Perfect Element, Part 1, yet the creativity of Daniel Gildenlöw and company shines as brightly as ever. A band that can constantly shift styles and manage to pull it all off with precision and success is worthy of my praise, and Pain of Salvation have demonstrated here that this retro progressive rock sound can work very well for them. Whether or not the famed Swedes decide to stick with this sound or move on will only be told in the coming years, but this album has restored my faith in Pain of Salvation as one of music's most genuinely impressive forces. I'd say a big 4 stars are very well-deserved here. Road Salt Two is not the place to begin your Pain of Salvation journey, but any established fan should be sure to check it out.

Track Listing:
1. Road Salt Theme
2. Softly She Cries
3. Conditioned
4. Healing Now
5. To The Shoreline
6. Eleven
7. 1979
8. The Deeper Cut
9. Mortar Grind
10. Through The Distance
11. The Physics Of Gridlock
12. End Credits

Added: October 1st 2011
Reviewer: Jeff B
Related Link: Pain of Salvation Myspace
Hits: 4010
Language: english

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Pain of Salvation: Road Salt Two
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2011-10-01 12:36:43
My Score:

Road Salt Two is a logical continuation of its predecessor. In many ways, the album reuses some key motifs and thematic ideas to organically tie itself into Road Salt One. Also, it retains the 70s vibe thoroughly and it is predominantly a solo album by Daniel Gildenlow, who wrote and arranged the whole disc while also singing and playing lots of instruments. Input from the other members is minimal from a compositional viewpoint, but some tracks have certain moments that allow them to shine.

Where Road Salt Two sets itself apart from the previous disc is in its use of a broader sound palette. This album is darker and richer in texture, and the writing seems more progressive. This is not to say Pain of Salvation has gone back to their glorious days circa Remedy Lane; it is just that some of the songs involve elements that their older fan base might have missed on the past couple of releases. The extended instrumental section of "Eleven" is filled with focused grooves and fusion-laden guitar work that recalls the slower passages on a Liquid Tension Experiment song while the short yet beautifully crafted "To the Shoreline" wouldn't seem out of place on any of the band's more progressive-tinged discs, complete with Gildenlow's heart-wrenching, stop-start singing over a melting keyboard theme before the song develops into a mammoth soundscape with a powerful melodic facade.

Equally riveting is "The Deeper Cut," arguably the band's most progressive metal-sounding number on this disc. The singing style evokes Gildenlow during his One Hour by the Concrete Lake period, but the rhythmic development is more direct and keys are used sparingly. It is one of the standout tunes on first listen, and the way the percussive instruments (strung across synths and bass) lay down the foundation for the ecstatic, never-ending "Into the wild" vocal 'dialogue' is stunning, if not slightly overdone. Daniel Gildenlow's vocals are at their expressive best. I can almost see the smile on his face recording them. I can't think of anyone who wouldn't be awestruck by his desperate singing in the beginning of "Through the Distance," which nicely segues into a longer and heavier piece. Although Gildenlow has stated that none of the songs here are autobiographical, I believe that the short ballad "1979" might be a personal song about him given the lyrics "Two children of six" (and Daniel was indeed six years old in 1979).

It is not too hard to decipher the roots of this album as well as some of the other compositional ideas put together. The opening riff of "Eleven" sounds like something Ritchie Blackmore would have played if he were the guitarist in Black Sabbath. It is simple but very heavy. There are also shared themes and melodies on the album: "Softly She Cries" reworks the main melody of the "Road Salt Theme" to achieve unity, but I can't say I'm fond of Johan Hallgren's vocal part on this one or the song itself. Actually the main riff of this track is repeated at the very end of another song, "Conditioned." If you think you are already familiar with "Mortar Grind" from the Linoleum EP, you might be surprised when you notice it has been treated to a remix, where Johan Hallgren's guitars seem to have been re-recorded (by Daniel this time). The guitar sound is not as gritty and the choruses feature more singing from Hallgren.

Unfortunately, there are several points where the band falls short, in my opinion. The main riff of "Conditioned" is truly awful. It sounds like something Lenny Kravitz would write if he had the talent. Except for the deep final line "I'll be holding you," it is one of the least interesting songs musically (the vocals are awesome, oddly recalling Badmotorfinger-era Chris Cornell at times). Also, the country-like guitar part and the French lyrics (sung with a very heavy accent!) of "The Physics of Gridlock" at the end detract from its quality. It's a shame because it's a great song otherwise, with melodies that seem like they were derived from "Innocence." The final song, aptly titled "End Credits," revisits familiar themes to wrap everything together utilizing strings and other non-metal instruments.

Overall, Road Salt Two is a slightly better release than its predecessor, but it does have its shortcomings. Daniel Gildenlow is one of the finest singers in the world, but I feel his voice is not enough to carry an entire song. I do long for more depth in the musical department, and I do know they are more than capable to pull it off. I wish the other members were more involved in the writing process adding their own voice to the mix. On this album, besides the vocals, the best aspect is the drumming. Margarit's playing is first class; he builds intensity when given the chance and he sounds fresh and daring because his style is never pattern-based. He recorded "Healing Now" with no click track or guide other than the finished mandolin part! It would be great if Hallgren added more guitar parts and Hermansson used his organs, Mellotron, electric and acoustic piano in a more central role. However, at this point, it is Gildenlow's call, so we shouldn't be surprised if he decides to pursue his venture into this musical domain a bit further in the future.

The booklet features tons of pictures about Daniel's newfound musical vision with lyrics and detailed song analyses. The production (mixed, mastered and engineered by Daniel also) is excellent: it totally captures the rawness without relegating it to demo quality and the mix is sharp enough to allow for shifts in dynamics.

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