Pain of Salvation have never been ones to toe the line, or play it safe; not for them the easy routine of releasing the same album over and over again with slightly different lyrics. It is no great shock then - for a band that defies easy genre pigeonholing - that Road Salt One sounds like nothing that has come before it. What is slightly surprising, however, is the way in which it does it. The band's last two offerings, for better or worse, were exercises in grabbing the listener by the unmentionables with their visceral intensity (BE with its egomaniacal ambition, and Scarsick with its raw immediacy). Road Salt One, by contrast, initially sounds modest, perhaps even underwhelming. Rather than pummel the listener into overawed submission, it insinuates itself under the skin before gradually revealing unforeseen depths.
On first impressions, for example, the opener - "No Way" - initially sounds excessively basic, and appears to lack any development throughout the song; the oom-pah of "Under the Stars" seems a little trite; and "Linoleum" appears one-dimensional. But, given time, the repressed aggression of "Linoleum" shines with a sense of clear intensity, the musical hall bawdiness of "Under the Stars" is quickly revealed as a cover for the darkly comic undertones of the song, and the tempestuous and grating guitars chiming in the background of "No way" perfectly compliment its mood of barely contained possessive angst. In short, the album is a grower.
Overall the album is a majestic melting pot of styles. The band are gleefully determined to stretch to the very limits of what they can get away with; moving freely and unpretentiously from deft emotive harmonies, razor-harsh riffs, beautifully melancholic piano lines, punchy pop-rock and a whole breadth of shades between. Road Salt One also features a liberal dose of seedy humour, with Daniel Gildenlöw even recalling Frank Zappa in his needling heyday.
All of this results in a profoundly satisfying experience. Listeners wanting more of the same may well be disappointed again, but Pain of Salvation have managed to deliver an album that gradually unfurls itself as a moving and enthralling piece of work. If truth be told, it suffers slightly for being the first of a pair (Road Salt Two is expected later this year), with the material towards the end feeling a little less distinctive than at the beginning as if it represents a slight sag in the middle of the duo. But this difference is only by slight degrees and does little to tarnish the overall effect.
In fact, even if the rest of the tracks were complete failures, the album would be worth it alone on the strength of "Sisters" – a meditation on temptation built around a simple piano line that grows into a massively beautiful tour de force and an exceptional vocal performance.
Note – The limited edition of the album has one track added and two tracks extended. However, it makes the unusual move of replacing the original edits with the extended versions, and opening the album with the bonus track. This makes the album overall a stronger proposition, with both extended tracks being more satisfying than the original cuts and the bonus track serving as a fitting introduction to the rest of the piece.
1. What She Means To Me (Limited Edition Bonus Track)
2. No Way (Limited Edition Extended Version)
3. She Likes to Hide
5. Of Dust
6. Tell Me You Don't Know
7. Sleeping Under the Stars
8. Darkness of Mine
11. Where It Hurts
12. Road Salt (Limited Edition Extended Version)