2017’s In The Passing Light of Day could well have been a peak for Pain Of Salvation. The band, led by the multi-instrumentalist Daniel Gildenlöw, have long demonstrated an independence which has allowed them to throw of the shackles of development restricting labels. Always thoughtful and sincere, their musical styles and approaches have refused to be pigeonholed. the line-up may have changed, but Pain Of Salvation remain both enigmatic and enticing with each release. In The Passing Light Of Day was an intricate and soulful piece focusing on notions of mortality and joy. At times it was a blistering metal band in full motion, at others a blend of compelling complex progressive rock.
Three years after that album and the band return with the 11th Pain Of Salvation record and we can rest assured that the band has maintained the momentum. Guitarist Ragnar Zolberg has departed but this has not caused any apparent long-term damage. The line-up on Panther comprises Daniel Gildenlöw – lead vocals and lots of stuff, Johan Hallgren – guitar and vocals, Léo Margarit – drums and vocals, Daniel Karlsson – keyboards, guitars and vocals and Gustaf Hielm – bass and vocals. Hielm has recently since left the band.
As with every Pain Of Salvation album, Panther is a concept piece that delves into the conflicts and contradictions between so-called normal people and those who are wired entirely differently. “I guess a lot of the songs that came out dealt with not being part of the norm of society,” Gildenlöw says. “Because we live in a time where we’re more aware of people not fitting the norm and we’re doing everything we can as a society to acknowledge all of these individuals, but at the same time, they’re more disowned than ever, more medicated than ever. The album is painting pictures of a world, I guess. If this was a movie it would be scenes from a city. It’s set in one city, and it’s populated by dogs and the panthers, the so-called normal people, and the spectrum people. That’s the setting for the entire album.”
If you’ve ever listened to Pain Of Salvation, you’ll be acutely aware that their music cannot be classed as ‘instant’. It takes several deep dives before the music soaks in, its secrets hidden at first but delightfully revealed a step at a time.
The album opens with the electronica fused Accelerator, Gildenlöw’s harrowed vocals instantly recognisable. So begins the start of 53 minutes of detailed and intricate music which changes direction, tempo, and style in true progressive manner. The industrial edge of Unfuture contrasts with the opening track, the album developing beautifully as the songs continue. A lovely piano intro to Wait shifts the emotions, a haunting melody underpinning the track as it slowly emerges. Always one to challenge, the 1:34 banjo solo Fur challenges the senses, an almost music box feel which leads to the immense title track. Panther echoes elements of Nine Inch Nails, the industrial grit which threads through it both unique and familiar. The refrain hooks deep, the vocal delivery once more showing that when it comes to individuality, Pain Of Salvation stand a world apart from most bands. Closing the album is the breathtaking Icon. A gorgeously progressive and intricate 13 minutes, Icon is a showcase of Pain Of Salvation in 2020. Huge sweeping soundscapes, intricate patterns, and gentle interludes, it’s another demonstration of the drive and creativity which exists within this extraordinary band.
Methodically created by Gildenlöw in Eskilstuna and The Cabin, mixed together with Daniel Bergstrand (Meshuggah, In Flames, Devin Townsend) at Studio 33 in Stockholm and mastered by Thor Legvold / Sonovo (Tambours de Bronx, Purified in Blood, Susanne Sundfør, Gazpacho) in Los Angeles, with Panther Pain Of Salvation continue to push the boundaries of traditional progressive music with another beautifully crafted release. 9/10
Walter Trout: Ordinary Madness (Provogue Records/Mascot Label Group) [Matt Bladen]
I’d never heard of Chilean doom metal band Poema Arcanvs before this album arrived for review. My understanding is that the band have created a cult status over the years, having initially formed in the 1990s, the band sit in the same genre as early Anathema, Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride. With five albums to their name, they aren’t prolific in the same way as the Peaceville Three have been and their sound is certainly more retro and heavier with a combination of death growls and clean vocals and grinding riffs. But they are certainly an impressive outfit.
It’s been eight years since 2012’s Transient Chronicles was released and whilst I’m not familiar with their back catalogue, Stardust Solitude sits neatly in the genre of dark, melancholic doom. Their sound is full and powerful, the pace unsurprisingly slow but crushing, whilst the variations and moods within the album may surprise. The brooding title track opens the album, a nine-minute piece which gives a solid introduction to the band. Orphans follows, a shorter but just as impressive track, razor edged guitar weave amongst the pounding drums and mournful vocals.
As Stardust Solitude progresses, the quality of the release becomes evident. There is a blueprint that Poema Arcanvs follow, the slow, doom-soaked music drawing you closer. It becomes immersive and haunting. The Lighthouse Keeper is an example of the band’s ability to vary their style, a track drenched in gothic overture which powers forward with an underlying riff driving the track, whilst allowing the ethereal middle section to sweep gently through.
Full of dynamic interplay, variations and an underlying melody that provides an enchanting listen through to the final bars of epic and emotionally wrought closing song Brave, Stardust Solitude is an album of magnitude. Beautifully crafted, sinister yet uplifting at the same time, this is an album that should sate the most ravenous of doom fans. 8/10
Manticora: To Live To Kill To Live (ViciSolum Records) [Matt Bladen]
According to the PR that came with this record, Manticora were formed in Denmark back in 1997, their sound has always been a heady mixture of progressive/power/thrash metal. They have been led by brothers Lars (vocals) and Kristian (guitar) Larsen since that time and To Live To Kill To Live is the bands' 8th album serving as a follow up to 2018's ambitious horror themed concept record To Kill To Live To Kill. This record finishes of the story started on the previous record, which was accompanied by 334 page novel, keeping the much heavier style of music that they brought in on their last release. Since then too they have welcomed back bassist Kasper Gram and Lawrence Dinamarca has joined on drums ready for the recording of this final part of the story.
Now I'll admit at this juncture that I had never heard of Manticora so diving straight into the second part of a conceptual storyline was probably not advisable but this Danish band managed to grab me from the opening 14 minute song that is Katana – The Moths and the Dragonflies/Katana – Mud which pretty much sums up what to expect from Manticora as we get a progressive metal assault filled with rampaging blast-beats, blistering thrash riffs and vocals that remind me of Warrel Dane due to the fact they shift from guttural roars to soaring power metal-like highs with ease. Now what I will say is this record is very musically dense, the five piece increasing not just the heavier aspects of their music but also their progressive factors bolstered by the conceptual nature of the album.
To Live To Kill To Live runs for over an hour so you will need to give it time to really open up but with hugely cinematic numbers such as Tasered/Ice Cage they are a band that will appeal greatly to fans of Pyramaze, Nevermore, Symphony X and Iced Earth. I will certainly be checking out the discography of Manticora on the back of this record. Great theatrical heavy prog/power metal. 8/10