With a name like Pain of Salvation, you might envision this band to be a hardcore death metal outfit. Have a seat and pour yourself a your beverage of choice because instead of songs about death and corruption, this album contains songs about death and corruption. Well, it's not quite like that. Poised to take over the crown of progressive metal from such heavyweight bands as Dream Theater and Queensryche, Pain of Salvation follows up their critically acclaimed One Hour By the Concrete Lake with The Perfect Element, disc one in a two part saga that follows two broken individuals, their losses, problems, and eventual violence. Stylistically POS combines a metal edge with diverse and melodic arrangements, utilizing aspects of jazz-fusion and classical music structures. At this point I admit that this all sounds a bit heady, but when it gets down to it, these boys can rock and not just in cold technical sense. The music is so well written and accessible that the melodies capture you even on first listen through this 72-minute opus. It's only after repeated listens that you detect the complex arrangements and repeated motifs that tie the album together into more of a journey, a complete book whose chapters are songs that melt seamlessly into each other. While at times the music gets a bit grandiose and the vocalist a bit melodramatic, the breadth of emotions and musical styles covered on this album are breathtaking and more than make up for any overcomings.
"Used" introduces the main characters with pounding poly-rhythms and harsh, rap-like vocals similar to Faith No More that break into a very melodic chorus. This bright chorus unfortunately happens quite a bit in the early half of the album but not so much that it distracts or becomes a cliché of itself. Acoustic guitars and piano contrast with powerful surges on "Ashes", creating a haunting and dark atmosphere set amongst whispered vocals of "This pain will never end/ These scars will never mend." "Morning on Earth" brings a calm to the storm, fully utilizing the "music box" musical theme that runs throughout this project. The album ends with the title track, a ten-minute epic that embraces the best of the previous tracks in terms of composition and atmosphere, summing up the album with fits of rage and rest. Throughout every song, astounding musicianship serves the songs instead of the other way around. Fans of Queensryche and intelligent rock owe it to themselves to check out this latest offering from Pain of Salvation.
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, September 2001.