It has been six years since the last proper studio album from Swedish prog metal vets Pain of Salvation, 2011’s Road Salt Two. Daniel Gildenlöw and friends haven’t been quiet during that time, however. 2014 saw them issue an acoustic album of past songs as well as covers, and just last year they reissued Remedy Lane as both a live and remixed studio album.
Still, one wondered when the next bona fide release would come, and what the band would throw our way: would it be the ’70s-influenced prog of the two Road Salt albums, or would it be the more metallic, earlier version of the band?
Within seconds we know the answer: this is heavy stuff. In fact (and this could be producer Daniel Bergstrand’s influence), the first forty seconds of opening epic “On a Tuesday” might make one think they were listening to a Meshuggah album, but never fear: there’s far too much musical sensibility here to make that mistake.
Chugging heaviness gives way to more melodic staccato riffing before Gildenlöw speaks his first words, laying the lyrical foundation for the album. “On a Tuesday” covers the gamut of prog metal, with the intro, the hushed vocal prelude, the more melodic verses, and of course the ten-minute song length.
“On a Tuesday” and album closer “The Passing Light of Day” are the two epic tracks here, and both are incredibly strong with regards to performances and composition. The latter serves as the musical and emotional high point of the record, though, with a wistful intro and quiet, heartfelt vocals. The performance is so gripping we hardly notice it goes on for nearly eight minutes before transitioning into heavy rock territory as the song rolls towards its climax. A revisit to the heaviness of the opening minute brings the proceedings full circle before dying down in an orchestral wash. Both songs are clinics in progressive epicness.
The shorter tracks here are no slouches either. “Tongue of God” starts with a quiet piano but heavy goodness rears its head quickly, and angular riffs offset Gildenlöw’s angry, frustrated lyrics. It’s a heavy, menacing song. “Angels of Broken Things” is the catchiest tune on the record, eerie as it starts, suspenseful as it moves along, and (as with the entire record) rife with poignant lyrics. What sets it apart from the rest of the album is the monstrous arena-rock guitar solo that fills the back half of the song.
“The Taming of a Beast” has a sparse, keyboard-dominated arrangement interrupted by massive choruses. “Silent Gold” is our only real respite throughout In the Passing Light of Day, a quiet three minutes of melancholy.
In the Passing Light of Day is based on Gildenlöw’s near-fatal 2014 mishap, when a minor infection turned into a major illness and laid him up for the better half of a year. The magnitude of the experience is evident throughout the album in both the lyrics and their delivery. Gone are the Mike Patton-influenced histrionics. In their place, Gildenlöw and second vocalist Ragnar Zolberg give us emotionally raw, authentic performances ranging from plaintive whispers to anguished cries.
The arrangements are spot-on throughout as are the performances of the band. The only blemish to speak of is the album’s mastering: a number of songs here have been compressed much more than was necessary, lessening the dynamic impact of the more aggressive cuts such as “On a Tuesday,” “Tongue of God,” and “Meanlingless.” When the songs are allowed to breathe, like “Angels of Broken Things,” the results carry much more impact.
January is a slow month for quality releases, but Pain of Salvation kick 2017 off in phenomenal fashion with an aggressive, emotional, thematically coherent album that engages us right from the beginning and draws us in willingly for repeated listens. Aside from the over-compressed nature of a handful of songs on the disc, this is a stunning album. As it stands, In the Passing Light of Day is arguably the best record of their career, and what is sure to be a top progressive metal release at the end of the year.
(released January 13, 2017 on Inside Out Music)