Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Significant Albums: Pain of Salvation - The Perfect Element I (2000)


In the year 2000 (in the year tewww thouww-saaaaaaaaaaan" lol) Dream Theater were kind of becoming all the rage, I suppose in a 2.0 sort of way given their comeback of sorts record Scenes From a Memory had rejuvenated them after a few years of polarized reaction to the overt commercial attempt of Falling Into Infinity.

But at that time, I was starting to investigate new bands, namely still in my favorite genre of sorts around that time, progressive metal. And I forget when it was announced, but I would guess around November or December of 2000, the inaugural ProgPower USA festival was announced to be taking place in February 2001, in Chicago (or Lansing, IL at JJ Kelley's, which in effect was a bar actuallly) of all places. And the 2 headliners were Symphony X and Sweden's Pain of Salvation.

Those were 2 bands I had seen a lot of talk about online especially, and I also recall the Dream Theater fanzine as well. And they both had released new albums I want to say in the Fall. But I hadn't heard any music from either of them, but I distinctly recall hanging out in #mikechat the Chatroom on Mike Portnoy's forum one night in December, and my friend Paul C aka Pellaz talked me into thinking of going, especially due to the cost of a ticket ($25? I recall, for both days, 11 or 12 bands or something).

So, I ended up purchasing both Symphony X's new record V: The New Mythology Suite, and Pain of Salvation's The Perfect Element I a few weeks later.

Now I might mention briefly, the name Pain of Salvation I had seen maybe a year or 2 before in either Progression magazine or more likely James Bickers new printed publication Sea of Tranquility, and I recall an email list I was on for progressive rock titled "epigram" and I emailed a fella from Europe about some bands, 1 being Pain of Salvation. I recall a description being something like "avant garde prog metal" or something, which had me curious but also not highly optimistic..

But I don't think it was until they got confirmed for PPUSA that I even heard their music.

And unlike a ton of other people on the forums I noticed over the years, their music I actually enjoyed from the start. I purchased a copy of this record and I recall immediately enjoying a lot of it. maybe 1st and foremost, the track "Her Voices." Which has a slow but gradual build but then leads to this wonderfully uptempo time change that features incredibly catchy rhythms.

That section is fast, but flows perfectly. The interval patterns and changes in keys. The keyboards and what sounds like fretless bass from Kristoffer Gildenlow stood out a lot to me.

So, enjoying "Her Voices" a ton, I began to enjoy the rest of this record over a little time. I still have some vague memories of playing this record frequently in December and January of 2001 at my old job in Bloomington, MN. Especially late at night (I used to work a 2nd shift, and sometimes overtime into the wee hours of the morning). And for example on the track "In the Flesh" the contrasting verse to the chorus before the instrumental bridge

But She will fly, she will fly, she will fly
Before it dies

But She's afraid, she's afraid, she's afraid

Sometimes the hands that feed
Must feed a mind with a sick need
And the hands that clutch can be
The same hands that touch too much
Eyes that hungrily stare
Read in an access that's not there
While eyes close to hide tears
Or look away in fear
Run away!

The doubling section of vocals with I think guitar, or possibly guitar and keys, that are not an identical octave, but they totally work on a melodic and harmonic level. Oh man, I swear that part specifically made me totally fall in love with this album and band and I knew I had to go see them in Chicago (also the fact I had gone to Nearfest only 7 months earlier and they were from Sweden so I wondered if it might be the 1st and last chance to ever see them, that I might regret).

And I won't elaborate extensively about that show in Chicago in February as the focus of this is about this album, but I'll just say, to this day, that remains the greatest concert/performance I've ever witnessed (despite their not even playing "Her Voices").

But why that section of "In the Flesh" got me so much, I suppose for one, it was so unusual and odd, and it sort of reminded me of Faith No More. I kind of started to see Pain of Salvation as like a progressive metal version of Faith No More and I'll not deny, a lot of their sound reminded me of the classic period of Queensryche.

But the bridge actually in "In the Flesh" I grew to love and get goosebumps. In fact, the whole bloody song really is just so moving. Some of the guitar parts or tones in the 1st couple of verses almost make

The bridge is also godly. I swear it is such a goose-bumper with the way the guitar comes in and then piano and then Daniel's deeper vocals.

Now she bites the words
She kicks the ground
Swallows her tears
"Never will I go back"
She hits the walls
"Leave me!"
Scratches herself
"Leave me!"
Begs to all Gods
"Rip me from this sick flesh!"

and then leads eventually to a climax and then calming which ends in that line "Back to the adults of her home" and an absolutely gorgeous piano section.

"In the Flesh" lyrically might be very disturbing, but ironically, the music is so wonderful, the lyrics are almost secondary in a literal sense to me. But I think about it among a couple others, still remain the best songs Daniel and the band has created. It's one of those songs that I always look forward to, namely some of the moments I wrote about above.

However, as this record became a favorite of mine, I came to always listen to it all at once. But running down the track list:

"Used" is a great opening track. The yelling "getting used to pain getting used to pain"..and "I'm getting used...I'm getting used!" stand out. It does set the tone for this album being very deep and in your face. Even the guitar solo is very trademark. And it features one of many classic Pain of Salvation builds that keeps getting bigger and bigger. Until we get Daniel taking a very dramatic falsetto vocal section that stays with you along with the pounding drum work from Johan Langell. And after Daniel sings "murder"..that eery, mysterious "leave me" which is whsipered.

"Ashes" received the most commercial exposure of any song on this record. It usually makes me think of Nine Inch Nails, with its industrial-riff. I'll admit, I do like it, but more in the scope of this record. I mean it's a dark, intense song. The grindy build "let's burn together" and guitar riff with the distorted vocals "this pain will never end..these scars will never mend" ..and then the chorus "as we walk through the ashes I whisper your name a taste of pain to cling to. As we walk through the ashes You whisper my name Who's the one with the sickest mind...now?

Daniel's vocals and the tone of the song is overtly dark and almost over the top guilt-ridden. And I think the lyrics do stand out more so from it. But I still find it works on this record, and has enough interesting qualities musically to not be turned off by it. But it probably is the most preachy track on this album, and I'd say it in some ways is the most straightforward from a song-structure standpoint, which may be why it was given the most attention commercially.

"Morning on Earth" is a beautiful acoustic piece that features lovely string sounds, vocal harmonies and this perfect slow tempo. It also includes a sort of narrative/spoken part, which I came to also be reminded of Mike Patton and Faith No More again. "Hear this voice, see this man standing before you I'm just a child trapped inside this fallen man See this child."

I also love how the theme is used later in a different arrangement on "Reconciliation." Which is something I often enjoy in concept albums. And adds to the continuity of those kinds of records.

"Idioglossia" has this cool intro riff with the drums that I enjoyed somewhat initially, but came to find incredible over time. It's pretty busy and technical using polyrhythms. I noticed how they use that section and change times frequently on this song, which added to its appeal. It goes crazy for a minute, and then the whole "eyes washed the surface and see"...and then the "Ashes" theme is reprised, which I think I came to enjoy how they used the sound from "Ashes" on this song even more than on "Ashes" itself, lol.

As I search through the ashes
For someone to blame
I'm afraid to see my face
As I walk through the ashes
I whisper your name
Meeting you have forced me
To meet myself

The way the last line there leads to the fast picking guitar outro is awesome.

The 3rd movement of this song is similar, but I think the part that stands out is the echoing clean guitar parts and the chanting vocal harmonies. They go on for awhile, but I actually don't find they outstay their welcome. "It all comes back to me....it all comes back to you"?

"Dedication" is another acoustic ballad which transitions well into "King of Loss."
"King of Loss" I know is a polarized song among fans. I actually recall liking much of it initially. At least the 1st 2 parts. The incredibly heavy pounding section I actually forget if I really was bugged by or not. I knew over time, I found it among the heaviest and most intense music I'd ever heard, but then grew to find it brilliant.

I suppose part of why King of Loss worked for me is I enjoyed the way the piano and bluesy guitar riffs along with how it told a story.

"We crown you, the King of Loss...
Better get on your feet
Best be one of us
Better get yourself on the list
For success
Dress up as a State investment
Charm the press
A breed from the seed of only
One short breath"  

Mother, I wish that we could talk
You see
I'm not fit to play this game
Bound by its rules just the same
My talents turned to talons
Every monetary pile
Will buy me a precious smile...

Then tell me our lives mean more
Than this vain thirst!

These are a few of the lyrics I grew to appreciate on this song. For one, the line talking about "talons" I always wondered if that was the word Daniel was using (I never really sat down with the booklet while listening like many, but, I couldn't really since I listened to this album while working anyway). But "talent" and "talons" sound quite similar. "Talons" for some reason, I think of something biblical. I may be mixing it up with something else, but I swear in religious school, we read about or there were references to talons.

But the funky, bluesy music complements the subject matter and Daniel's sort of, letter to his mom and society on this track. I mean I have come to believe this song is like a letter to the workforce, corrupt government influence on it and the sad reality of what is required to make a living in modern society, or the way Daniel Gildenlow perceived society at least.

The highlight of "King of Loss" though is the gorgeous section that follows the intensity with the sad guitar lead and reprise of the "I am crying" -Used melody. I also love the strings arrangement, and the incredible vocal harmonies.

I would say it is among the greatest sections of music the band has ever made, even as short as it is.

"Reconciliation" follows and is quite a different track. It uses the "Morning on Earth" theme, but in a much faster, rockier kind of way. It's awfully catchy, in fact I kind of wish even now, this track had found the attention and been released as a single as well (or instead) of "Ashes."

"I thought I'd seen hell
Though I knew it all...

I was always on my mind
But never on my side
Run - but if you run away
You'll always have to hide
So if you need to run
Run for help!"

The way the music goes from dark and heavy to soft and higher pitched in the verses is such a cool dynamic when pulled off. I suppose they were hardly the 1st band to do it, but I hadn't really gotten into music that did that dynamic mood shifting so well. I suppose Faith No More was an exception, but Pain of Salvation spoke to me even more.

The line "but if you run away" is sort of foreshadowing for the closing title track. A line like that, and how it is sung, spoke to me as a message of escape.

"Song for the Innocent". I guess I think of it like a prayer. The line "We dreamed of a world" and "what else can the dying do?" which then brings back the outro from "Her Voices." One of a handful of reprised parts that work really well when they are returned to.

"Falling" is a nice intro guitar piece that then leads to the closing title track.

And "The Perfect Element" I came to find to be my favorite Pain of Salvation song. There are many reasons, for one the way it goes from section to section and I always found it was over too soon, yet it wasn't. The section

I will never leave this shame I will never leave this shame I will never leave this shame I will never leave this shame

Watching. unseen. untouched. bleeding
Empty. exposed. dying. eyes closed.

Once he had forests and mountains
That were only his - listening to him
Once he would run through the summer days
Catching memories for ages to come
Now he is dressing this naked floor
With his flesh and blood, and times passes by
His trade of pain might just have lead him
To deal with consequence
For some change as time passes by

I am the waking child
(Lingering, climbing, clinging, clutching
Craving, clawing, hurting, falling down)
I, the wayward son of a mountain lake
(Of icy liquor tears, of a silent Earth)
(Of a rusty lid, of a wingless wind)
(Of an eyeless storm, of fallen gods,
who lost their way)
I set myself on fire
To breed the Perfect Element

The section with the guitar echoing in those 1st 2 lines quoted builds so well into the pretty chanting falsetto section. That section after is so bloody dreamy and yet sad. It's a HUGE goose bump section for me every time I hear it. It again, sort of creates this escape. Like running away from in this case, some horrible circumstance to be treated for some children or child. Myself, I guess I do receive some kind of childhood memories.

Then the way the instrumental section comes back with the piano namely, my jaw drops. And then as it goes softer, the piano leads again, and the layers of vocals start coming in and the way it builds is absolutely astounding. The guitar solo of sorts with the pounding drums then leads to one of those Geoff Tate-like toned falsetto vocal lines.

"Falling far beyond the point of no return..Nothing to become and nothing left to burn....Now you are killing me.." 

the echoing response I always hear as "this is what I want" (like burning the characters own body)..but the lyric is actually "is this more than you want?" 

which makes some sense because the concept of TPE came to be about a "He" and a "She." But I've never thought about it that much.

In conclusion, this became a favorite album in the early 2000's for me. Even as dark as it is lyrically, it is as bright or as much beautiful and powerful musically. There is so much to receive from this record, and I still do consider it Pain of Salvation and Daniel Gildenlow's crowning achievement still (with Remedy Lane close as well), and certainly one of my favorite records from the 2000's. It's a very important record in the history of of progressive metal as well, as to quote James Bickers at that ProgPowerUSA festival "Pain of Salvation are like a clarion call for progressive metal..they're the 1st thing to come along in a long time that sounds new."

I think that is probably their greatest legacy at this point, and may always be. They came along when progressive metal needed something different, and this was the record specifically that did it. And I guess I appreciate them and this record as much as I do for that reason as well as the music itself.