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Predictable Setlist, Strong Performance - 85%

Pfuntner, December 27th, 2010

There is something odd about a band like Pain of Salvation recording and releasing a live album. Of all of the big name prog metal bands in the current scene, no other collective is as dedicated to the concept of an album as a singular and complete statement. Barring their recent excursion into retro rock, all of their albums are heavily conceptual in nature, featuring narrative flow and repeating musical motifs. Because of this heavy focus on full albums, taking individual songs out of this context can often lead to their live sets feeling like a collection of appetizers rather than a full meal. The band has attempted to solve this problem on their previous live albums by either playing their albums straight through (“BE Live”) or tying the songs together with new motifs (“12:5”).

“Ending Themes” does neither of these things and instead selects songs that do the best job of standing on their own as well as representing the album that they were chosen from. So most of the songs on this collection are unlikely to shock a longtime fan, but serve as great introductions for any newcomers. Every album is represented, although “Scarsick “ gets more recognition, as it was their most recent at the time, at the expensive of “BE”. Normally I would be pretty offended that ‘Disco Queen’ got chosen over ‘Iter Impius’ or ‘Nihil Morari’ but the fact that “BE” got represented at all is impressive enough given the absurd degree of orchestration present on that album.

Despite these concerns, “Ending Themes” does serve two purposes for the die-hard Pain of Salvation fan. First, for American fans such as myself this is our only real chance to hear them live, outside of youtube. Second, this album has vastly superior production to the majority of Pain of Salvation’s studio albums. So instead of the muddy midrange onslaught of “The Perfect Element” or the tinny bodiless “Concrete Lake” we get a clear look at what’s really going on under the hood of these songs. ‘Scarsick’ and ‘New Year’s Eve’ are the most noticeable improvements, as the listener can finally hear the variety of riffs in the former, and the dynamic shifts in the later. Other songs get reworked to fit the live environment, such as ‘Undertow’ which is changed into a fragile piano ballad, or ‘Handful of Nothing’ which gains a crushing ending riff (quite possibly the heaviest thing the band has ever done), or ‘Chainsling’ which serves as a showcase for Johan Hallgren’s backing vocals.

Otherwise the performances here are solid and entertaining. The more midpaced songs work better as the band has more room to mess with the arrangements. The faster songs on the other hand occasionally feel rushed and more frantic than they should be. Of particular note, as always with this band, are Daniel Gildenlow’s vocals, which expand from the original melodies and into new exciting territory. The backing vocals are also solid as hell, leading me to suspect studio overdubs, but the end result is quite a pleasure to listen to.

I wouldn’t say this is a must have for the fans, as there is only one new song here (a Leonard Cohen cover), but it certainly doesn’t hurt and works much better as a traditional live album than Pain of Salvation’s previous attempts. Recommended.