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Originally published at http://suite101.com
One cannot emphasis just how important the release of Road Salt One was for Pain of Salvation’s career. On one hand, it showed that they were still capable of releasing a consistent album after a few concepts proved to be a little overly ambitious. On the other hand, it still allowed the band to continue their never-ending pursuit of strange, new sounds. Originally intended for a late 2010 release, Road Salt Two is an appropriate continuation of the effort before it but also works nicely as a stand-alone effort. It is also the last album to feature longtime guitarist Johan Hallgren, effectively bringing the band down to just two official members.
As expected, this album has a lot in common with its first part in that it gets by on a very old school blend of bluesy prog rock and lyrics dealing with relationships and frontman Daniel Gildenlow’s raging libido. However, this album is made distinct by a noticeably darker tone that is most prominent on tracks such as “Softly She Cries” and “Eleven.” Like the first part, there is also a strong melodic side to this release as there are plenty of ballads on display. While no song on here is as tragic as “Sisters” was (Quite frankly, I don’t think anyone will be able to top that one), but they’re pretty well written with there being a bit more folk influence and some interesting bookending pieces.
The band is also pretty solid though there is little in the ways of technicality. The guitars and keyboards are what stand out the most as the former puts out some solid riffs on tracks like “Conditioned” while the latter occasionally ends up being the sole instrument accompanying the vocals on a ballad or two. Speaking of vocals, this is predictably an album that is all about them as Gildenlow provides a wide range of crooning, harmonizing, squealing, strutting, whimpering, and a few spoken bits. His performance is quite emotional though there are some moments that feel rather pretentious and over the top; the spoken vocals at the end of “The Physics of Gridlock” feel like they’d be part of a monologue that would pop up at the end of some fancy foreign film. Must be the French…
Like the first part and just about every other Pain of Salvation album, there are a wide variety of styles being played with on this album. However, this release seems to be a bit focused on more specific styles than its predecessor and doesn’t have as many out there moments. Bottom line, there’s nothing on here that matches the all-out weirdness of a track like “Sleeping Under The Stars.” Of course, there are still some moments on here that recall songs from the first sequence. While “Conditioned” has an overall feel similar to that of Rage Against The Machine’s “Sleep Now In The Fire,” the opening riff does come off as sounding like a more upbeat version of “Linoleum.” In addition, the piano-driven nostalgia on “1979” has a feel similar to “Where It Hurts” and the closing bit of “The Physics of Gridlock” might as well be a reprisal of “Of Dust.” Given how this is a two-album concept, the resemblances are quite understandable.
But in a move that is rather odd for a band whose best songs tend to be overwhelming ballads, the heavier songs just might be the most enjoyable tracks on here. “Eleven” stands out the most due to its doomy Sabbath-styled riff though “Softly She Cries” makes good use of a dark bluesy groove and the previously released “Mortar Grind” makes use of some spooky hooks.
But while they are not as emotionally gripping, there are still plenty of highlights that pop up in the melodic material. “To The Shoreline” is a particularly memorable track thanks to some cool folk/piano contrasts that are aided by an overall grandiose feel. In addition, “1979” works nicely as a quietly extended interlude of sorts and “Healing Now” features some solid acoustic guitar work.
Even though Road Salt Two is essentially a repetition of the overall concepts that were conceived on Road Salt One, it still manages to be another strange Pain of Salvation album. Its darker feel gives it a noticeably different tone and while there isn’t really a track on here that would drive a listener to tears regardless of whoever may be watching, it does feel like it may be a bit more consistent in its delivery. Overall, I still think the first part may be the stronger release but would still recommend this release to go along with it. It has some terrific songs and may actually be a bit easier to get into for unfamiliar listeners. And like just about every album before it, it does make one wonder what Gildenlow’s next trick will be. I for one will be looking forward to another strange but satisfying curveball.
“Softly She Cries”
“To The Shoreline”