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It could seem weird, but Scarsick was the first Pain of Salvation album I got. The title song sounded simply awesome to me, and I decided to take the risk and buy the full album. My first impression was “OK... but I'm a bit disappointed”. Over time, it really started growing on me. After like four months, someone borrowed it from me for quite a while. At the moment I'm writing this, it's been a year since I got this album (and I know half of the band's discography – it didn't change my view at Scarsick much) and I think the review title sums it up very well. This album requires LOTS of patience and open-mindedness, but it definitely pays off in the long run. It's really weird, chaotic, often contrasting, at moments even silly, but over time you realise one thing: it's all like it was meant to be. And the people – or was it just one person – who created this, knew what he was doing. He knew it damn well.
Let's begin with a general overview of what you can expect on this album. There are lots of different influences here, you can hear a bit of the “old PoS”, but overall, it's something completely new. There's some nu-metal, rap, disco (!), stupid pop-rock, progressive rock, maybe even a slight bit of doom. Actually, normally I'd hate the first four 'ingredients', but here I don't. It's pretty much like with salt I guess... If you know how much to add, and where to add it, it's great. If you don't know that, it's just plain awful. Pain of Salvation could add completely different things to their music, ending up with a strange, but definitely interesting sound. Also, their great songwriting, clever lyrics (we'll talk about them later – they deserve a whole paragraph here) and excellent production are here as well. Not to mention the last, but definitely not the least important thing...
...which is their instrumental skills. The sad thing is – you won't hear Kristoffer Gildenlow playing bass anymore here. Daniel took the bass on this album, and it's nothing special, but works well. What he – and Johan Hallgren – have always been good at can be heard very well though, and it's obviously the guitars. There's much less light, melodic guitar playing and more strong, dynamic riffs (not necessarily heavy). You can hear it from the very beginning of the album – the title song is driven mostly on a really crushing riff, and a similarly powerful riff can be heard during some moments of the closing track, Enter Rain. There are also some more unconventional guitar uses, like during America (reminds me a bit of System of a Down in fact) or Disco Queen. There's also some of the light and melodic playing, especially on Kingdom of Loss. Pain of Salvation guitarists have proven how versatile they are on the earlier albums, but Scarsick breaks any limits. Unfortunately, there's only one guitar solo during the whole album – which is a pity, because I think there are like two moments which would work really awesome with a nice solo. As for the remaining instruments... the drums are flawless like always. They don't take over at any point of the album, maybe except the beginning of Idiocracy, but if you listen to them more closely, there's plenty of interesting things to hear. Finally, the keyboards... there's less piano and more effects of different kinds. One thing hasn't changed – they almost never take the lead. They are there and form the atmosphere.
There's one more thing I cannot miss when talking about Pain of Salvation: the vocals. During the past year, Daniel Gildenlow has managed to become my favourite vocalist, and the competition was VERY strong. The vocals on this album are even more varied than the guitars – even rap is here (he can rap ten times better than most 'real' rappers. Really). No matter what he sings, whether about being pissed off at the society (Scarsick), ironic lyrics about America, calm 'thoughtful' style during Kingdom of Loss, or really broken, depressive singing during Enter Rain, you can really hear it's real, with a lot of emotion and soul in it. And since his vocal skills are really great, he can pull off things that are sometimes pretty hard to imagine before hearing the album.
Now, let's take a look at the songs. We have ten, divided into two parts. The music follows the storyline very closely, and we start from straightforward anger – which are Scarsick, with its crushing riffs and really furious, at some points, singing (one of my personal favourites), and Spitfall, with straightforward rapping and a pretty dark atmosphere. The anger slowly calms down during Cribcaged, what doesn't change the fact that it remains and is shown in the... language (the word 'fuck' is used like 15 times). The next two songs are definitely the two most controversial ones – America, in which you can hear some System of a Down and also some silly pop-rock, and the real star of the album ;) - Disco Queen, which is, musically, a parody of disco, though the disco itself isn't more than ¼ of the song. The second half is much darker – starting from Kingdom of Loss, which begins with a kind of 'reflection state' and becomes heavier over time, then we have Mrs Modern Mother Mary based on one main riff (personally, my least favourite song of the album), which is quite neutral. Idiocracy is sad and quite heavy at the same time, with a nice, catchy opening, Flame to the Moth is probably the second heaviest song after Scarsick, with some nu-metal influences (especially the chorus) and pretty dynamic structure. The album closes with my favourite - Enter Rain, a 10-minute masterpiece with a very complex song structure, simply awesome vocals, and a depressive atmosphere. And well... even if someone hates this album, I can't believe he/she doesn't remember the ending.
I still haven't said anything about probably the most important thing on this album, which has an influence on everything here – the concept and lyrics. It's the second part of The Perfect Element... trilogy? (Unless something changes again...) The general storyline seems quite simple – a man with a difficult past sees all that crap (rappers, plastic pop stars, commercialism etc.) on TV, tries to do something about that, fails, then tries to find his place in this society, unfortunately fails again and commits suicide. However, this is the biggest strength of this album... the deeper you dig, the most interesting it becomes. There's a lot of things which can be interpreted in many different ways (prime example – the lyrics of Disco Queen, I've heard 4 possible ways of reading them, and all four work very well), a lot of ideas that you won't notice until the 'n-th' listen, and some things start to make sense if you really look for them (the lyrics of Cribcaged are based on some programme on MTV regarding celebrities. The seemingly random targets of 'fucking' during the song are actually some of the clichés that appear there). It's a kind of album that really requires you to get into it in order to really appreciate it, but once you do – it's hard to get out of it. And Enter Rain still leaves me speechless every time I listen to the whole album, even though I've heard it like 50 times already...
In other words, Scarsick is a very complex album, even though it may feel in the beginning that's it's simple, shallow and 'modern' for no apparent reason. It takes a lot of patience to find everything it has to offer, but it's worth it. There's a lot of different influences, unconventional ideas, clever lyrics, and most importantly – emotion. You can feel it's for real, it's not just an album. There are a few moments which could be improved, but with this amount of experimentation, I think some slight flaws were unavoidable. My advice is: give it a try, but stay open-minded.