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Way before this album leaked, Daniel stated that this would be a more "band-oriented" album which isn't bad at all especially coming off of something like BE. But after having listened to this whole thing, I'm very disappointed.
The first question: is it more band-oriented? In a way, yes. More focus on rhythm, and the majority of the songs are fairly straight-forward. The problem is, not much is really going on from a technical point-of-view. The guitars are usually playing heavy chords, the drums accent that heaviness, the bass is inaudible, and (as I mentioned before) the keyboards are mainly absent. Daniel plays bass here, by the way, and the Kristoffer's departure are already evident. The group doesn’t sound as tight as on their previous albums.
The biggest problem I have with this album is the lack of musical quality stemming from the fact that the mostly boring and uninspired instrumental parts are drawn-out and repeated ad-nauseum. The majority of the songs begin on a riff and little changes as it drones on for up to 10 minutes. Not only that, there is this air of unoriginality in a few songs like "Scarsick" (rip-off of "S.C.I.E.N.C.E."-era Incubus) and "Spitfall" (which sounds like Linkin Park only one-hundred times nastier). After those songs, there is this general System of a Down with slight Pink Floyd overtones sound to the album. The System of a Down comes mostly from the lyrics and simplicity and the Pink Floyd is the brooding sound that is in the second half of the album (especially "Enter Rain" which also sounds a bit like "Beyond the Pale"). We do get a good-sized of Daniel's soaring emotional vocals along with his angrier side, but we also get very grating wails on "Disco Queen" (most of his high notes are irritating here as well) and the very whiney chorus on "America". He's an excellent vocalist overall, but it doesn't show much on this work.
A few more issues are the contrived attempts at diversity. Sure, the album is diverse in that every song sounds completely different, but it sounds forced and comes-off as token diversity. This fact also might make it difficult for some to get into the album. "Disco Queen" is probably the weirdest thing this band has written, but it is very annoying in the intro and outro and seems to meander senselessly in the middle. The track "Scarsick" doesn't seem to go anyway at all! The album as a whole seems completely unfocused. Although I will give this band recognition for experimenting as I've never heard an album with these kinds of experiments on it (rap/hip-hop, disco, funk, and "America" which is kind of a strange hybrid of 70's and 80's pop).
The lyrics are the other major flaw, especially the track "Cribcaged" which uses "fuck" enough times (both in succession and over a period of time) to make KoRn blush. Scatological and crude sexual references in "Spitfall" make the already-mediocre song bomb. The lyrics throughout the album sound very juvenile and irritatingly angsty. Politics, George W. Bush, America, and those capitalist pigs get chewed-out in teenage political activist fashion. The subject matters don’t bother me, it's just the way they’re presented. And while Daniel may have some good points, his delivery is completely off-putting. And there is a vague concept here mostly being sneery, sarcastic, and very pissed-off. That is somewhat interesting but at the same time very low-brow for this band.
"Low-brow", "juvenile", "angsty", and "crude" are words that I never thought I'd use in a Pain of Salvation review. And while the band gets points for being experimental and making an album that no one could have predicted, it ultimately fails for me. I will admit that there is some good music here (mostly on the last five tracks), but it's buried underneath so much garbage that it isn't very satisfying in the end. Overall, the album is unfocused and directionless musically. This makes me wonder what the band's future will be like. I see this album as being very hard to rebound from, but I still have some faith in the guys. And maybe getting all this anger and frustration off of his chest will be beneficial in the end.