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Now, any Pain of Salvation release from Entropia to Remedy Lane is an album I have replayed endlessly, and still don’t need much of an excuse to spin again. I’ve had friends tell me that it took a while to get into their music, but once they did they were really digging them. For me, it was love at first listen – I couldn’t believe I’d overlooked a band this monumental for so long.
2004’s BE album was a bit of a diversion, and while I wouldn’t have it perched in the same lofty shelf as their previous studio output, it didn’t take me long to settle into it. The shifting between atmospheric parts and more conventional aggression was expertly handled, and though I wasn’t bowled over by the theme itself, it was a great ride on a musical level.
Scarsick is a different beast. The changes come right from the skeletal structure itself, and I’m talking about the departure of founding member/bassist Kristoffer Gildenlow. This led to frontman Daniel Gildenlow taking on bass duties in addition to vocals and guitars. Typical of the man, he does a decent job, but it’s not hard to see that his brother’s presence is missed.
Another point is the general direction that they seem to be going. Ever since Entropia, each album has had a tight focus, and whether it dealt with environmental abuse (One Hour by the Concrete Lake) or exorcising personal demons (Remedy Lane), it seems to have helped the music flourish. BE was an ambitious thematic exercise, and the music was a little more nebulous, but managed to stay within a boundary that was possible to follow, if barely. Scarsick seems to lack that quality – it’s angry, lashing out at several facets of society almost to the point of preaching, and does so in quite a few ways, but overall, this is probably the most aimless album they’ve ever done.
The surprises arrive early, seeing that the vocals on the first two songs are almost done entirely using rapping. On the title track, Dan uses this style of spitting out syllabic triplets that sound remniscient of Eminem on 8 Mile. I’m not denying it’s done well, but it just doesn’t seem to sit right with me. The chorus is catchy enough that I find myself humming it while crossing the road sometimes (I really should pay more attention to those asshole cyclists), but it’s just not a deep enough song to justify its length.
Ditto with Spitfall – it’s a lengthy indictment of the hip-hop lifestyle done using rap itself. While it gives me a hell of an irony boner, I can’t help but question the intent. It’s all good to go “Fuck you, and look, I can do this better than you,” but do you really have to go and make a 7 minute opus just for that purpose? And the frequent cussing here and on Cribcaged raises eyebrows as well. Seems a little like what Dream Theater tried with Train of Thought, and we all know how that turned out.
America is the first completely bright spot on the album, displaying terrific potshots being taken across the Atlantic, with all the deft and biting eloquence that is typical of Gildenlow’s lyrical ability, laid on the backbone of a great kooky tune. “So now you are scared the Arabs will kill for their god. Like you do for yours? Protect your obesity with your life, man. Hey – Angry God or Diet Coke? Who cares, it’s all a joke.” Nasty!
And just what the hell is Disco Queen about? I’ve got nothing against taking the piss out of that genre, but I’ll leave it to bands like Carnival in Coal (you have to check out the song Cartilage Holocaust!) to do it right. This one just goes on and on, and isn’t even funny! Checking the lyrics, I find I’m totally off the mark and it’s actually a three part concept song. Jeez.
Kingdom of Loss has more condemnation of modern consumerist culture, but what it actually is most notable for is having the ONLY fucking guitar solo in the entire album! I mean, scorning solos is for bands that aren’t competent enough to do a good job with them, not for an outfit that’s had a past of playing some of the most tasteful, well-thought-out and appropriate solos I’ve heard.
My next favourite on the album – Mrs. Modern Mother Mary. It’s simple in concept, and one reason it works is because there’s just that off-kilter approach to the beat that serves to wind up and hit you in the face. Another chorus I catch myself singing now and then.
Wrapping up, we’ve got two more overlong songs, Idiocracy and Enter Rain, with a considerably shorter Flame to the Moth sandwiched in between. Again, a song that I’ve taken quite a liking to, thanks to the urgency of the tempo that builds up throughout the song and explodes in a vicious bridge, leaving just enough gap before the chorus for you to punch your fist up in glee.
It seems to be consistent that the songs I really like are the shorter ones. Thanks to the complexity and depth of the songwriting having been drastically slashed, it just doesn’t make sense having so many long compositions. This album seems more of a vehicle for Dan Gildenlow’s beliefs than for great music. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that it’s a terrible album, and he’s still one of the best lyricists out there, but for someone who’s been knocked over flat by some of their back catalog, it’s just disappointing. Add to the mix the fact that another founding member, drummer Johann Langell has left since the release of the album, and I have to fear that the best days for this phenomenal band are over. I hope I’m wrong – it wouldn’t be the first time.