PAIN OF SALVATION — Road Salt Two (review)

PAIN OF SALVATION — Road Salt Two album cover Album · 2011 · Non-Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
Although Pain of Salvation has never been a band to play it safe, Road Salt One's dramatic deviation from their distinct style left their fanbase a bit puzzled. The seventies' heavy rock vibe was a shocking change in direction from this established progressive metal act, and a large chunk of their dedicated following considered it inferior to any of their previous creations. Road Salt One may not be my favorite Pain of Salvation album either - far from it, actually - but it is a record that I enjoy, and I did eagerly wait for Road Salt Two to see if these Swedish masterminds could do an even better job at this decidedly-retro sound. After thoroughly enjoying both parts of the Road Salt saga, I can confidently conclude that Road Salt Two is the superior observation and an all-around excellent album from Pain of Salvation. The songwriting is more impressive this time around, there are more progressive rock and metal tendencies, and there's a strong conceptual feeling that was lacking a bit on Road Salt One. Road Salt Two isn't without its flaws, but it's still a highly impressive effort that open-minded fans of the band will hopefully enjoy. Pain of Salvation may never return to making masterpieces like The Perfect Element, Remedy Lane, and Be, but that doesn't take away from the fact that Road Salt Two is one hell of an album. Fans of 70's heavy prog with unique Gildenlöw flavoring should be sure to check this one out - just don't expect anything even remotely close to "vanilla prog metal"!

There are a few noticeable differences that I will point out shortly, but Road Salt Two is by-and-large a very similar album to Road Salt One. The music is still played in a very raw and unpolished seventies' hard rock style, and the retro keyboard palette, intelligent songwriting, and commanding vocals from Daniel Gildenlöw keep the album from ever descending into mediocrity. Road Salt Two's main unique feature is that it seems to have much more of a "prog-touch" than their previous effort, and that's a certainly a good thing in my opinion. When I say that this album is more "progressive", don't think that it ever implies vanilla progressive metal - the music here just tends to feature deeper, more complex, and more emotionally charged songwriting than it's predecessor. And, honestly, I think that's what gives Road Salt Two a slight edge. There are a few uninspired blues riffs that I could've done without, but it is obviously an integral part of the retro atmosphere that Pain of Salvation are aiming to create with the Road Salt saga.

The album opens up with the short orchestral piece entitled "Road Salt Theme", and even though no parts of this song were heard on Road Salt One, they are all heard again before Road Salt Two ends. "Softly She Cries" is a heavier track that's filled with doomy metal riffs and a haunting synthesizer melody - an excellent way to open up this chapter for sure. "Conditioned" is the leading single from Road Salt Two and (unsurprisingly), it's the weakest track here by a substantial margin. It's not a bad song by any stretch, but the repetitive blues riff lacks the depth and emotion to really grab me until the climatic ending section. "Healing Now" is a folky acoustic song, and an absolutely beautiful composition - one of the highlights for sure. "To The Shoreline" is one of the most progressive tracks here, and the jazzy drumming parred with the captivitating synthesizers and moving choruses make this a contender for the best track on the album. After a filthy hard rock riff, "Eleven" moves into more grunge-y territory that's completed by Gildenlöw's gruff vocal performance and the pulsating bassline. Don't expect this track to ever become repetitive, though, as the instrumental middle-section is one of the most interesting moments on Road Salt Two. The first truly beautiful piece of music on the album come in the form of "1979" - a rather short ballad with serene lyrics and heartwarming melodies, as well as a terrific arrangement that reminds me of something I would've heard on Be. "The Deeper Cut" opens up with a complex and progressive riff that sounds more like traditional progressive metal than anything else you're bound to hear on this album. The emotionally challenging second half of the song features one of the most impressive builds I've ever heard, and Daniel Gildenlöw's vocal performance is nothing short of stunning.

"Mortar Grind" was also featured on the Linoleum EP from 2009, and I still enjoy the song just as much as I did back then. It's not the best track on Road Salt Two, but its haunting melodies are definitely more effective within the concept of a full-length album. "Through the Distance" is the second ballad on the album, and is every bit as beautiful as "1979". The melancholic lyrics matched by the lush arrangements make this another one of my favorites. The "epic" of the album is in the form of "The Physics of Gridlock", a near-9 minute epic that sums up the album pretty well. I wish that the spoken word section in French were omitted as it really takes away from the power of the track, but the rest of the composition is top-notch for sure. "End Credits" closes up Road Salt Two almost exactly how it started, and this is another (slightly longer) orchestral piece that features a few more themes from the album. I think this is the perfect way to end the album.

As we're used to from Pain of Salvation, the musicianship is excellent across the board. Daniel Gildenlöw's expressive vocals are at the forefront of the music, but his work on the guitar and bass shouldn't go unnoticed either. Johan Hallgren's guitar playing is equally impressive, and Leo Margarit's drumming is not only technically demanding, but also emotionally impressive. Frederik Hermansson's eclectic choices of keyboard tones always suit the music perfectly, and even though he may not be the most prominent figure in the band's sound, no song would be complete without his tasteful additions. Unfortunately, the production is a bit of an issue for me here - just like on Road Salt One, the production intentionally sounds muddy and "vintage". I tend to think that it just sounds really low-quality most of the time, and I really miss the polished production of Pain of Salvation's earlier works - Road Salt Two would've benefited greatly from a more impressive sound quality.

Pain of Salvation may have lost a little bit of their "bite" and inspiration over the last few years, but I refuse to think that they've become any less of a creative force in the progressive rock community. Road Salt Two is not a flawless masterpiece like The Perfect Element, Part 1, yet the creativity of Daniel Gildenlöw and company shines as brightly as ever. A band that can constantly shift styles and manage to pull it all off with precision and success is worthy of my praise, and Pain of Salvation have demonstrated here that this retro progressive rock sound can work very well for them. Whether or not the famed Swedes decide to stick with this sound or move on will only be told in the coming years, but this album has restored my faith in Pain of Salvation as one of music's most genuinely impressive forces. I'd say a big 4 stars are very well-deserved here. Road Salt Two is not the place to begin your Pain of Salvation journey, but any established fan should be sure to check it out.
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J-Man wrote:
more than 2 years ago
This is much better than RS1 IMO!
more than 2 years ago
The raw, 70's blues rock sound made me oh so hopeful but I was let down by RS1. You say its there but with a more prog edge...going to finally listen later today, hope they can redeem themselves!

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