Label: InsideOut Music
Release Date: 28/8/2020
In the world of progressive metal, Pain of Salvation enjoy a much earned notoriety: be it the veneration of their early work, the civil war that always ensues whenever someone brings up Scarsick, or the fact that the band’s 2017 opus, In the Passing Light of Day marked a much-welcome return to form for many, they always find a way to be the talk of the town. Now Daniel Gildenlöw and co are back with another album. So how does it fare?
Well, if you were expecting a second In the Passing Light of Day, you can just forget it. Panther is an entirely different beast. The similarities between the albums start and end with the wonderfully organic production and that beautiful drum tone that made that album an amazingly pleasant experience.
Now here’s the news: in many respects, Panther is a step forward. In others, it’s a step back. The changes in the album can be examined in two respects: in songwriting and in sound. On the songwriting front, the album sees much more intricate melody wizardry than its predecessor and a more than welcome return to the off-kilter, odd-time signature prog goodness that characterized some of the band’s earlier work. Furthermore, the arrangements are kept shorter than usual, but twice more lively: just check out Restless Boy for how many different moods and pastures one song can fit. This creates a vibrant and varied experience that makes Panther a joy to follow along with.
Primary among the sound changes is the fact that Panther is a much more vocal-focused album, to the point where guitars, even when on the forefront (e.g. Accelerator, Unfuture) are duly de-emphasized. The absence of bulky guitar work allows for two things. One, it allows for the electronic elements that the album often flirts with shine stronger (Restless Boy) even tentatively flirting with a more trad-prog sound at one point (Keen to a Fault.) Two, it creates a far more nimble sound by doing away with the more abrasive, sharper edges of metal, proper. Nowhere is this clearer than on Wait, an almost call-back to The Perfect Element I‘s Morning on Earth with its soft-spoken piano melody.
However, this softening of sound and more emphasis on the vocals comes as a double-edged sword. On the plus side, Panther sees Daniel Gildenlöw deliver his best vocal performance yet; delivering innovative vocal lines with passion and true emotion. Apart from one horrible mishap during the song Panther where he “raps” (I mean, I think he believes that’s what rapping is) he screams, he shouts, he menaces, he croons, he sings and makes the emphasis put on his voice the best decision for these songs.
On the down side, however, is the fact that Panther‘s lyrics section is pure cringe with Daniel delivering some of the worst and most irritating lyrics I have seen from him. The concept it is based on revolves around a city where there are two types of beings: dogs (us mortals) and panthers (the “exalted ones”.) It is clear that the concept was intended to be a celebration of individuality and a condemnation of (modern day) collectivism, but rather than the nuanced critique it was meant to be, it comes off as nothing more than the egotistical, pseudophilosophical musings of an insufferable, narcissistic bastard who thinks acting like a callous dick to everyone and blaming them for everything makes him better than everyone else.
The sheer arrogance wafting off of every track and the snide condescension embedded into every line makes Panther a very difficult album to sit through or to take seriously. I will mention that this wouldn’t be such a problem if such emphasis wasn’t put on the concept and the lyrics by way of putting the vocals front-and-center.
At the end of the day, however, there is no denying whatsoever that Panther still places Pain of Salvation way ahead of the curve. There is something here for pretty much everyone: old fans, new fans, people who are just hearing about the band (who really should check out their first six albums first…) Be you a panther or a dog, what you are sure to do is get a kick out of this one. Check it out.
Daniel Gildenlöw – lead vocals and everything else
Johan Hallgren – guitars, vocals
Daniel Karlsson – guitars, keyboards, vocals
Gustaf Hielm – bass, vocals
Léo Margarit – drums, vocals
03. Restless Boy
05. Keen to a Fault