To define progressive music has always been difficult since the time when huge prog bands used to rule the rock universe in the ‘70s. Progressive music has been explained by so much people, with so much words, that anyone can be easily excused by feeling a little lost when talking about it. Generally it used to describe groups with complex time signatures and compositional structures, pushing the technical boundaries and experimenting with new sounds and approaches to their view of music as whole. Even if any attempt to define progressive music would seem like a joke nowadays, one thing is undeniably true: progressive means evolution. And from this point of view, Pain of Salvation has always been a band that progressed its music, not for its own sake, but in order to express a wide variety of emotions, an essential thing for every artist.

The band’s origins date back to 1984, when 11 year old from Eskilstuna in Sweden, Daniel Gildenlöw formed a band called Reality. It wasn’t until seven years later when Reality changed its name to Pain of Salvation, and since 1997 until today the band released ten studio albums, the most recent being this year’s In the Passing Light of Day.

In this article we are looking back at the band’s opus, and rank their albums. Read more about it below.

Please note that these rankings are based on our opinions, and as you know opinions vary. What is our best may be worst for you, the combinations are endless.

10. Falling Home (2014)

Falling Home is similar to 12:5 in that it features acoustic re-interpretations of Pain of Salvation songs, with the exception of two covers and a brand new song. This album may not be as radical as 12:5, but the warmth in the music cannot be denied. We get to hear very refreshing versions of songs such as “Stress,” “Linoleum,” and “Spitfall,” which shine in their new mellower arrangements compared to the much more aggressive originals. The jazzy cover of “Holy Diver” is especially good. For the style Falling Home presents, the performances by the band members are really good. The band seems to effortlessly perform the several genres infused on the record. It’s amazing that Daniel Gildenlöw has managed to recruit musicians that not only capable of playing POS’ complex music (as seen during the live performances), but also ones that have the vocals to cope with the elaborate supporting vocal requirements of POS music. While the backing vocals are terrific, main man Daniel’s performance is even better. He reminds us why he’s one of finest vocalists in the world of progressive music. His remarkable vocal abilities haven’t subsided, and the sprinkling of fresh vocal melodies throughout the record makes his performance all the more intriguing.

The largest drawback with Falling Home is the track list. With such a rich back catalogue, there were so many songs that would have been better suited and been more refreshing with this acoustic treatment. 12:5 showed the band’s ability to give a new life to some of the heavier songs, and it was superb. Don’t get me wrong, I love songs like “To the Shoreline” and “1979,” but these versions don’t sound thoroughly different from the original versions. In a way though, the track list makes sense since 12:5 was released after Be and therefore it encapsulated that period of the band, while Falling Home represents the subsequent material.

09. Road Salt One (2010)

With Road Salt albums, Pain of Salvation have challenged the limits of progressive music by experimenting with time and style. Once again, they have walked the “change of attitude” road that many other bands have walked. It seems as if they have travelled back in time, picked up some good old fashioned rock & roll and recorded an album full of references to the old days. Before release, Daniel Gildenlöw gave us a pretty accurate description of what the album was aiming to be: 1976 on steroids.

Although the intention is good and noble, the results aren’t what one would expect of Gildenlöw. He has numerously amazed us with impressive concept albums that are at the time, on the top charts of the prog lists. It is true that progressive music is prone to virtuosity, complexness and change. But change just for change sake? Why move suddenly to a weird (in a good way) version of Rock & Roll when one is doing so fine on the progressive line?

08. Road Salt Two (2011)

Not a step farther from its twin brother, Road Salt Two continues the legacy of the new-born, hard-rocking and pretty looking Swedish progsters through the grounds of groovy and nostalgic hard rock. It has all the elements that made Road Salt One what it is: raw guitar sound, excessive use of mellotron and ‘70s reminiscent keys, conventional song structures, dark and sometimes mellow lyricism. Yeah, nothing seems to have changed, and that’s not something to worry about, ’cause Road Salt’s Two predecessor was a good and enjoyable album. Having kept the unique recorded-live-from-the basement-like production, the band tries to take flight with no further additions to their sound, depending mainly on the songwriting. We get the usual mid-tempo pieces like “Softly She Cries” or the riff-driven ones like “Conditioned.” Then we have the melodic, yet angry “Mortar Grind” and the blues’y “Eleven” to add some diversity and edge. We also get the usual screaming outbursts and the mellotron carpets, featured in most of the songs, which as in the case of Road Salt One never managed to become memorable pieces.

The album’s main flaw is its uncertain character. Gildenlöw‘s mind seems to have been baffled about the direction he wanted to follow. Road Salt Two is not the groovy, catchy and quirky album that quickly catches your attention. It’s neither the deep, demanding and poignant one, that will keep you home at midnights with a hot cup of coffee and the booklet on your hands. Its music feels unsettled and diffident at times, flirting both with its angry and emotive nature, finding its ultimate manifestation to neither. However, glimpses of the band’s true capabilities can still be heard in songs like “The Physics of Gridlock” where riffs and melodies brilliantly entwine with Daniel’s singing to a big and strange crescendo, or in the softer pieces like the optimistic and beautifully arranged “To The Shoreline.”

Having a handful of brilliant LPs behind it, Road Salt Two is doomed to be labeled, together with Road Salt One, as the band’s most inconsistent work – a judgement only relevant to the band’s high standards. It is an album of some few highlights, that never goes bad though. Infused with an aura of plain sadness, mellow grief and anger, it slightly exposes Pain of Salvation‘s squalid, new face.

07. Scarsick (2007)

Musically, Pain of Salvation pulls off a lot of tricks and cards here. The band sounds like some combination of the more rock/metal elements of Porcupine Tree (without the Mellotron or dreamy Pink Floyd moments), embellished with Faith No More-esque vocals, chugging guitar riffs, and incomprehensible melody lines. They even pull off a disco beat on the aptly titled “Disco Queen” (is this an ABBA tribute of sorts?). Variety is not something we have to complain about here, as the band switches from frenetic rap-metal (“Spitfall”) mode a la Rage against the Machine into power ballad territory with the somewhat mellower “Cribcaged.”

But what is most interesting here is the concept album. Daniel Gildenlöw, the band’s primary composer, is one angry man on this album, and seems to take his cues musically from some of the more leftfield bands out there. Frenetic shrieks a la Serj Tankian on the hardcore-tinged “Flame to the Moth.” Hip-hop verses out of the Tom Morello rulebook on album opener “Scarsick” and the subsequent “Spitfall.” A decidedly pop-punk antic on the first single, “America.” Even on what starts out as a mellow song, Gildenlöw turns the whole song into a f**k you festival and namecalling all his favourite scapegoats (film stars, companies, commercials) like a shopping mall checklist.

Some people might be put off by the aggressive tone the PoS frontman takes here. But, in fact, the band pulls a new one lyrically on us: they have never seemed so mundane. With former albums exploring such concepts as the nature of mankind, the existence of God and other philosophical concepts far beyond the simple-minded brains of the masses, this seems like a more easy to digest take on the world, still being bleak and depressing but giving fans who could not comprehend the conceptual nature of previous albums a much easier time to relate to and understand what Gildenlöw is trying to get across.

06. One Hour by the Concrete Lake (1999)

Pain Of Salvation’s sophomore effort One Hour By The Concrete Lake is an often overlooked record when compared to the rest of the band’s discography. It’s easy to see why. It doesn’t have the lyrical depth of Remedy Lane. It doesn’t have the genre defining feel of The Perfect Element. It doesn’t have the ‘70s aspect of the Road Salt twins. It doesn’t have the quirks and jam mood (the drum solo at the end of “Nightmist” or the random jazz part in “To the End” being good examples) of the debut. It doesn’t have the mother of all (pretentious) concept or orchestration of Be. Hell, it doesn’t even have the “middle-finger-pointed-at-every-one” attitude that Scarsick had.

This record feels like it was written by a band. Get it right though, most of the song credits go to Gildenlöw, but the approach feels more like the rest of the band didn’t have their hands tied, blindly following him. The result is quite rewarding. On here, the music is similar from the one found on Entropia (possibly because Magdic, the other guitarist that left the band after the debut, still had some writing credits here) but flows better at the cost of letting down the quirks and often misplaced jazzy parts of the first record. Throughout the album, the guitars and bass provide a some sort of melody reminiscent to the one of a machine. While it by no means sound like a crossover between progressive and industrial, the sound provided by the Gildenlöw brothers and Hallgren seem mechanic and rawer then other Pain of Salvation records, but without getting heavy and suffocating, suiting the concept nicely. On top of that, Hermansson provides dark and eerie soundscapes flowing like an aura above the guitars. The rhythms and tempo changes are at their most schizophrenic here. While Pain of Salvation were never known to stick to only one course per song, here it’s even more unreal and ridiculous.

05. In The Passing Light of Day (2017)

In the Passing Light of Day is an exhausting and an exhilarating listen. Clocking at 72 minutes, narrates an orderless story, in the likes of Remedy Lane, with emotional display of similar proportions. The sound is massive, a forceful beast that takes only a few breaths at a time, before being unleashed on us again. For a brief description, my vocabulary is restricted to the words cold, raw, agonizing, with a dim sight of hope. The album may immerse us to the depths of human pain, but gives us a notion that higher highs will follow. The production is clean and natural and doesn’t alienate the listener, while the musicianship is expressive and tight. Many, if not all, are bound to find moments to identify with Daniel and the lyrics.

Contrary to the trend of putting small songs as prelude, interlude and postlude, here we find the longest songs in these strategic positions. “On a Tuesday” is wisely put first, encompassing all the new elements. The ten minute mammoth is packed with time changes, frantic guitars, galloping drumming and bass, that joke with the dynamics and leaves space for the piano to dance. “Every promise that I make is a promise I might breakGildenlöw sings, and the outburst that follows only matches the intensity of the line.

Pain of Salvation have always been about contrast, a message carried by their name as well. It seems only natural that all songs are two-faced, the musical equivalent of Jekyll and Hyde, which is now even more present with the additional, softer vocals of Ragnar. Apart from the slow and tender “Silent Gold,” all the other songs boil with anger and desperation, ready to explode at any minute. That sense of hidden intensity is put across to the listener, keeping the audience at the end of their seat. When a song like “Meaningless” is considered a ballad, while aggressive attacks such as “Reasons” still convey feelings of vulnerability, it is understandable why this album is an extraordinary piece of art.

04. Entropia (1997)

With their first release Entropia (a juxtaposition of the terms entropy—scientifically meaning the measure of chaos in a system, and utopia—a perfect world, thus yielding what one can guess was intended to be ‘land of chaos’) Pain of Salvation successfully plastered their name and album all over the world. Beginning in 1997, the album was released in Japan. In 1998, the album was then released across Europe, and in the following year, the band’s current label InsideOut reissued the album. Not until 2000 was the record released in America by InsideOut. The slow spread of popularity pays ode to what I personally found to be true with this album and Pain of Salvation in general. It is an incredibly tough album to get into. Gildenlöw‘s vocal tone is abrasive, the structure of the songs are complex and hard to keep track of, and it’s also a very emotionally draining album.

One thing that Pain of Salvation fans acclaim over and over again is how charged with emotion all PoS tends to be. With an album concept dealing with war, a man’s seperation from his family, death, and God, the instrumentation and lyrics better damn well be filled to the brim with emotion. My favorite example of PoS‘s ability to convey such strong feelings is in the fourth track “People Passing By.” The three-part nine-minute song takes the listener down a path beginning with a slap ‘n’ pop bassline and a light-hearted angsty mood accented by constantly changing time signatures and brash guitar tones. The second movement then gives the listener more slap bass, but the lyric-less vocal ensemble lends itself to a atmospheric almost Pink Floyd feel. Then, we enter into a 3 part polyrythm between the lead guitar, keyboard, and rythm guitar which naturally builds tension. Movement three of “People Passing By” shifts feeling once more to a very sad and foreboding feeling which is only continued with an amazing guitar solo. Another balance that Pain of Salvation often teeters on tenuously is their guitarist’s tightrope act between technicality and emotion. This song is an example of perfect execution of both.

The variety within the other songs isn’t as widespread as “People Passing By,” but across the board, there is a great range of genres and emotions that are tapped into on Entropia. “Welcome to Entropia,” the actual opener of the concept features samples of a soft ocean tide breathing in and out, what sounds to be a crowd of people, all driven by a nice breakbeat. Then the outro track features only Gildenlöw and an acoustic guitar, a very depressing yet uplifting track. It is a well written song featuring a verse in the minor key and a contrasting chorus in the major key, another simple ode to Pain of Salvation‘s brilliant injection of emotions into their music. The accompanying songs tend to remain safely within the realms of progressive metal but with enough variation to keep it interesting for the listener. Also, in typical concept album fashion, there is also a bit of musical reincorporation, a technique originally made popular by Pink Floyd‘s The Wall.

Entropia is a great debut album for a band who has grown greatly since the original release two decades ago. Not quite the perfect blend and variation as one could expect, but a fairly riveting concept nonetheless. Great vocal work, great guitar work, and as always with Pain of Salvation, brilliant execution of emotion transference.

03. Be (2004)

Pain of Salvation has a reputation for writing quirky songs which have very unpredictable progressions. These trademark attributes have always been a part of their music, however they have been slightly tamed from the band’s successful third album The Perfect Element 1, with the songwriting maturing quite drastically. This trend has continued on subsequent albums since, however the band has not held back when it comes to experimentation and complexity within the music. Be is yet another step forward for the band in terms of musical exploration and is definitely the band’s most ambitious effort. It largely abandons the metal features that have been a mainstay on the albums that preceded it.

The band treads into classical and folk territories on the album with the assistance of the nine-piece Orchestra of Eternity. The band does not limit the orchestra’s presence to a peripheral element of the music used to make the songs feel grandiose. On the contrary the orchestra is very much an integral part of the music, being used for intricate melodies as well as lead sections. This is where the band succeeds so well. Orchestras have become a sort of cliché on progressive albums and are very one dimensional in their usage in most cases, however Pain of Salvation have used the orchestra in a very intelligent and dynamic manner where it forms the foundation for a handful of songs. The orchestra contributes to the dark atmosphere of the album in superb fashion. No song represents this vibe better than “Deus Nova,” with the numerous layers of orchestra instruments increasing in intensity until the climax is achieved. The general ambiance is appropriate for the concept of human existence that is explored on the album.

The instrumentation is very interesting and there is always something new to discover with every listen. The instruments present, apart from the traditional progressive metal ones, include the mandola, harpsichord, djembe, double bass, and numerous others that add to the atmosphere of the album. The acoustic guitar features heavily, adding to the overall mellow feel of the album. While most of the album resides in the progressive/folk territory, there are a host of other genres that are incorporated throughout the album including blues/soul, classical, and even a very odd adaptation of country music. All of these elements lead to the music feeling very refreshing, and make it difficult to envisage which direction the music will take. The musicianship is stellar as expected and while at times the presence of some band members may seem lacking, it all makes sense in the bigger picture where quality music is the ultimate objective. Daniel’s vocals and vocal lines are typically brilliant and his wide range is on display here in its full glory as it has been on every Pain of Salvation album.

02. The Perfect Element, Part 1 (2000)

Topping the opinion polls in almost every circle, Pain of Salvation’s third effort The Perfect Element, Part 1 is one of the band’s most successful records to date. Mostly, fans believed the band reached their creative pinnacle with this album, a stark, brooding contrast of light and shade, with a shocking lyrical undercurrent serving as an inspirational spine.

The big difference between The Perfect Element, Part 1 and its predecessors Entropia and One Hour by the Concrete Lake is the direct approach and upfront style. While most of the arrangements are complex and ethnically touched, the bulk of the songs are not quite as technically perverse or overindulgent. Pain of Salvation are, by anyone’s standards, an acquired taste, but what this album did was simply put their unorthodox methods into context and proclaimed their standing within the metal community with a basis of love us, or leave us. They weren’t going to change, and have in fact stayed obliquely unclassifiable since.

What makes The Perfect Element, Part 1 more accessible – if you will – is the subject matter, which this time deals with problematic children scarred by the effects of a traumatic childhood, as they grow into adults. Abuse, rape, emotional torture, all these issues wander under the flag of suffering this album declares, and as usual, Daniel Gildenlöw‘s vocals are so emotionally drawn you’d believe the lyrics were scribed in personal anguish. This album saw the music evolve slowly from One Hour… into a more melodic, more cultured sound, spearheaded by a thin, crispy guitar slip, and a hauntingly synthetic keyboard aftertaste. Sounds odd, and it is, but with its cutting edge arrangements and scarily serious execution, The Perfect Element could very well be the most important album to ever hit progressive metal; and it did: right between the eyes.

While rapid opener “Used” may be a fan favourite and the twisting rollercoaster ride “Idioglossia” presents the most practical musical excursion, it is the epic “In the Flesh” that creeps my bones with its chillingly uplifting verse pattern and ultra-melodic prog middle section, sporting the line: “Sometimes the hand that feeds must feed a mind with a sick need,” followed grotesquely with “and the hands that clutch can be the same hands that touch too much.

It’s easy to see why The Perfect Element is revered for its majesty, but the true masterstroke of genius the band had been brewing wouldn’t be unveiled until a few of years later, when Pain of Salvation unleashed a masterpiece of mammoth proportions…

01. Remedy Lane (2002)

Remedy Lane, the band’s fourth record, kind of falls in the middle between all these lyrical escapades Daniel has become known for. Of course, his thoughts on this record are still far more profound than many other artists; it’s just that the whole thing is more subdued, as this time he has decided to tackle a very different topic; human relationships, love, and the problems and joys that that brings. Of course this topic is still backed up by the musical backbone that has always been trademark of Pain of Salvation: complex arrangements, vocal histrionics that rival Mike Patton, flowing melodies, syncopes, oddball folk melodies, even something that could have been on a pop rock record.

Pain of Salvation have never been secretive about their ambitious records, especially not the mastermind himself, but considering that this is worthy of the dreaded “prog” tag, you’d think a band as talented as this could descend into ungodly amounts of wankery rather than focus on the concept. Luckily, Daniel isn’t just a good lyricist and player; he is also a godsend when it comes to songwriting, because he knows when to solo, when not to solo, when to sing softly, when to yell at top speed, in short, he knows how to write a song and make it work.

The prime example of this is “Undertow.” Its prying guitar line and dark melodic theme underscore the nature of the lyrics: the extreme longing, the willingness to let go, the pain that is involved with love: the emotional “undertow” so to speak. But the main character’s tension builds, and so does the music: screaming power chords arrive during the middle of the song. Daniel‘s subdued low range transforms into expressive powerful screams that convey anguish and bitterness: “Let me break the things I love / I need to cry!” But as his pain dies out, he returns to softly whispering: “let me fade away into that pitch black velvet night,” and his vocals become as soft as the main theme of the melody again. It is hard to comprehend how he does it, or what ungodly talent he possesses, but when he sings, it feels like there is real emotion dripping off the vocals; it is truly a goosebump moment.

Instrumentally the album is sound as well, the band all being well-educated musically, but never veering off into compositions that remind you of that other virtuoso band almost equal to prog (Dream Theater). The folky instrumental “Dryad of the Woods” is a very neat composition, and the instrumental title track is a brilliant showcase for the talents of keyboardist Fredrik Hermansson. Closing epic “Beyond the Pale” veers from subdued soft passages to powerful choruses and everything in between, proving that Pain of Salvation, when they want, can produce something as grandiose in scale as any other prog band. And finally, “This Heart of Mine (I Pledge)” shows that a subdued, proggier PoS works just as well as the loud, bombastic side they have.

Cover photo by Lars Ardarve

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