Pain of Salvation - Panther
InsideOut Music
Progressive/Alt Rock
9 songs (53:29)
Release year: 2020
Pain of Salvation, InsideOut Music
Reviewed by Goat

With as deranged a year as 2020 has been thus far, it's somehow no surprise that Swedish prog heroes Pain of Salvation are back with a concept album about... panthers? The band have a reputation for rarely if ever repeating themselves and so Panther, their eleventh full-length, is a real step sideways from the comparatively straightforward progressive metal of 2017's In the Passing Light of Day. Instead this is rather new for Pain of Salvation, a modern-sounding mixture of rock, metal, and electronic elements resulting in something that sounds closer to Nine Inch Nails at points rather than, say, Dream Theater. It's still very recognisable as the Pain of Salvation that we know thanks to Daniel Gildenlöw's emotive vocals; songs being not at all poppy and definitely progressive thanks to the layered effects and complex writing, but those who like the band for the riffs will be more than perturbed to hear album opener and first single Accelerator, electronics upfront and guitars relegated to textural backing work.

An immediate shock, and that's before the downtuned Unfuture opens with a more atmospheric take on nu-metal groove, like something between Marilyn Manson and Deftones; not actually bad, but quite different even for Pain of Salvation. And the lyrics - ugh! The knowledge that this is a concept album about people on the autistic spectrum and how they fit into normal society (and examining what even counts as "normal") does help overcome how thoughtlessly arrogant certain lines here are, but they can't help but still be jarring many listens in. The nadir comes with the title track, a real misstep as a song feeling like an edgier Linkin Park with rapped verses and the repeated chorus of "How does it feel to be you? She once asked me/I said, I feel like a panther/Trapped in a dog's world." It's easily the worst thing that Pain of Salvation have produced in a long time and is bad enough to unbalance what is otherwise a solid album.

Which is a real shame, because there's something genuinely experimental and interesting here. Let's be honest, Pain of Salvation have had daft lyrics many times before, verging on the comical at points, yet they are always written and delivered with heart by Gildenlöw. Past topics have taken in everything from environmentalism to impending death to sexual desire for your wife's sister, and that the lyrics can now be taken as some kind of furry supremacism doesn't change that! And the album highlights are good enough to make Panther as a whole still worthy of your time. Accelerator is a fine album opener, stuttering and restarting with plenty of emotive and catchy vocal hooks along the way, and the nu-metal adjacent Unfuture is a real grower, contrasting well with the following Restless Boy, atmospheric and gloomy with vocoders and other effects all over the vocals.

Tracks are distinct from each other, such as the way Keen to a Fault's acoustic guitar and piano are smoothly woven together with the electronic elements and more typically "proggy" synths. Wait becomes an unexpected highlight in time thanks to the strange but effective mix of acoustic guitar and piano with the heartfelt vocals over the top, all like a more proggy take on recent Anathema material, and with actually beautiful lyrics to boot! Pain of Salvation are at their best when discussing very real, human issues like relationships, as opposed to Species' hippie nonsense about healing mankind and not watching the news - yet the lyrics can't spoil such a well-crafted song, the acoustic guitar and relatively lack of electronics giving it a folky vibe. And although thirteen-minute closer Icon feels like a leftover from the Passing Light of Day sessions, it's still an effective song that doesn't feel half its length. Pain of Salvation have more than proven themselves adept at these longer pieces; progressive craftsmen constantly reinventing their band on each release. And although this album's lyrical topic doesn't have the sheer impact of its predecessor's meditations on death, or the immediacy of its music, it is regardless a good album that more than fits into the band's increasingly diverse discography.

Killing Songs :
Accelerator, Wait, Species, Icon
Goat quoted 80 / 100
Other albums by Pain of Salvation that we have reviewed:
Pain of Salvation - In the Passing Light of Day reviewed by Goat and quoted 88 / 100
Pain of Salvation - Road Salt Two reviewed by Goat and quoted 84 / 100
Pain of Salvation - Road Salt One reviewed by Goat and quoted 82 / 100
Pain of Salvation - One Hour by the Concrete Lake reviewed by Thomas and quoted 95 / 100
Pain of Salvation - Entropia reviewed by Thomas and quoted 87 / 100
To see all 9 reviews click here
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