I’ve been obsessing about music since about the year 2000. Over this time I’ve bought what must now be nearly 1,000 albums, and heard hundreds more through friends, relatives, streaming services and whatever else. I’ve also watched over a decade’s worth of music videos and heard countless individual songs on the radio, free covermounted CDs, websites and whatever else. All that, as well as read years and years worth of music magazines and websites.
I’m a nerd. Basically. Only, instead of Hentai or Manga, its Music that I obsess about. Lots of people are nerds and don’t even realize it. Sometimes its obvious; trainspotting, stamp collecting etc. Sometimes its less obvious due to presentation. Some (make that many) football fans’ depth of knowledge about players and transfer costs and club histories would make many tram-enthusiasts seem normal by comparison. The amount of information that some people know about Reality-TV celebrities and their sex-lives would easily overpower my knowledge of bands, or the most dedicated Gundamwing fan’s knowledge of Mechs.
But I don’t like Football or Reality TV or Trams or Warcraft. I like Heavy Metal music. That’s what this Blog is all about.
Welcome to my First Impressions series of articles too, incidentally. In this series I (or sometimes my friends, or readers) pick an album for each entry that I will listen to for the first time. I then write in depth about what I know about that album or the artist that created it and the genre and subgenre to which they belong, before describing the experience of listening to it in real time, in a sort of semi-stream-of-consciousness way intended for entertainment purposes. I also enjoy writing reviews of albums, but when I write reviews my goal is to be helpful and provide you with information with which to aide your decision about whether to try out an album or not. When I write a First Impressions article however my goal is purely to entertain the reader, explore how much I know about music and be my own psychiatrist in the process.
I may go into some very specific detail and assume you have heard everything I’ve ever heard and perceived everything in the manner I’ve perceived it, and call out very specific sections of music and draw comparisons between things that the casual listener may find completely unrelated. Don’t worry, most of these songs are on Youtube and most of the terminology is on Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary anyway, so if there’s anything that goes over your head, you can always get clarification in a second web-browser-tab (or ask about it in the comments).
According to the aim of the series, the albums are considered by the public and music critics knowledgeable about the subject to be Classic albums within Rock and Metal, or at least within their own Subgenres. Classic albums that I’ve somehow missed out on, despite my nerdly need to hear and understand almost every piece of recorded Metal music ever.
If you have an album that you’d like to read a KingcrimsonBlog First Impressions article about, please suggest it in the comments, I’m game, I’ll give anything a try.
So that’s the preamble out of the way, on to the article:
This is the sixty eighth-entry in the series. This time around I’ll be listening to the third full-length studio album, The Perfect Element Part 1, by the critically acclaimed Swedish Prog Metal band, Pain Of Salvation.
So. What’s my history with Prog-Metal then?
Well, you can pretty much piece that together by checking out my previous FI articles on the subject of Dream Theater , Queensryche , Savatage , Opeth , Anathema , Dream Theater again, and also things like my reviews of Riverside, as well as the reviews of modern Prog-slash-alternative bands (I’d like to start a new subgenre called Prolternative) such as Rishloo, Jurojin, Coheed & Cambria, Cog, Amplifier, Dead Letter Circus etc. Or the reviews of Queensryche once I’d gotten to know them.
[Side note: Looking back, I can’t believe I missed the opportunity to do a First Impressions article on Second Life Syndrome…what a waste.]
If you can’t be bothered to look through all of that stuff right now; I’ll try and condense it down a bit:
Since about 2005/2006 I’ve been a big fan of 1970s Prog (With a name like Kingcrimsonprog what do you expect?)
– For as long as that’s been going on, I’ve been told to check out Dream Theater.
– I got into a few Progressively-inclined modern bands around that same time (Mastodon, Tool and Coheed & Cambria being the main offenders, with others including The Mars Volta popping in and out of favour depending on my mood) and came to appreciate the progressive moments in the music I already liked, such as Iron Maiden and Metallica’s more inventive material.
– It started a trend in me of liking to figure out and discuss where each individual bit of a band’s sound comes from that situation endures to this day. I blog about it quite a lot.
– I tried out a band called Rishloo and became madly and fanatically in love with them. I like them almost too much.
– I tried out Dream Theater and it took a while for them to grow on me. Initially I wasn’t impressed and then slowly became won over.
– I tried out Queensryche and the same thing that happened with Rishloo, happened with them. I listen to and talk about them all the time.
– I tried out Opeth and it took a long while for them to grow on me, I still don’t own any of their music myself but am positively disposed towards them now. Not a giant fan, but nolonger in the dislike-them frame of mind.
– I tried out Porcupine Tree, Anathema and Riverside and liked them all, and am in the process of getting even more into each of them. Riverside are the favorite out of all the artists discussed so far.
– I find it interesting filing the bands in my brain differently. The ones from the 80s who started off as more traditional Heavy Metal or USPM such as Savatage and Queensryche, the ones who came out of a more Sludge basis such as Baroness and Mastodon, the Prolternative ones who don’t have a lot of Metal in their sound and share little in common with Maiden or Priest, the ones like Anathema and Porcupine Tree who take it even further in a mixture of Floydisms and Radiohead similarity that really step away from the Dream Theater template, the modern ones like Protest The Hero who are a bit of everything, and Djent bands that I haven’t listened to enough of yet. There’s also the ones who have their beginnings in Death such as Opeth and Death (and do Death “count” or are they more like Metallica, where they are Progressively-inclined but still part of their original genre?).
I love finding out how they all relate to one another. Hearing the parts on Queensryche’s album that make you understand the connection to Savatage and the other parts that make you understand the connection to Dream Theater. Hearing the bits of Dream Theater that go much closer to 70s prog like ELP and Pink Floyd and sound nothing like Savatage or Queensryche. Hearing a bit of Floyd-worship in Riverside and Porcupine Tree. Hearing Porcupine Tree’s Steve Wilson and Opeth’s Michael Akerfelt working on eachother’s records. Hearing parts of Protest The Hero that sound a bit like Coheed and other bits that sound a bit Djent. Hearing how much Tesseract’s singer reminds me of Rishloo. Hearing the similarities between Tesseract and Periphery. Hearing Dream Theater’s guitarist playing on the Periphery album.
Its interesting to compare something like Anathema’s “Wings Of God” to something like Coheed & Cambria’s “The Willing Well IV: The Final Cut.”
I then love hearing the bits in Helloween and Iced Earth that channel that early Queensryche sound with a completely different emphasis. I love hearing Stratovarius go really prog but never once sound like Queensryche for a second.
I like hearing when Queensryche went alternative-influenced, and then hearing the Prog bands who’s sound is originally based in alternative such as Tool and Cog.
I like seeing alternative bands like Soundgarden do things like difficult time-sigs, long song lengths and use additional instruments yet not be called prog. Tool are an alternative band with difficult time-sigs and long song lengths who do get called prog. Fun to ask yourself why? Are ‘Intolerance’ and ‘Rusty Cage’ really a billion, billion miles apart? Part of it is to do with marketing, part of it is to do with the band’s own perspective and what they say in interviews, and part of it is the consensus of the audience.
Is a band prog or not based on their own intentions, or on what we the listener think?
I like seeing alternative bands like Radiohead and Muse do things that are in turns subtly and obviously progressive and then seeing all the confusion and disagreement over whether or not you can call it prog and which of the different types of prog fans accept them, ignore them or outright boycott them.
I mean you look online and you can find prog fans who absolutely hate anything modern, love modern stuff but hate metal, love Prog Metal but hate anything old, and people from all of those groups that hate anything alternative.
Its just so damn interesting how it all connects and interacts and seeing where the lines are drawn and why.
– I’ve still got a lot more to learn. I’ve had a brief look at bands like Crimson Glory, Fates Warning and Blind Guardian and all are on my figurative “to-do-list.”
– Today, I’m crossing one more such band off of my to-do list, in the form of Pain Of Salvation. A highly acclaimed Swedish Prog Metal band, who always get mentioned in reviews about Riverside, and who have been described as some sort of less-cheesy Swedish Dream Theater. Seeing as I’ve been absolutely loving the Images And Words album this month and excitedly planning to get tickets to see Riverside in concert soon, they seem like a good band to investigate further. I got this album of theirs as a Christmas Present, hooray.
Apparently it’s a concept album (always a plus in my book. Even non-Prog bands can benefit from a concept album, such as the absolutely excellent Deep Blue by Parkway Drive) about two broken and dysfunctional individuals with a history of abuse and tragedy. Sounds interesting.
The album opens up straight into some dramatic B-Movie sounding keyboards and rolling drums. It reminds me a lot of Mushroomhead. Wow. Wasn’t expecting that.
It then goes into a slow, dark, funk part that is incredibly similar to Faith No More. There’s a scream that reminds me of Roddy from Protest The Hero and then when the vocals kick in properly its slow creepy rapping again in the style of Mushroomhead, or Faith No More at their darkest. This wasn’t what I thought this band would sound like.
Then there’s a cool little staccato part where they repeat the phrase “Getting used to pain” over and over, with a cool syncopated double-kick and chug part that reminds me of this one part on Images And Words that I called out in that FI.
Then, after a very short run-through of that, this huge, hooky clean vocal interrupts and drags the song from the darkness into this shiny sort of Panic At The Disco/Fall Out Boy/Head Automatica sort of affair, with much more shimmery keys and I’m equally confused.
The dark funk comes back. The little squeaks that signal the end of each bar remind me of Mate Feed Kill Repeat, Korn’s debut and Angel Dust era Faith No More. Little guitar squeaks are an oft-overlooked calling card of Nu Metal. There were plenty on The Burning Red too. I wonder if there are lots on Roots? I haven’t listened to Roots in ages so I can’t remember.
Then they start mixing the chug stuff with the dark funk. Ok. I’m on board. Then “Getting Used To Pain” is re-delivered with a more pounding beat. Then that chorus comes back. Then as a post-chorus, the cool rolling part that was also the intro. Nice to have you back, sir.
Then out of nowhere. A glorious Riverside-sounding prog bit, with a very Camel-influenced guitar solo. Opeth fans would like this bit. Then it gets a bit more lift and a few Dream Theater style rays of sunshine get in there now and again. Oddly, some Geoff Tate influenced vocals come in over the top. Its like its trying to impress me. The Geoff vocals get left to hang at one point and turn into Mike Patton. The, the band introduce the “getting used to pain” line once more but in the form of backing vocals, lower in the mix and low pitched, but over the top of this glorious, soaring Riverside-style music and high pitched Patton-esque singing that’s getting really impressive at this point. It works really well. It transitions back to that opening Mushroomhead part with the rolling toms. Nice structuring. Do I detect a quick DJ-scratch?
Then some beautiful, clean, happy Keys that reminds me of Marillion’s “Kayleigh” come in as it starts to transition between this song and the next. You can’t sound like Marillion too, guys – that’s just cheating… leave some awesome for the other bands, you’re hogging it all.
“Used” turns into “In The Flesh” which is not, as you may expect on a prog album, a Pink Floyd cover, its actually an original. It starts off calmly; The drummer lets off a few little twiddles on the ride, building up slowly as a little guitar arpeggio keeps going off. Its very Marillion sounding. It then has this gorgeous little guitar part that sounds like its plucked with the thumb go off over the top of that and change the mood, that bit really reminds me of Camel or Yes. The bass follows the pattern. It sounds incredible.
When the vocals come in they really remind me of Marillion or Genesis. It starts building up tension. The way the building of tension works really reminds me of Second Life Syndrome by Riverside. There’s also something of Pink Floyd’s “Goodbye Blue Sky” to the tension-disrputing ‘So Fly Away Bit’ vocal line (but, then again, that also reminds me of Queensryche’s ‘Spool’ and ‘Chasing Blue Sky’ as well as Pearl Jam’s ‘Given To Fly’). This song sounds very different to the last one, except for the backing vocals, which remind me of Mike Patton and thus fit in with the previous track.
When it kicks off at last, its into this bouncy, piano driven part that really sounds like the halfway point between Camel and Riverside. That cool thumb thing plays in the background. The sweetness and colour in the keys reminds me of Distorted Harmony a lot.
Then it turns into this really, really gorgeous part. It is difficult to describe. It keeps accentuating particular bits with these brilliant notes and the whole shape of the section just makes my brain sing. It’s the bit where the lyrics are:
‘Sometimes the hands that feed
Must feed a mind with a sick need
And the hands that clutch can be
The same hands that touch too much
Eyes that hungrily stare
Read in an access that’s not there
While eyes close to hide tears
Or look away in fear
That whole bit is just magical. It then goes into that RiverCamel bit with more energy and extra guitar parts. The next time the lyrics come in, there’s this really cool key part underneath worth mentioning, and then it goes heavier, starting to really sound like Distorted Harmony and oddly I get a tiny hint of David Draimen in the vocals alongside the Patton sound.
Then it starts building up an atmosphere, with an increasingly tense part. The guitars are panned interestingly. The lead guy goes from Pantera style bends to Black Label Society style pinches to Dream Theater style running and then the music cuts off and this really emotional solo-vocal that reminds me of Marillion rings out. Dude’s got an incredible voice. Then a keyboard line in the shape of that bit I highlighted earlier, but with a gorgeous clean acoustic guitar lead over the top so the mood is completely different. The keys fade out and end.
Then to segue between that track and the next, there is a cool deep bassy part that sounds like a mixture of that bit of Marillion’s Misplaced Childhood where he sings about a spider and an obscure Scottish poet, with Mars Volta’s ‘Son Et Lumier’ intro.
‘Ashes’ starts. Its got a creepy baby’s mobile sound, (or the sound of a kid’s music-box), mimicked by the actual music, and then some Geoff Tate low vocals come in, with Camel-reminiscant bassy drones underneath. It reminds me a bit of both ‘Lady Fantasy’ and ‘Mystic Queen’ being mashed up with ‘The Lady Wore Black’ and then some electro drums come in and I’d also throw in some Mushroomhead in that mix too. There’s also something of a Pete Steel about it, in a way. When he starts a vocal accompaniment of husky whispers you think of Mike Patton too. Then it kicks off into its true form, and it has a fat wavy alternative rock guitar part. It reminds me of Porcupine Tree when that happens. When the song goes between the two a few time and ends, the guitar continues on in a broken little solo, that shambles along jazzily in a way that really reminds me of The Mars Volta. Rishloo also do it infrequently; most noticeably on ‘Downhill.’
Singer Daniel Gildenlow is something of a vocal chameleon. He has so many different styles. The band are similarly eclectic. Quiet an interesting band, really. I wasn’t expecting the Faith No More similarities. When people say to me ‘Check out “The Swedish Dream Theater” because they influenced Riverside so much,’ no part of that suggest to me that it will sound like Faith No More or Mushroomhead. Not that that’s a bad thing. Not a bad thing at all. Just a surprise.
‘Morning On Earth’ comes next. It opens up with that shape (or rhythm as its actually known) that I called out for attention from ‘In The Flesh’ delivered in that Marillion-esque way from the outro/seque into the next track. Cool. I like concept albums that actually have recurring themes and cleverly rework or reintroduce parts for artistic effect. “Theme And Variation” I believe its called.
I also caught the faintest hint of the opening guitar part from Roger Water’s ‘5.02am: The Pros and Cons Of Hitch-hiking’ hidden in there. Teased at. You guys know I love that part. Come on now guys, seriously.
Then it kicks off into this hazy, dreamy clean section that sounds like film score, mixed with ‘Fat Old Sun.’ The bit where he says ‘I’m Just A Child’ is really evocative.
Then he starts talk-singing and it really reminds me of Queensryche’s ‘Roads To Madness’ mixed with Misplaced Childhood era Marillion. The music underneath reminds me of Judgement era Anathema. Then that dreamy wafty part comes in, the strings that augment this bit remind me of floating on clouds. It’s a bit of a juxtaposition with the dark opener to have this really saccharine part here. It’s a cool song. There’s backing vocals that remind me of ‘Silent Lucidity.’ There’s lead guitar lines that remind me of ‘The Hound Of Blood And Rank.’ Good mix of things I like.
‘Idioglossia’ follows it up. It really makes me smile. Its got a squirming, shifty, part that reminds me of ADHD era Riverside with the bouncy, heavy, bombastic nature and impressive energetic drumming. This is what I thought they might sound like. I love it.
That part gets interrupted by a crazy bass line, which evolves into a fun gallop, a nice memorable double-kick part. Then this really interesting, driving and exciting part, that is like what would happen if you mixed Mushroomhead with Dimmu Borgir’s ‘Progenies Of The Great Apocalypse.’ When that bit ends, it turns into a Protest The Hero style ‘here’s a big bunch of notes’ bridge. This is a very good song.
Then its into a piano driven part with The Mars Volta’s shuffly drums and Anathema’s Cure-influenced attitude. Then Faith No More show up to the party. Then that dark gallop with the cool bass comes back. Then that driving bit. I love this song. Aaaah. That bit where he sings ‘Aaaanyone’ sounds so much like David Draimen its scary.
Then that shuffle-meets-Cure part comes back for longer, with a Camel influenced bass lead and a sweet whispy guitar solo. The vocals are incredible. It starts building tension along Riverside mechanics. Then a bouncy System Of A Down style drumbeat speeds it up, but the heavy thick keys stop it sounding out of place. Then thundering double-kicks and a guitar solo come in, speeding the whole thing up and driving out the bloody window. This is fucking incredible!
How better to end that, than by randomly jumping back to the two other two best bits from the song; that ADHD intro and the driving-bit only with extra fun drums and more intensity in the performance. They then manage to meld that bit together with the drums from the cool bass beat, it all starts layering over and over eachother, there’s different types of vocals panned all throughout your head, keys in every different part of your brain. It builds and builds until you barely know whats going on. It ends, just before your head explodes.
Damn! What a song!
‘Her Voices’ comes in next. The intro sounds like a mixture of 90s Anathema with ’99 Red Balloons Go By.’ Then it shifts into a sweeter part that reminds me of the more ballady tracks on the first two Genesis albums once Collins took over, like ‘Madman Moon,’ ‘Ripples’ or ‘Blood On The Rooftops.’ Its very emotional sounding. Their bassist is a damn genius. There are certain touches on the drums and keys that remind me of the better Dream Theater ballads.
Then these giant stabs come in, followed by cool slow drum fills.
Then back to the sweet part, only with bouncier drums. Ok. So we’re playing this game are we? The little guitar leads are incredible. So are the little key lines. There’s so much to listen to its hard to keep track. It’s the audio equivalent of watching Slipknot on stage. You don’t know where to look.
Then the big stabs. But transformed by slow doomy drums. And the inclusion of vocals. Then it kicks off into this cool build up with eastern influences and very skillful drumming. It reminds me a bit of early Soulfly because of that drum sound, but the music isn’t similar. It then goes through all sorts of cool ideas. Mars Volta and Riverside are the two bands it reminds me most of. Also King Crimson. Then a Flute comes in for the craic over the top and makes the Tull receptors in my brain light up. There are also guitar parts that really work along Melechesh lines. Then there’s like, a violin solo, with backing vocals that sound like Dave Gilmour.
This whole thing is just a massive tour of everything I like. Its hard to even point out all the things I like because the band seem to just tear through so many of them, and on each instrument, and its all panned around your brain so you’re getting different things pumped into your head at all angles, and you find yourself struggling to really absorb it all or even keep up, your mind being constantly delighted with new awesome parts, each of which are that both cool in-and-of themselves and that also reminds you of bands you already like. It delights the awesome-receptors and the recognition-receptors.
It ends by going back to the start, but playing it in this sad, acoustic style that sounds like dying cowboys. It has morphed into the next song, ‘Dedication’ which mixes that ‘Madman Moon’ stuff up, keeping the spirit the same, but delivering it in different ways. The vocals go through so many different styles. I absolutely love their drummer. The person who mixed the album deserves a lot of credit too, it dances around your skull magically. Definitely a “headphone” album.
You get these really beautiful little key parts that remind me of Camel and also the King Crimson ‘Peace’ trio, beside vocals that sound like the times where Matt Barlow of Iced Earth channels Geoff Tate, with drums that remind me of Anathema when they get lively, and then the themes from previous tracks coming in and out. Its masterful, masterful stuff. Actually captivating.
‘King Of Loss’ comes in next. Its getting difficult to come up with new ways of saying, the keys, guitars, bass, drums and vocals are all superb individually and each and every part they play is brilliant, reminds me of something cool and is cool anyway, sounds great when you concentrate on it, and works as part of a dense whole when you just concentrate on the song overall.
This album is a straight-up fucking masterpiece. No messing about, this thing is incredible. Every member is talented, tasteful and interesting. The band mix up so much of my favourite music and present it in combinations I haven’t heard it before.
This may seem contradictory, considering all the comparisons to other bands I’ve made so far, but these guys are really unique.
King Of Loss is a pretty incredible track. The guitar solos are absolutely incredible. The structure is great. The switching between light and shade is well done. The introduction of new parts, and then the return to the two main themes are really great. It’s a real “journey.” I can’t believe where it is on the record either come to think of it. On any normal record this would be the album closer.
‘Reconciliation’ blasts off. Its one of the best parts from one of the songs that have already played. But then it breaks down into this sort of mixture of ‘Jet City Woman’ and ‘Walk In The Shadows’ for quiet parts. It then throws in some Matt-Barlow-does-Tate vocals and even a hint of Draimen in a deep thwompy part. Then it does the softer Camel version of that awesome part. Then this powerful, exciting build-up part with this really great lead guitar. Then it kicks off again with loads of energy, great drumming and some cool emotional screaming and fades out as the drummer really starts laying into it.
If you want to know whether or not you’d like the album, listen to this song.
‘Song For The Innocent’ starts off like a pretty cheesy, saccharine ballad. It sort of reminds me of the cringy bit in Yes’ ‘Circus Of Heaven’ where the children starts talking, only good. Then it bursts into a cool, Comfortably Numb’s solo style bit with lots of passion and totally saves itself. Their guitarist really does his best to make me burst with happiness at this solo. I could see people saying it’s a bit too similar to Comfortably Numb’s if they were being dicks, but that’s a pretty awesome thing to be similar too.
The brief ‘Falling’ is next. Its also very Pink Floyd sounding. The song is more or less just a guitar solo with a lot of emotion over a key part that sounds like death and heaven in films.
The album closer, and title-track, the ten-minute ‘The Perfect Album’ crashes in next. It sounds absolutely huge already, I feel almost blown away. I’m sat on the edge of my seat, utterly taken in by this band.
It starts reworking parts you’ve heard before into it, into cool build-ups. All the different vocal styles from the whole album come back. There are great big, chuggy heavy grooves, there’s some very Tate vocals, there’s a Camel sounding lead. It all builds and builds, then at the three minute mark, it kicks into a fat alternative groove that reminds me of Tool, only with so much Neoprog synth and keys on the top that you wouldn’t recognize it as such, then that’s followed by a part that reminds me of Queensryche’s ‘The Hostage’ yet again touring everything I love. They drop that Tool groove in, but throw a guitar line over the top of it that reminds me of Floyd’s ‘Run Like Hell’ then an interesting acoustic guitar part runs off with your attention and the song morphs into this violin driven, emotional ‘Roads To Madness’ at-a-wedding affair. The vocals are beyond superb.
Then they start throwing in these big stabs with cheeky prog key runs as tails. That morphs into a few forms including one with fucking huuuuge chugs. Then things go bright and shimmeriy, you start to get an enormous feeling of well-being as this triumphant music builds-up all around you, swirling around your head in circles, it sounds like you are floating up out of your chair as the song carrys you away. When the tom based “dumdumdum pehhhsh, dumdumdum pehhhsh,” thing comes in I have a gigantic smile on my face.
Then they start channeling Mushroomhead again, but with the build-up still going, then all the extra drumming. Its like the non-death version of Opeth’s ‘Deliverance’ as the china cymbal keeps going off, then all the music but the massive reverby drums cuts right out, and those big drumbeats all circle around you, sounding like a tribal ceremony or world-cup theme tune. You want to scream at the top of your lungs but suddenly the drums are gone and then some pulsing industrial noises that must’ve been underneath it quickly fade out. Its over.
Fuuuuuuuck me. That was incredible.
So ummm,….yeah. If you like Riverside or Dream Theater or Opeth, Run out right now and get this album.
If you like Camel or Pink Floyd, or Marillion, run out and get this album.
If you’ve already got this album, go and listen to it again.
I’ve said it already; Straight-up, no messing-about MASTERPIECE.
Ok. I’ve got to go and calm down. I’ve got the shakes from listening to that. G’bye for now folks!