Preaching to the Converted
Pain of Salvation are a prolific progressive metal band from Sweden, led for their entire existence by vocalist, lyricist, and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Gildenlöw. Their latest album Falling Home is a career retrospective of sorts, featuring acoustic versions of songs spanning the band’s career, along with covers of songs by Dio and Lou Reed, as well as a brand new song. While Falling Home may be a welcome look through a 20+ year looking-glass for longtime fans, for everyone else, the album has the tinge of an overly mannered and somewhat indulgent release that can be not unfairly summed up with one descriptor. That is – corny.
The sound of Falling Home is redolent of so much grinningly confident and longhaired acoustic rock from the 90’s. One can hear what they want in the 11 tracks – Steely Dan, Barenaked Ladies, Incubus unplugged, etc. Included are the sort of JNCO-philosophy and maudlin storytelling that prog rock/metal contemporaries Tool and Porcupine Tree were also selling during the long period of Pain of Salvation’s heyday.
There is no doubt that the musicianship is deft. The abrupt time changes, genre variance, layering and dynamics all come through strongly in the acoustic versions. This is no mean feat. However, the songs on Falling Home lack the raw, intimate charms of other songs in this format – even acoustical songs by normally very amplified bands. There’s no “The Man Who Sold the World” (Nirvana version) or “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” (Led Zeppelin version) here. Instead the outliers are awkward incidents like “Spitfall,” a profane, nearly seven-minute, rap-rock hybrid with lyrics that sound like they were ghostwritten by Jonathan Davis.
Still, when Pain of Salvation put it together, they are formidable. Their cover of Dio’s “Holy Diver” veers from lounge-jazz to ska-reggae to regular jazz and back again. It brings to mind Yes’ early jazz covers, and is a fresh, if subdued, take on the original. The band also take Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” and skillfully retrofit the song until it is both stately and understated. Songs like “To the Shoreline” and “Flame to the Moth” bustle with energy and pitch-perfect genre immersion.
Daniel Gildenlöw is the visionary behind Pain of Salvation, and a fine vocalist, but that does not excuse him oversinging on some of these songs (take it down a notch, man!). Perhaps it is the goal to make these excesses stick out. Maybe Daniel Gildenlöw just really likes the sound of his own voice. Either way, it can feel imbalanced when the band is so in-the-pocket mix-wise and Gildenlöw is flying all over the place.
There is nothing remotely metal about Falling Home. There is definitely evidence of progressive rock, but for the most part, the album is inside baseball for Pain of Salvation fans – a victory lap of tasteful strumming and very, very confident singing. Fans of similar progressive metal could be charmed initially, but may well scatter for Pain of Salvation’s amplified releases. For those not already in the game, there’s not much to hang on to here. Falling Home runs for about an hour, but feels much longer. The songs are performed and recorded with laser precision; there is little of the looseness and imperfection that makes acoustic performances so charming in the first place. The result is an album that is a respectable achievement, but ultimately an interstitial, cult-servicing release.