Pain of Salvation remains one of the most complex and fascinating acts in all of progressive metal--the group's last studio album, the restless and imaginativeBe, nearly required that the listener hold degrees in philosophy and theology in order to process … see full wiki
_The Perfect Element II_ was so long-awaited that now that it is upon us, it is hard to even associate it with the earlier release from 2000. Sidenote: i cant believe its been so long! Much has happened between then, including two other concept albums, including the controversial _Be_. I think it is more than just a psychological lack of recency effect -- almost at a metaphysical level, _Scarsick_ seems very distinct from its predecessor. Whether this is attributable to my own listening, the songwriting, atmosphere, or production of the album itself, it would be vain to speculate. Musical presuppositions about what something ought to be inhibit one from grasping the concrete musical item before oneself. Even the concept, which screams for commentary (like the fact that Gildenlow decries virtually everything that concerns the high time-preference of Americans/people in general, when he accepts the basic foundation of statism which produces those very high time-preference social conditions he hates; his love of the system of coercive redistribution that is democracy; his socialist preconceptions and hatred of free markets, et cetera), seems to be more concerned with lambasting materialism and wealth than following up with the story of the previous episode, but it could be argued that this has little to do with the musical experience itself.
On that level, whether or not it works as a Perfect Element Part II for yourself, _Scarsick_ is a tremendous album that further distinguishes Pain of Salvation's unique contribution to prog-metal or prog-rock, or whatever one cares to call them (doesn't matter that much anyway). The production is a long way from TPE1, instead of muddy, low, and grimy (much like the story portrayed), it is clean and sharp, the many textures separated more nicely and individual voices being far clearer. This is the main reason the album sounds little like TPE1, in my view. TPE1 was an album with rather counterintuitive production quality, although that garbled sound was imperative to making TPE1 the awesome emotional experience that it is. Considering the production and the general characteristics of the songwriting (although speaking of "general characteristics" with POS is always a little tricky), it seems to evoke _Entropia_ more than TPE1. Also, the lack of strings or orchestration is notable because the first episode featured them, and there was much talk about TPE2 using a full orchestra. In my opinion, the lack thereof can be considered a positive thing. Additionally, the album is at about the same level of haviness, with a similar emphasis on primitive, pounding kind of riffing as TPE1.
The album begins as if it is coming through strain, the title track having muttered verses, sort-of-but-not-quite rapped, and a chorus that seems to foreshadow the cathartic release towards the end of the album, with its `tribal' beats, and African-style backing vox. The awesome "Spitfall" is probably my favorite on the album, where Gildenlow's anger unfolds in a series of long, rapping verses over a polyrhythmic surge of drums and guitar crunch, with a recurring three-note descending piano figure. Their ever impressive ability to merge violent, churning spasms of heaviness with a perfect, major-key brilliance is reassured on the chorus. "Cribcaged" is an angry power-ballad, starting innocently enough with samples of laughing infants and bluesy guitars but by the end has Gildenlow roaring against materialistic pretense. "America" is seriously like a driving pop-punk anthem, except 50 times tighter and with pianos bounding along with the guitars, with Gildenlow sounding like all the pop-punk nerds and their phony british accents, histrionics included. Very good and catchy, probably the closest they would ever get to mainstream sounding. "Disco Queen" is a wild dichotomy of bouncy beats and wacky vocals throughout, but sharing its space with eerie theremin-like sounds, creepy growling bass, and sinister lyrics about abuse. Dancing to prog-metal never seemed so inviting, seriously (good things guys don't dance). Weird. The nice ballad "Kingdom of Loss" (no apparent lyrical or musical references to TPE1's "King of Loss") holds down the middle, condemning consumerism with a nice arrangement of synced guitar and synth, and spoken samples about lazy fat people who eat too much and never use the stairs. The next three cuts, "Modern Mother Mary", Ïdiocracy", "Flame to the Moth", have a similar aura about them, though they go from relatively straightforward to weird to raging, and they seem very _Entropia_-like with the classic POS schizoid lashes between styles and arrangements. The finale is the mighty closer, "Enter Rain" a lonely, angry, nocturnal episode in which slow verses of low-sung vocals with weeping guitar bends and austere arrangements build to impassioned bursts crunchy over an awesome chorus (Gildenlow's voice is awesome here). A serene, minimal interlude for solo guitar bridges the second chorus to third verse. A great POS closer, not quite "Plains of Dawn" but better than "Beyond the Pale", and pretty much on par with TPE1's title track. Nice. Then...to be continued?
Perhaps there will be a TPE3, although one should not become too caught up in such things. Looking at the POS discography as a whole, there is persistent theme becoming clearer even over diverse, seemingly unrelated conceptual works. And for music the theme's value is not the theme itself, but the results produced by those inspired by it. There is a fire present here not heard from _Be_, which was in my view less impressive than their first four masterpieces. _Scarsick_ is intense and emotional and very much Pain of Salvation awesomeness, with no lags. Also superior in regards to _Be_ is a far more absorbing degree of unpredictability. Pain of Salvation is more easily seen outside prog-metal than inside it. Every release of theirs has the power to surprise, an appreciated ability few artists are capable of with experienced listeners. They are nowhere close to losing their dominion.