Issue 2004-010: Pain Of Salvation - 12:5 - Round Table Review
Book I: Genesis - Brickwork Part 1 [I-V] (11:09) :
I - Leaving Entropia T5 A (05:44), II - This Heart Of Mine T5 (2:35), III - Song For the Innocent T5 (1:23), IV - Descend 1 (0:37), V - Leaving Entropia T5 B (0:48)
Book II: Genesister - Winning A War T5 (7:52), Reconciliation T5 (4:22), Dryad Of The Woods T5 (5:37), Oblivion Ocean T5 (5:18), Undertow T5 (5:46), Chainsling T5 (4:25)
Book III: Genesinister - Brickwork Part 2 [VI-X] (16:16) :
VI - Ascend 1 (1:39), VII - Ascend 2 (1:19), VIII - Second Love T5 (4:12), IX - Ashes T5 (5:12), X - Descend 2 (3:52)
I'm not really a Pain of Salvation fan. In fact, I never understood what the fuss was all about and thought they were a bit over-hyped. I bought The Perfect Element I after reading the review on this very site, yet upon hearing it, I wasn't impressed. I saw the band live supporting Dream Theater in 2002, and was even more underwhelmed. I decided Pain Of Salvation just wasn't my cup of tea.
However, I was aware of frontman Daniel Gildenlöw's talents, as I'd seen him perform with both Transatlantic and The Flower Kings and I felt he was a great addition to both bands.
So when this CD arrived I wanted to pass it on to the next reviewer, but got tempted to play it at least once after reading about the concept in the accompanying letter from the record company. A concept which, as far as I know, has never been done before. All over the previous studio albums there have been songs, which were part of one, larger concept called Brickwork - not unlike Saga's Chapters.
What I heard, I liked a lot!
For 12:5 Pain Of Salvation set out to play these songs, re-arranged, shuffled into the 'right' order, moulded together with new bits of music, and, most importantly: all acoustic!
As in true PoS tradition, the album is divided into three parts: Genesis, Genesister and Genesinister.
Genesis contains the first five parts of the Brickwork concept, which contains Leaving Entropia, This Heart Of Mine and Song For The Innocent. Not being familiar with the originals I can only say: wow!
What a power, what a vocal performance and what an excellent mixture of mellow, soulful moments with raw and heavy parts. It is amazing how much power this band can produce with just a couple of acoustic guitars, an acoustic bass, a piano and a harpsichord and drums.
Genesister is not a medley like Brickwork, but six separate songs that are in some way related to the concept. Once again, I'm not familiar with the original versions of most, but I do like the acoustic versions a lot. Especially Dryad Of The Woods, which is a terrific atmospheric instrumental. With Undertow and Chainsling the band proves they are indeed a metal band -only in a stripped down format- as they growl their way through the song. The rawness of the vocals blends perfectly with the serenety of the instrumentation. In fact, the vocals are an integral part of the instrumentation.
But the best is saved for last, as the second part of Brickwork is by far the best track on the album. It is made up of two existing songs Second Love and Ashes, which are connected by some new pieces of music. Ashes is the only song on the album that I did know and like before. It has been completely re-arranged, even with a different verse-chorus structure and in a different key!
The concept of Brickwork and the companion songs is intriguing in itself as well. What does 12:5 stand for? Why do all the rearranged songs from previous albums have a "T5" marking? What is the exact concept of Brickwork - what is brickwork?!
In the press release Gildenlöw simply writes: "I'm not telling you!"
Naturally a minimum requirement to like this album is that you have to be able to endure acoustic music. I know quite a few people who aren't, but I personally have always been a sucker for acoustic performances like MTV's unplugged series. I just love very electric songs being stripped down to acoustic format.
Hear it from someone who isn't a Pain of Salvation fan: buy this album!
My history with Pain of Salvation is not that long. Based on a recommendation by someone at my local record store I bought Remedy Lane. It did not connect right away, but once it did it was in my CD player for weeks in a row. So when a friend asked me to come see Pain of Salvation live in Zwolle I gladly went. The concert was a very memorable one, these guy are professional musicians that still appear to have very much fun in making their music. The relaxed attitude of fun, while not taking themselves too seriously, but their music even more, made me fall in love with this band and this love still lasts. After the concert I went out and bought the rest of their albums. It was another happy surprise. So it was with high expectations that I awaited this 'new' album to find it's way to my mailbox, so I could do this review.
While working on their next studio album Pain of Salvation released this album: 12:5. It is not that weird filling the in between albums gap with a live album, and the fact that it is an acoustic only album has also been done before, but just calling this album a filler would be largely selling it short. If you could have passed my home in the last few weeks you could have seen me sitting in a chair, headphones, eyes closed, and a big smile on my face, enjoying this album. I was not sitting still, though - this is acoustic but very dynamic and interesting.
The concert on this album has a very intimate atmosphere. Most of the songs are a bit 'smaller' and lack the rough edge of the studio versions but all songs are still dynamic and the harmony of the voices work even better. In fact this album made me rediscover some of the Pain of Salvation songs I thought I already knew. For the first few spins it is kind of a pop-quiz to see if you can recognize the song, for they are not all that obvious (you can notice this because the crowd does not start cheering right away). After those first encounters I realized that some of the songs are very good and some of them are really superb!
No new song is to be found on this album although some of the tracks are just snippets of their original tracks. By placing them in this order something new did exist however. I have not yet found out why the album is divided the way it is: Books named Genesis, Genesister, Genesinister and then wrapped in those are Brickwork part 1 and 2. The tracks that are not just snippets but complete songs do go by their real name, they are all part of Genesister.
Because in a track by track of this album I would be constantly repeating the fact that this or that song is a more laid back, intimate version of a studio track I will not do one. Describing that these are all quieter versions of the studio original would be selling a number of tracks short eg, Winning a War (spanish guitar start!), Brickwork Part VI (although they can barely keep up). It is hard to pick out some tracks that stand out as they are all good, there are three tracks that I consider to be the highlights of this album: Reconciliation because after listening a few times it turns out the piano is just as good as the guitars in the original. I would have expected that Dryads Of The Woods would work just fine acoustically and it does, this track is closest to the studio original. My favourite track on this album is Brickwork Part IX, it is a version of Ashes, a track that I appreciate anyway, but this version on which the vocal harmonies are even more important and the piano plays such an important role might even be better than the original. (see how I managed to leave out the word intimate, twice?).
Pain of Salvation is a very creative band that makes rich and well thought of music. If you could not cope with their studio albums because you were unable to look past the rough edge: just buy this album. It will make you appreciate their music and maybe it will also be your way to learn to like the studio albums, but then again maybe not, tastes do differ. Anyway, you will at least have had the pleasure of this album. I have heard a number of people describe this album in the following way: "Normally I do not really like them but his album...". "Well, I like PoS a lot and this album has not changed that, in fact it has only heightened my appreciation". One might argue that a live album would not deserve such a high rating, but I have never been one to walk away from an argument.
Few bands can cover such a broad musical, emotional and lyrical spectrum as Swedish progressive metal band Pain of Salvation. As a result, I must admit that their albums One Hour By The Concrete Lake and The Perfect Element didn’t register with me at all when they were first released. It was only when I was swept away down their Remedy Lane, that I revisited their back catalogue and somehow it all started to make sense. Weird.
Always ones to push the boundaries, their latest opus is a live AND acoustic album recorded in their Eskilstuna hometown last year.
As Dries has already given a general review, that accords very much with my own thoughts, and as most tracks feature major re-workings of the originals, then I’ll attempt a track-by-track breakdown. As ten of the 15 tracks here are untitled medleys, it isn’t as easy as it sounds and credits, where due, to several posters on the PoS forum who helped fill in the gaps for me. Anyway I hope this is a reasonably accurate description of the 60 minutes of musical pleasure that can be found within.
Book I: Genesis - Brickwork Pt 1 – I-V:
I. Leaving Entropia - Excellent reworking. The mid-section interplay between the guitar and piano is quite simply beautiful. In this simple form, it stands equal to the original.
II. With a piano run that moves like a babbling brook, we flow effortlessly into This Heart Of Mine. The Gildenlöw falsetto and harmonizing gives you goosebumps. The song that I didn't think could be any more beautiful, is just that.
III. Another sublime piano run (a slightly jazzy, tinkling one this time) moves without pause into Song For The Innocent . An album highlight with Gildenlöw's voice again startlingly exposed. The whole piece isn't performed, but it's moulded into something new and revealing.
IV. Her Voices. Haunting, mesmerising, stark, eccentric and just plain beautiful are the sort of adjectives that spring to mind when I try to describe Gildenlöw's perfromance on this one. The harmonies jar a bit at the very Gregorian Chant-like end section. An excellent rendition.
V. A 40-second jamming segue.
Book II: Genesister - Entire Songs:
The first pause allows the first applause, before some blistering eastern European mandolin (?) fretwork introduces Winning A War. Gildenlöw sings as if he’s living every word. The band has always used some eccentric harmonies and this is the only fault I have with the album. Acoustic AND live is at times stretching their vocal skills a bit too far. The second half of this song - and a few other places - they just don’t quite master the barber shop-style harmonies at all and it jars on the ears too much for me.
Reconciliation – superb, stunning spectacular – everything that makes PoS one of my favoutire bands. The band has nailed the dynamics from the album version and there’s some great extra touches - the guitar work in the middle seems far more extravagant than I recall. Funny little "Darth Vader Theme" bit in the middle to lighten the tone. Gildenlöw hits some very, very high notes at the end. Fantastic!
Dryad of the Woods – An acoustic song on the album and not changed much here (stating the obvious really!). The piano flourishes at the end are a nice addition again.
Oblivion Ocean - Bass and clavier do the spooky intro. Gildenlöw is back from the instrumental break and hams it up in full melodramatic style. More lovely guitar work and the harmonies here are spot on. Exquisite.
Undertow - Guitar plays a new ostinato part and piano takes the intro we all know over it. The ostinato is great for a song that builds like this one does. Excellent addition. One of my favourite tracks and this shows it in a new light that will heighten my enjoyment of it even more. Mandolin accompanies the piano playing the This Heart Of Mine reprise. Vocal harmonies (again not perfect) grow out of this. Gildenlöw goes from harmonizing to screaming to falsetto. I think I’d like this song to be played at my funeral!
Chain Sling - Another member takes some of the leads on this and he's easily up to the task. It also frees Daniel up to do some high note flourishes over the choruses.
Book III: Genesinister - Brickwork Pt 2 – VI-X
VI. Idioglossia - Instrumental intro that’s bound to get the musicians among you very wet around the fretboard. Just listen to it and say ‘Holy Cow’.
VII. The above flows seamlessly into Her Voices. One of the many great musical climaxes on TPE1. Say ‘Holy Cow’ again.
VII. The album highlight. Second Love - the full song from Remedy Lane minus the M.A.S.H. theme intro but with piano, mandolin, guitar. Gorgeous – utterly gorgeous - version with some excellent piano work in place of the guitar solo towards the end. Harmonies are simple and spot-on throughout. As they say – worth the price of admission alone. Actually I’ll have this played at my funeral as well!!!
IX. Ashes - Full song. Minor key intro, but changes to major key for the rest of the song and as result it sounds rather funny – in a ‘Ha Ha Ha’ sort of way. Gildenlöw is really hamming this up in an almost Robbie Williams, lounge bar style. Maybe not to everyone’s taste but hell it’s the end of the show and provides a nice light note after all the intensity.
X. Instrumental/vocal jammin' out to end the set; great instrumental work here. Certainly going out with a bang.
A must-have for every PoS fan, this serves as a good appetizer for the BE opus scheduled for the Autumn (CD album and live DVD is the current rumoured format). Those who prefer a more traditional ‘prog’ style of music, and have been turned off by the band's more metallic approach to date, should also check this out. There is so much going on here that ten listens in and I’m still uncovering the layers.
If you don't like Daniel Gildenlöw's melodramatic vocals and the at times OTT harmonies then avoid like a week-old curry. Everything, bar the occasional harmony, is executed perfectly and if this isn’t in the DPRP Top Ten at the end of the year then I’ll never offer an opinion again.