Reviewed: September 2020
Released: 2020, InsideOut Music
Reviewer: Kieron Hayes
Pain of Salvation are rightly considered consummate heavyweights in the world of progressive music, and Panther aptly demonstrates just why.
As always with any album that is inspired by more than a simple desire to keep making enjoyable tunes (which will often come naturally anyway to sufficiently ambitious works), a bit of context is needed for the album and its focus. Panther focuses on issues of mental health, the thoughts, feelings and emotions of those who might be struggling to reconcile themselves with the world around them. It’s an album about and for the different, as the band themselves state:
“This album is for you, or someone you know.
It is for the restless, the shy, the motormouths, the passionate, the ones who go far beyond the point of reason for what you believe in, the outsiders, the diagnosed, the medicated, the hungry, the sad, the ones walking around daily trying to understand how to fit in with this species, with this era.
It’s for everyone who always had problems sitting still in the classroom, or who never really knew how to speak up. The daydreamers, the relentlessly curious, the comedians, the unexplainably angry.
This is your album. Because you, my friend, are a panther. And you are a valued member of the Full Throttle Tribe. Ladies and gentlemen, rev your engines, the world is about to get panthered!”
This driving force is a large part of what makes Panther such a rewarding album, especially on multiple listens as the meaning behind it really sinks in.
As someone who isn’t a regular listener of the band, I’m in no position to detail exactly how this album continues or differs from their usual output. What I can easily say however, is that Panther is a solid piece of progressive (and usually, though not always, heavy) music, one that absolutely resounds with so much confidence. It’s a veteran band, of course, Panther being their 11th studio album and 2020 marking almost 30 years since their formation, but more than that, this is a band that are masters of their art and yet feel no real pressure to conform to any standard. They craft music in the way their creative muses take them without the need to fit a specific mould, nor to break moulds for the sake of it: while undeniably progressive, the music comfortably straddles the line between prog rock and prog metal, and regularly incorporates outside elements, like the hip hop style rhythms of the title track or the electronic influence in “Restless Boy” (and elsewhere), yet never feels like it’s stretching to be different for the sake of it. Pain of Salvation is a band that doesn’t bind themselves with anchors of expectation.
Contrast feels like a strong theme running through the album. In the lyrics we often have talk of duality, conflicting desires or natures and questions of how to resolve them. From “Species”:
“Sometimes I hate my fuckin’ species, yet most days I’ll do anything to please it”.
“You never need what you want, and you rarely want what you need”.
So too does the music paint with strokes of contrast to highlight the personal struggles that define the topic of feeling inherently ‘different’. There’s a darkness and a foreboding to the music itself, sometimes overt through sharp shifts from lighter tones to to dark, other times done more subtly beneath the surface. The churning of these layered sounds seems to reflect the seeming contradictions and turmoil that so many have to deal with. “Icon”, with instrumentation shunting starkly between oppressive and soothing, also highlights these things with its lyrics of growth, change and shifting perspectives:
“As a child I felt too old, now when I’m grown up I feel too young.”
“I followed you…now, they follow me.”
“Wait” also deserves mention as a truly beautiful piece driven by hypnotic melodies and Daniel Gildenlöw’s stirring vocal delivery. Like a lot of the album, there’s a sense of emotional strife even amid the calmer parts, like a tornado of events going on around as one struggles to make sense of it all. Both here and elsewhere in the album, Gildenlöw’s vocals are a superb centrepiece, flowing between gruff cries full of passion and delicate or even unnerving low tones. It’s the perfect energetic and stirring complement to the musical whole.
As mentioned earlier, I hadn’t listened to a whole lot of Pain of Salvation prior to this. I’d dipped in here and there, but never really felt compelled to listen more closely. Panther has changed that, and I highly recommend it as a thought-provoking piece of work. Music can be a great way to reach out and connect with those who need it the most. Pain of Salvation have done that magnificently. This is an album for you, or someone you know.