Pain of Salvation has for years been near the top of my list of favorite artists. The first time I heard Pain of Salvation’s The Perfect Element Part I, I knew I had found a great band. They were powerful without being overbearing (and bearing in mind that I was very much into metal and that point), technical without resorting to wankery, and with just the right amount of catchiness. Everything they did, more or less up until Be was great, and so when the aforementioned Be managed to drown in its relatively stagnant excesses, I forgave it as an experiment that failed to fulfill its potential (who hasn’t wanted to record with an orchestra, after all?).
Scarsick, however, is different. I got ahold of it as soon as I could, and thought perhaps I had been the victim of a cruel joke—some poseur band’s material tagged as a new PoS. But of course it was distinctive enough that I knew otherwise. Each of frontman Daniel Gildenlöw’s albums has a sort of musical theme or style to it—Remedy Lane was more straightforward and balladic; Be was very much an album of folk elements. Scarsick is, I don’t know, some mutant hybrid of hiphop elements and chugga-chugga nu-metal riffs. Listeners are treated to the distinct experience of hearing Daniel —a long-haired Swede, white like Utah—saying things like “Bro” and “Homie” with only a little apparent irony. He seems to be lyrically tackling the hiphop culture, however remote it likely is from his life in Scandanavia.
But that’s all all there is to Scarsick. Besides the notable increase in swearing—including the real gem “Fuck you right down to the core!”—there are also tracks like “Disco Queen,” that come out of nowhere. This is something Carnival of Coal would record, not something I would expect from Pain of Salvation, prog rockers par excellence. It’s listenable, sure—”Disco Queen” is a fun song that invariably causes me to pantomime the backing vocals, but on the whole this album is so disconcerting that it puts a damper on the whole experience.
I sound too harsh, I know: there are trademark bits of the Pain of Salvation we know and love. Even the opening track, which features Daniel’s version of rap and some forgettable chunky chord progressions, manages to bust out a little bit and get downright anthemic. But I think that overall, it’s a weak album—not simply because I’m averse to experimentation or artistic license, but because I really think that Daniel’s approach is a shallow one. My point, I think, is reinforced by the vanity photo shoots that preceded the album.