Pain of Salvation – Road Salt One
“We put faith in love and honesty,
but the stuff that makes our history and sets us free
is curiosity, curiosity, curiosity!”
If you’ve read my review of (or heard any songs from) Road Salt Two, you’ll probably have some idea as to what to expect from its predecessor. Stylistically, anyway, Road Salt One is pretty similar. There’s a lot of bluesy rock here, occasionally bordering on metal or prog. rock, and as is typical for Pain of Salvation, there are a few obligatory wacky tunes. The themes are, as in RS2, predominantly sexual and psychological, although this outing leans toward the former.
Perhaps that is the greatest difference between the two. While RS2 uses sexuality as a springboard into more ethereal reflections on society, belonging, etc., RS1 stays firmly grounded in its grimy roots. Despite the white cover, everything about this album seems patently filthy; there is nothing untainted here. The music is often visceral and aggressive; when it’s not, it hurts all the more because of it. The lyrics are firmly rooted in all things earthly: the road, dust, sex… just read the lyrics to “Curiosity;” my goodness. Light entertainment this is not.
I think it’s intentional, but there’s something pretty scary about all this aggression in an album with such sensitive themes. Much like its protagonist (is there a protagonist here?), the album seems conflicted and… perhaps totally off its rocker. There’s quite a bit of pain and anger mixed in with quite a bit of playful curiosity here, and that applies to the music as much as it does to the lyrics. The whole album seems to follow a definite musical trajectory, from straight bluesy rock at the outset through a section of intense experimentation and into the much darker, harsher ending.
As much as this trajectory results in some really neat songs (check out the Tom Waits-esque “Sleeping Under The Stars” or the “gospel-Western” [as a friend of mine put it] “Of Dust”), it leaves the album unfinished. “Innocence,” the closing song, is a terrifying 7-minute dirge that does less to wrap things up than would just leaving it alone. In some sense, this makes the whole album seem somewhat unpolished and incomplete. This is an album that is meant to have a sequel, for the express reason that without a sequel it leaves an awfully bitter taste in the listener’s mouth.
Still, Road Salt One yields its share of brilliant tunes. Top on the list (and possibly top on my list of all Pain of Salvation songs) is “Sisters,” a simple but dynamic tune showcasing the immense vocal talents of Mr. Gildenlöw. Detailing a story of conflicting desire and civility, it culminates in what feels like a massive self-contained emotional explosion, and it’s performed dripping with enough pathos that the listener should feel it just as palpably. Rather than let the tension break on its own, the song allows itself to be broken, and slowly leads the listener to accept this brokenness as its greatest strength. Civility wins one song, at least, but at a steep price. Seriously, I get the shivers every time I hear it.
So, there you have it. Road Salt One is a bit simpler and a bit less polished than its predecessor, perhaps, but it goes quite a few interesting places. It’s grimy, dirty, and seemingly incomplete, but it’s also a very rewarding record. Highly recommended to those looking for something challenging and somewhat disturbing; not so much to everyone else.
3.5 // 5