Pain Of Salvation’s previous album In the Passing Light of Day from 2017 saw the band return to their heavier sound, which rejoiced significant portion of their fanbase. It’s the portion which had hard time embracing the highly experimental nature of the albums such as BE, Road Salt duology and even Scarsic.
And while In the Passing Light of Day did see the band delivering an overall more stripped down and noticeably heavier album, it was an album that incorporated plenty of experimenting as well. That is something that band’s leader Daniel Gildenlöw will never compromise and thank God for that. Experimenting is a trademark of each, and every POS release and it comes as no surprise that it’s also a part of their latest offering, Panther. Rather substantial part of it, actually.
The album opens up unapologetically with “Accelerator” which blends a simple riff, with polyrhythms and catchy as hell Eurodance-esque synth pattern. General sound is similar to several of its predecessors, nonetheless In the Passing Light of Day, meaning that the guitars are chunky and dirty yet with a crystal-clear overall quality. The drums are again inspired by the 70’s hard rock with additionally fuzzy snare, which does take some getting used to if you’re new to the band. But that has been a part of band’s music for a long time now and like it or not it’s one of the principal ingredients of their sound. On Panther, however, the drum sound varies noticeably from song to song, while at the same time maintaining that, above described 70’s sound.
As for the synths, beside the main synth loop, there is plenty of electronics on the opener as well, they are just not as in-your-face and for the most part they are used to create the atmosphere. Despite the far more focus on the electronics, the opener could fit well on the previous album, perhaps placed somewhere between “Meaningless” and “Reasons”.
Panther is another concept album by the band and much like many of the previous ones the overall theme is about not belonging in one way or the other. This time around the storyline is very much stripped down and rather direct and it’s rooted in Daniel Gildenlöw’s recent ADHD diagnoses. We find ourselves in a world of dogs, where those who don’t fit the norms are panthers. Guess which one of the two is Gildenlöw? So, the storyline might be simple and rather obvious, but there are layers to it and Gildenlöw does a good job making it global, while maintaining that crucial personal story and depth to it.
Lyrically the approach is more stripped down and while that in itself is fine and makes it easier to relate to, the intensity and layers of lyrics on Panther varies which makes them somewhat uneven. The edge and intensity of Gildenlöw’s stellar performance is not always matched by the lyrical intensity and elegance. At times they even come across as tacky, like in the title-track.
But back to music – after fairly straight forward and for the most part anticipated opener, the band follows it with “Unfuture”, which is bound to please the fans of band’s earlier work. It’s an atmospheric razor-sharp mixture of The Perfect Element, Part 1 and Remedy Lane with even that distinctive “Ashes” drum sound. “Restless Boy” is the first curveball on the album and a song that in many ways represents and resonates the overall idea of the album, sonically and emotionally. Mixture of heavily featured yet often abstract electronics and riff outbursts serve as juxtaposed displays of some of the album’s biggest strengths. “Wait” turns into a far more accessible direction with gorgeous, catchy melodies and a marvellous flow. There is so much beauty in this song that it results in one of those deer-caught-in-the-headlights moments. “Keen to a Fault” sees the band take yet another turn, this time to a groovy electronically driven song, which draws parallels to a textbook O.S.I. song.
Title-track comes across as the centrepiece of the album and even as sort of its culmination. Much like “Disco Queen” it’s bound to be the most discussed song on the album because of its very electronics meet rap approach and a chorus that sticks to one’s brain halfway through the first spin. Gildenlöw did his rapping before on likes of “Useless” and “Spitfall” and it worked rather well. On “Panther” it’s not as tightly and emotionally executed and given the nature of the song it comes across as too calculated and uncomfortable. And as for the chorus its catchiness is highly infectious, but in somewhat tacky way, nonetheless because of the face-cringing lyrics.
“Species” is unmemorable acoustically driven tribute to The Who, and the epic closer “Icon” is a majestic, yet extremely emotional and fragile way to close the album. “Icon” delivers the delicate vulnerability known from In The Passing Light of Day, and had the last three minutes of the song been dropped, it would even more deeply underline the delicate beauty that this album does possess. This song manages to match some of the most heartfelt moments of the band’s career and that speaks volumes.
In many ways Panther is a logical continuation of the previous album (there is even a nod to it on the cover artwork), but the band has added numerous new elements to the ever-growing palette, which is at their disposal. The previous album might have been more pleasing to the general prog metal loving portion of the band’s fanbase, but despite the significant shift towards the electronic aspects, the album is in no way as major of a shift as the one they made on BE or Road Salt. As such it should be pleasing for big portion of band’s fans, while at the same time satisfying Gildenlöw’s ever-present thirst for evolving. And it’s that evolving that makes this band what it is and one can only praise Gildenlöw for always sticking to his guns and insisting on exploring new territories with each next album. And at the end of the day regardless which way the band decides to go one thing is certain, they always deliver good and heartfelt collections of music, with a guarantee of certain level of surprise. Panther is far from band’s finest moment, but it’s most certainly an album that does check all of those boxes.