One look at the liner notes for Pain of Salvation’s Road Salt Two tells us instantly that this is going to be an unusual and artful album. The photographs and quotes from the album’s lyrics tell a disjointed story – in parts macabre, in parts bittersweet, no linear progression but an overall sense of entangled emotion. This is exactly what Daniel Gildenlow brings us with this raw and enchanting album, following on from Road Salt One with a similar stripped-back sound that belies the progressive complexities of its arrangement.
The real core of the album’s allure is, as with much of Pain of Salvation’s varied back catalogue, Gildenlow’s infinitely capable voice. From the arrogant bluesy sexuality of Conditioned and Softly She Cries to the shiver-inducing tenderness of Healing Now and Through the Distance, his vocals are truly theatrical, soaring powerfully in all the right places and stumbling emotively in others, giving listeners an almost voyeuristically intimate encounter with the highs and lows of humanity.
The extent to which Road Salt Two can be seen as a concept album in the conventional sense is elusive – and herein lies its charm. While Road Salt Theme and End Credits set the theatrical pace for the album, the songs between them have seemingly little in common, with some such as the hauntingly beautiful To The Shoreline telling complete stories in their own right.
However, The Physics of Gridlock seems to complete the Road Salt cycle, surmising the themes of both albums with the lyric “But we have lost it all/ When we turn life into a road”. Together the Road Salt albums seem to find the perfect line between enjoyable rock music and cognitively challenging prog, offering songs that can be appreciated both on their own merit and as part of a greater artwork.