“Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings… recollected in tranquillity”, said William Wordsworth in the preface to his Lyrical Ballads.
In this long-awaited release from the constantly-evolving Pain of Salvation, we see both overflow and tranquility in equal measure. Rage lapses into resignation, builds into swelling hope, and leaves us with a sense of acceptance that is both dazzling and devastating at once.
I played the album over my headphones at work, excited to pass a freezing Friday morning in such esteemed auditory company. One hour and eleven minutes later, the screen in front of me blurred through barely-masked tears as I swayed in my seat, drained and dizzied by the lifetime of emotions I’d just been guided through.
A word of warning: this is one you need to be sitting down for.
Poetry and Melody
Focussing on the deathbed epiphanies of founder, lead vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Gildenlow after a nasty brush with necrotising fasciitis, the album manages to be at once profoundly personal and all-encompassing, conveying philosophies that we can all relate to via a narrative that, thankfully, few of us can.
The multiplicity of emotions that Daniel dealt with through his diagnosis, surgery, and the subsequent four months of recovery, is apparent in both the words and composition of the album, with vicious prog-metal numbers such as Tongue of God and Reasons flowing into delicate, nuanced love songs such as Silent Gold.
The music itself should silence both camps of Pain of Salvation fans, with the off-kilter time signatures, bizarre instrumentation and all-important heaviness of the band’s back catalogue combined with the solid melodies and subtle nuances of the Road Salt albums.
All of this is tied together by the raw, mercurial vocals of Gildenlow himself – one moment effortless and smooth, the next cracking with barely suppressed emotion, the next building into a roaring tirade against the fates.
The band’s new line-up had some fans divided when the video for Meaningless was released, with Ragnar Zolberg’s high and heavy vocals layered over Gildenlow’s lower register. While the disparity was quite striking in Meaningless, it grew on me with ever subsequent listen until I couldn’t imagine it any other way.
Elsewhere on the album, the higher vocals take a tightly harmonised background role, highlighting whispers and growls, but dropping smoothly away when Daniel lets out a curdling wail of his own.
The Beginning and the End
As is customary for Pain of Salvation’s concept albums, the story does not flow directly. Rather, the album ends where it begins – on a hospital bed, contemplating an uncertain future. However, while the frenetically heavy opening track, On a Tuesday, rails against the idea of praying for salvation, the end of the album brings the protagonist to an accepting epiphany. In between, we seem to flicker in and out of past and present, as the protagonist wrestles with demons in the face of death.
Bleak and bizarre, switching from sexualised whispering to pained pleading, Meaningless harks back to a prior affair, and the lasting guilt that it has left behind.
Full Throttle Tribe is the album’s anthem in every sense, speaking of a search for belonging, the families formed by music, and a refusal to walk the beaten track. I can’t wait to sing it back to the band from a crowded venue floor. Just when the track is becoming triumphant, however, we are pulled back to present day and the realisation that this hard-earned life is slipping away from the protagonist.
The Taming of a Beast is gloomy and pounding in equal measure, as the protagonist comes to terms with the self-destructive qualities that have both driven and plagued him throughout his life.
The album seems to be winding down with If This is the End, a song that begins slow and funereal, a tiredness and desolation in Daniel’s voice as he speaks of accepting the end of his life. The track is not the farewell we think it is though, as a defiant “Fuck all they say, I want to stay,” heralds in a sudden furious fight for survival, marked by some glorious Road Salt-esque wails.
Love and Loss
We’re made to wait for the album’s title track – an epic 15-minute conclusion to the swirling cloud of thoughts and philosophies that permeate the album. The Passing Light of Day is perhaps the album’s most personal track – so much so that it left me feeling voyeuristic at times.
A complex love letter to Gildenlow’s wife, the song starts out tender and laid bare, harking back to the first days of the relationship in contrast to the starkness of the present situation. In the low, earnest vocals, you can hear the distilled sorrow of both partners.
Despite the fact that, by the album’s very existence, we know that Daniel pulled through, I find myself on the edge of my seat, almost pleading with him not to give up.
The track builds in pace and passion as the protagonist reflects on the mistakes he made, wishing that he could take them back, before coming to the realisation that in the face of death, none of what’s gone before matters.
The track’s climax is soaring, score-like, thick with instrumentation, with a powerful message for all who have ever feared or mourned: “We may wish we could run, just walk away, from this passing light of day – but at some point we needed to stop and say, ‘It’s okay… It’s okay.'”
Eros and Thanatos
As much as the album seeks to blur the lines between beginnings and endings, it’s the story’s place as a sequel that turned on the waterworks. In order to psych myself up for its release, I spent the night before revisiting Remedy Lane.
Believed by many to be the band’s masterpiece, the album is a semi-autobiographical tale of two young lovers, torn apart by biological heartaches beyond their control, and the mistakes that they make in the wake of that devastation. In the midst of his own downward spiral, the protagonist is left questioning the nature of love, freedom and faith.
We know that at least some of the story of Remedy Lane was taken directly from Gildenlow’s own experience, so putting it back-to-back with the unabashedly personal accounts of In the Passing Light of Day, we can see a bigger picture.
It is a picture of a couple who’ve been through some of the hardest and most unexpected things life could possibly throw at them. A couple who questioned their naivety in believing that love could conquer all. And a couple who fiercely loved across the decades regardless, literally to the brink of death and back again.
As much as In the Passing Light of Day is a twisted tale of life and death, it is also, in its way, the greatest love story of all time.
And for that, as well as for its masterful combination of light and dark, I will always keep it close.