27th September 2012
It has been a while since I’ve posted, as I have been rather busy lately. To celebrate my current lack of business, I’m going to attempt to break down one of the most complicated and nuanced albums that I know. Godspeed, myself.
Music is a curious thing, as far as quality goes. There are people, like Justin Bieber and Nickelback, who make music that sells millions, but seems to be hated by almost everyone at the same time. Even I enjoy a nice jab at whoever is the current pop-music king or queen, but at the end of the day those people provide entertainment for millions of people. I can’t objectively say that the music is bad. Everyone looks for and finds something different in music, so when I’m writing my reviews I try to keep an open mind on things.
At the same time, I like to see humanity in music. When I’m listening to a song, I enjoy the riffs and the grooves and the choruses, but what I’m really looking for is a little window into the mind of the person or people that are making the music. My favorite albums, songs, and artists are usually the ones that make me feel like I know them when I listen to their music. With all this being said, I would say that Remedy Lane is the best album I’ve ever listened to, or at the very least, it’s the one I respect the most.
Also, it’s one of the most strange and uncomfortable things I’ve ever listened to. It just sounds dirty. Every instrument has this incredibly imperfect sound about it, as if they were purposely left and rusted just to be used on this album. I sometimes try to imagine the studio that this was recorded in. I picture a dust filled room with bars on the windows and mud caked all over the walls, the floor, and the ceiling. As if David Fincher built the studio with his bare hands. None of these descriptions are insults though. This dark and imperfect production is exactly what the album should be. This is a good example of how nothing is truly ‘correct’ when it comes to music. I consider Devin Townsend one of the best producers around, but his slick style would not do well on this album.
Another form of discomfort comes within the actual music. It’s not mathematical music, but it is fairly hard to keep track of. The notes which get accented are always in strange places, almost off the beat, as if the instruments are playing in a different time signature than the one the song is set to. That’s not to say it doesn’t all fit together. Amidst all the dissonance, there’s quite a few nice melodies. I would never call this type of music catchy, but it has its moments. As far as genres go, it’s hard to classify this one. I’ve heard it called metal a lot, and I suppose that covers its sonic offerings, but it still feels wrong.
None of that is really important though. While I don’t like putting a large amount of importance on lyrics, since most music does that all by itself, the vocals and lyrics are really where this album excels. The voice is not just a way to convey words in this music, which it does fine, it’s a fantastic extra layer of emotions and personality added on to almost every song.
The mastermind behind Pain of Salvation is Daniel Gildenlow. This man has a simply incredible voice. It goes insanely low and insanely high. It screams and it growls, while also being able to sooth and comfort. It’s also dripping with emotions, and always seems like one step away from breaking at any moment. Technically, I think it’s amazing, but the way it’s used to send out feeling is truly amazing. Somewhere between Trent Reznor and Geddy Lee, Gildenlow found an incredible sweet spot.
The lyrics. Everything about them is perfect. They are subtle, yet not distant. Emotional, yet not melodramatic. Plentiful, yet not overbearing. I have a tendency to overreact about these sorts of things, but I honestly feel that I can’t overstate how incredibly fucking brilliant these lyrics are. They give you just enough information about their meaning without being too literal. To me, that is a very important thing when it comes to lyrics. A great lyricist can tell a story without flat out saying, “This is how the story goes.”
The cusp of all of this comes to the subjects of the songs though. The album is a concept album, and as such, has a story from beginning to end. Each song is pretty self-contained though, and each deals with its own subject. In another review, I made a statement about how most music is about pretty relationship issues. This album certainly has its fair share of relationship issues, but it handles them in a much more mature and introspective way. The album’s title gives a good representation of the album’s story. A trip through events in an effort to find out what was wrong and heal; a remedy lane.
Some of the things handled in this album are almost… frightening. Where could you possibly find a song about the memory of a stillborn child tainting the memories of living children to follow it? Probably only in this album. Sex is theme in the album that seems to occur rather often. In modern life, I think sex is one of the most interesting and controversial subjects around. It’s given an extremely glamorous treatment by most people, but is also held in extreme privileged by many of those same people. A lot of humans are driven by not understanding what sex really is, besides its basic biological function, and even if it means anything more than that. The lyrics here drive through these darker areas of sex. Consequences and damages done.
I mentioned how I’m looking for the people behind the music, through the music. When I listen to this album, I don’t hear a man making music to sell, or a man making music to entertain. It sounds like a man making music because he doesn’t know how else to understand his thoughts. It sounds like making this album wasn’t fun, easy, or enjoyable. It sounds painful, honestly. Perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t sound like a contrived piece of work made by someone inventing problems to have. It truly has the feel of legitimate thoughts and feelings. “Life seemed to him, merely like a gallery of how to be.”
The top of this post links to Beyond the Pale, the last song on the album. It is epic, dark, and driving. A bitter admit to defeat and brokenness. Simply put, one of the most powerful songs I’ve ever heard. “We will always be more human than we wish to be.”
Despite the near-constant praise I’ve given to this album, it’s still hard for me to recommend it to anyone. When I first heard it, I thought to myself that it’s either the best album I’ve ever heard or the worst one.
I’m sure that answer will change with each person that listens to it.