CONCERT REVIEW: PAIN OF SALVATION Kicks Off US Tour “On A Tuesday,” Because Of Course They Would (May 10th, 2022)

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On a night of many firsts, set skipped most of band’s discography but still obliterated its audience

“Bad news,”
I texted. “I’m gonna be right in front of you tonight.”

“Oh shit,” Vik responded. “I’ll try not to suck.”

The stakes are kind of high for multi-instrumentalist Vikram Shankar tonight. The guy behind the keys in Silent Skies, Threads of Fate, and Redemption has just added Swedish prog deities Pain of Salvation to his resume, filling in on this tour while their own multi-instrumentalist Daniel “D2” Karlsson welcomes a child into the world. Fresh off the prestigious Cruise to the Edge 2022, Pain of Salvation began their US tour in support of their 2020 album “Panther”  on May 10 in Austin, coincidentally on the same night Shankar’s  Threads of Fate band-mate Jon “Juanito” Pyres began a tour subbing for Gone in April growler Aaron Rogers. And while Shankar has been fielding phone calls from his boyhood heroes for a few years now, not only is this the first time one of them has taken him out on the road, it will also culminate at ProgPower USA in Atlanta, where Pain of Salvation are to perform their landmark album The Perfect Element in its entirety.

Klone

In tow were long-running/ up-and-coming French sextet Klone, who made an indelible impression at Cruise to the Edge, and who just happened to be making their US debut on this very evening.  Although touring without founding keyboardist Matthieu Metzger, the Klone boys delivered a hell of a performance. Guitarist Aldrick Guadagnino was a particular joy to behold as he stalked the stage like a madman, while Enzo Alfaro‘s bass pulsated in a mostly unheard manner, perhaps due in some part to his use of fingering techniques (such as attacking with his thumb on the higher end) infrequently seen on his instrument. Drummer Morgan Berthet (also know for holding the drum throne with Myrath) also stood out for using freaking mallets on one song – and how often do we see that in metal? – and even withholding the timekeeping high-hats to let his toms breath during a few passages. Lead guitarist Guillame Bernard nimbly countered Aldrick‘s lunacy by focusing on texture not unlike how Paradise Lost or Katatonia have done, while singer Yann Ligner‘s robust pipes wove the entire fabric together to create a moody, mellow, yet crushing set. I’d never heard Klone before this, but I’d only heard fantastic things about them since their performances on the Cruise. I totally get why now.

Pain of Salvation

Pain of Salvation, however, are a band I know almost intimately. I’ve literally been a fan longer than I haven’t, and as many times as I’ve seen them live, exactly none of those times has been in my own hometown. Though Gustaf Hielm had left the band around the time Panther was coming to life, I’d been excited about the possibility of seeing Pain of Salvation at ProgPower USA with former bassist Simon Andersson, whose current band Darkwater had been scheduled to perform the same night before Covid-19 had its way with just about every aspect of live music. That ultimately didn’t pan out, and Pain of Salvation decided to make this US trek without a bass guitarist at all. As bizarre as the idea is, and as much as this decision seems to have limited their set, we can absolutely count on Daniel Gildenlöw and his cohorts to deliver a moving performance. “Accelerator” opened the set with all the fury and rage the lyrics depict, with absolutely bewitched guitarist Johan Hallgren capriciously cavorting about the stage in between his many turns at the mic. “Reasons” and its nebulous meters followed before “Meaningless” cemented that as tough an act to follow as former guitarist Ragnar Zolberg is, Hallgren makes no effort to fill his shoes because those were Hallgren’s shoes in the first place. Even though the band’s very identity is an extension of Gildenlöw’s, Hallgren re-establishes himself as the owner of the stages upon which Pain of Salvation performs. Dude really has fallen home.

Pain of Salvation

Mr Shankar was as beastly as we saw on Redemption’s most recent live DVD, and his frenetic energy was palpable even from behind his rig. This dude doesn’t just play music, he lives and breathes it, and seeing him perform is seeing that music living and breathing through him. But lest you think that having to play along to Hielm and Kristoffer Gildenlöw‘s backing tracks forces the band to merely play from the page, a dead battery in one of Daniel‘s wireless transmitters (after the mesmeric “Wait,” which Shankar fucking nailed) gave Hallgren, Shankar, and longtime drummer Léo Margarit the opportunity to do a freestyle bossa-nova jam that would have left the audience happy even if it had gone on another several minutes. The elder Gildenlöw returned to the stage to launch into the evening’s sole older cut,  “Used,” which I’ll gleefully hear again in Atlanta early next month.

Pain of Salvation

Speaking of Margarit, this tour sees him taking the lead vocal during the “On a Tuesday” interlude which Zolberg originally sang. Maragarit seems to be an understated fella, taking his seat behind a moderately sized kit and occasionally singing backup or harmony. But hearing him sing practically a capella highlights that not only does he have more talent in him than a casual observer might assume, but also that this entire band is comprised of hyper-virtuosic titans, even if they’ve got a hired gun on one instrument and a computer on another.  

Pain of Salvation

The band also graced its Central Texas fans with the live debut of the “new” album’s title track, where Gildenlöw again raps like no Swedish white guy should have the right to. Gildenlöw‘s rapping, along with the sounds we hear from younger bands like India’s Bloodywood, make me wonder what my 20-something, nu-metal hating self would have thought if he’d known that the noise pollution of bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn would one day lead to this. I’m pretty sure I still would have loathed it, but entertaining the possibility that I might have looked for something to appreciate about nu-metal is pretty, well, entertaining. Considering that Pain of Salvation have been toying with the genre since the late 90s, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that Gildenlöw consistently outperforms the groups who spearheaded the genre. It seems that everything this man touches does indeed turn to gold, even if it isn’t always silent.

Pain of Salvation

The band closed the evening with not one, but two epics. “Icon” and “The Passing Light of Day” predictably turned the audience into a weeping mess. Truth be told, every Pain of Salvation performance does that, and one might suspect that the magic might wear thin after twenty-five years of the album-tour cycle. But that simply isn’t the case, because what Pain of Salvation does isn’t mere prog, or metal, or avant-garde, or whatever. Pain of Salvation chronicles the very essence of being human, and as such is subject to evolution, growth, and wrongdoing. Rarely does a bunch of heavy-metal mushbrains recount the very nature of our species with such terrifying precision, let alone while pushing their instruments’ boundaries without ever once resorting to wankery. Ingesting Pain of Salvation’s output can be a damnright perilous experience, but much like a penance, warmth and reclamation await on the other side. Never has a band’s name been so appropriate.

And no, Vik absolutely did not suck.

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