Pain of Salvation is another one of the million bands I have heard about but never heard, at least not to where it stuck in my mind. So this is my POS baptism: an Unplugged style introduction to their music. What this has meant to me is a week-long struggle with how I feel about this thing. It’s been dragging me around by the earlobes, tossing me from the like side of the room to the dislike with some force. But never to the love or the hate side.
I suppose that’s the best place to start: this record is neither incredible nor awful. At best, it is either nice or annoying. If I had simply purchased it I would have traded it in already. It’s not my thing…unplugged albums are rarely my thing. They were fine when they were new, as one shots on MTV or as sets in the middle of a larger concert, but electric music recorded acoustically simply lacks too many of the qualities fundamental to Rock music. A person with a guitar singing a song is compelling. A group of people with several instruments playing rock is dismal.
This is no exception. All the dynamics of the music are tediously leveled and toned down. There is no emotional payoff. It’s a steady, well executed but ultimately directionless exercise. The songs, without the verve of the metal style, lack the melody and the movement to work acoustically. The piano is almost like a mosquito buzzing your ear, making you uncomfortable and eventually annoying you to the point you want to swat it. The musicians are definitely good, there is no question, but by the end of the songs I don’t care.
The vocals are….well…hmmm. The singer is good. Maybe a tad too in love with himself, but good. Until he wanders into these horrible Axel Rose wails that devastate his work. And his accent makes it hard to simply enjoy the melodies he creates. But he has more soul that you normally find, good range and you can feel the power he has at his disposal. He does not fit in the acoustic setting, though. He is a metal singer. He needs enormous sounds to best represent himself. As far as the backing vocals are concerned…it’s very very hit and miss. When the chorus of the group sings as one, they don’t. They sound pathetic. But there are also moments where just a few voices are harmonizing that are actually very good. Again, this is probably more because there is no massive heart pounding music underneath them. Their voices simply don’t translate acoustically.
The recording is crisp, if unexceptional. You can hear what you need to. Maybe they could have put the pianist in another country, but live acoustics are hard for people who don’t really play that way to manage. The guitars are played with lots of chords, and that is a big problem all by itself. Heavy chords on acoustic guitars sound flat and amateurish to me. When the players stick to picking chords, licks and runs it’s much more effective.
Bottom line: I don’t know. If you are already a POS fan this might have a great deal of appeal to you, from a gimmicky point of view. A new way to experience your favorite band or something. If you are uninterested in the band and just want to hear a good record, you are taking a big chance with this one. If you dug the MTV Unplugged era of rock music, you might find this to your taste. If you like metal because it is metal, this is not going to be a good choice for you. And if you love acoustic music as a form, this I think is a failure. The compositions simply don’t work in this setting. I won’t listen to it again.