Thursday, 8 March 2012

13th February 2012: Pain of Salvation & Cryptex, The Garage, Islington, London

And so we come to gig number 2 for 2012, and in ridiculous contrast to the last one, this evening is a veritable rawwkfest. We arrive somewhat late at the venue to find the stage occupied by some rather hairy German teenagers (oh, dear - I've done it now for misdirected Google searches, haven't I?)

I have no idea who is playing, but they're rather good fun - good old fashioned blues-type rock, with a bit of metal here and there, some hippyish folky stuff elsewhere, and then there are the digeridoo and xylophone spots (always a plus, I find.) I later discover that the band is called Cryptex and they have an album out called "Good Morning, How Did You Live?". Frankly, if I'd known the name of the band and their album, and certainly if I'd seen the cover before setting out, I might have made sure I left home even later.

Um, yeah.

But in actual fact, even though we really do only see about 15 minutes of the set, it's great fun, and on this showing they're definitely worth a look if they're playing a festival near you some time.

Onto the main event, and it seems Daniel Gildenlöw of Pain of Salvation is an avid reader of this blog, since I suggested, nay demanded back in November that a headline PoS gig in London was long overdue and within weeks one was announced. That's what 3,000 hits gets you, folks. The power to make things happen.

Anyway, seeing the band support Opeth was one thing (and frankly I enjoyed them back then much more than I enjoyed Opeth), but they're really a band who demand a full headline slot and by golly, do they make the most of it.

Their appearance on stage is heralded by the same Swedish song that was played the last time we saw them (the one almost entirely composed of swear words and insults) - and this time there's the added bonus that we've just returned from a week in Sweden where I learned some of its colourful language from a street workman having trouble erecting a new lampost. It's immediately followed by the string intro to their latest album 'Road Salt Two' which gets a huge cheer, before they come out and give us a perfect demonstration of how to rock an audience.

'Softly She Cries' is the first proper song from 'Road Salt Two' and it's the new Pain of Salvation to a T - bluesy-rock with heavy riffs and a catchy hook that stays in your head for weeks. So far, so much the same as the previous gig. But what's this- half the band appear to have changed since October? Yes, in the short space of a few months, the line-up has transformed somewhat, with bassist from last time Daniel Karlsson having moved to keyboards, to replace departing PoS veteran Fredrik Hermansson (a member since 1996), new / old boy Gustaf Hielm (bassist from 1992-1994) returning to pick up bass, and proper new boy, the Icelandic Ragnar ZSolberg looking rather like a hot chick playing guitar on stage right (or maybe it's just my eyesight, I'm a little further back than I normally prefer.)

Daniel will aways be Daniel (thank goodness), and frankly, I think I raved about him enough in the last review, so let's concentrate on the others.

If you squint... and especially if you can't see his moustache.

New boys / old boys / whatever, nobody has any cause to complain tonight as they sound like they've been playing together for years, the rhythm section is ridiculously tight and our Icelandic friend has all the solos nailed (as well I'd expect since there was quite fierce competition for this spot. Personally I was hoping that Concrete Lake / The Tangent guitarist Luke Machin might have got a look in, and I idly wonder whether he's here tonight since I know he's a massive fan.)

The set progresses much the same as last time, with the new Pain of Salvation sound of the two 'Road Salt' albums dominating - as well it should, since they're blooming fantastic, and anyone poo-poohing the lack of metal or prog on them is frankly missing out big style. But the big advantage of the extended slot is the opportunity to delve more extensively into the back catalogue, and this they do with some style. Early fan favourite 'Ashes' is the second track of the night, and goes down an absolute storm. A clutch of Road Salt tracks follow, with the new members of the band proving their worth, especially Ragnar whose harmonies are absolutely impeccable on the intense and frenetic 'The Deepest Cut'. 

Then the band are introduced and there's some amusing banter from Daniel, who is on top form tonight ("We love playing in London, I really feel we're tapping into the essence of... something essencey.") But it's all just a delaying tactic for the highlight of the night - a brace of older tracks for the long-term fans to get their teeth into, including the wonderful 'Ending Theme' from the 'Remedy Lane' album (my personal favourite, especially the growling spoken word section in the middle which marries metal and rap far better than yer Limp Bizkits and Linkin Parks  - and Daniel was doing it before them anyway.)

We then go all the way back to 1997 for a track from 'Entropia' entitled 'Stress', which is by far the most amazingly bonkers song we hear all night, although it's run close by 'Kingdom of Loss' from 2007's 'Scarsick' which begins with Daniel rap-ranting quietly about all kinds of things (mostly America) while the band build up a laid-back groove before building up to a rousing, anthemic ending which is greeted by an incredible roar from the crowd. 

This proves to be the last old song of the night, but nobody cares, it's time for the opening track from Road Salt One, "No Way", which this evening sees a special guest joining the band on stage. "Please welcome... Luke on guitar!" says Daniel, as Ragnar scuttles off to the back of the stage to sing backing vocals - and Luke (yes, Luke Machin, from The Tangent / Concrete Lake) joins them on stage. So, he is there tonight, then. 

It's an incredible moment for us and a few select prog fans in the crowd who've seen him play with the amazing Concrete Lake to about 20 people a couple of months before at the Peel. It's like one of our own has made good. Luke beams, gurns, throws his long blond locks around ("It's the same guy!", someone behind me says as he replaces Ragnar on stage), and generally behaves like he normally behaves on stage, only with about 50% more "I can't believe this is happening to me..." Well done, lad.

After a suitably rocktastic end to the main set in the epic 'Enter Rain', the encore is actually a rather more sombre affair. Two previously unplayed tracks from the 'Road Salt' albums close the evening, the 8-minute 'Physics of Gridlock' which starts in proper riffing and headbanging style before ending up as a kind of Gallic funeral march, and then the amazing ballad 'Sisters' which starts out as the evening's quietest song before building up to a furiously belted out triumphant chorus, which would have had us all with our lighters aloft if this was the 80's. But it's not, so instead there are iPhones and laptops (ok, maybe not laptops.)

It's a somewhat brave ending to the gig, but it works. There's a huge cheer and the band leave us satisfied, having taken us on a tour of their entire catalogue and proved why they're one of the most unique bands around. 

Some ghosts take a bow. Sorry, I really failed at photos
 on this occasion (you know, since all my others are amazing.)

Afterwards there's the chance to hang around a bit and chat to some friends, to congratulate a still-elated Luke on his triumph, and then finally to head home on the train. We're accompanied by a, shall we say, well-lubricated Jon Patrick (aka Twang, promoter extraordinaire at the House Of Progression / The Peel), who explains to us why the Odyssey is so great ("You see, Odysseus, he's just a fucking dude, man...") and how timeless the story is. I dare say if Twang was teaching it in schools, it definitely would be.

He also tells us several times about why "Celebr8" is going to be an amazing festival (which it definitely is, by the way, go and buy your tickets now...) - amusingly he also tells the entirety of the late night train, prompting one lady to ask him to be quiet as she's trying to process the date she's just been on. I'd say a dose of the UK's leading prog bands would be just the thing - we should have given her a flyer.

Pain of Salvation Setlist:

- Softly She Cries
- Ashes
- Linoleum
- The Deeper Cut
- 1979
- To the Shoreline
- Chain Sling
- Ending Theme
- Stress
- Kingdom of Loss
- No Way (featuring Luke Machin)
- Enter Rain
- The Physics of Gridlock
- Sisters

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