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Artists :: P :: Pain of Salvation :: BE :: Staff Review

BE is a good example of a concept album getting in the way of its perfectly fine concept. It kicks off with nothing short of a narration from God--Pain of Salvation have clearly come to terms with their delusions of grandeur--and eventually moves on to an unfunny skit about some guy trying to get his girlfriend to suck him off and eventually telling her she can drive his car so long as she's good at working the stick. "But it's an automatic!" isn't exactly Bill Hicks material. The admittedly nuanced story that's presented by all of these scenes comes off as little more than lyracist Daniel Gildenl÷w waving his 14-inch intellectual cock around in our faces, and it doesn't do anything to complement the music.

It's not just a matter of skipping over the bad parts, either, since on more than a couple of tracks they're woven into the songs themselves. The first few minutes of broadway-style epic "Dea Pecuniae" have everything, from sarcasticly delivered "pro"-materialism vocals from Danny to insanely slick bass playing care of his brother Kristopher... from some girl making awkward small talk with the track's main character to that same eventually screaming "oh yes, oh god yes!" for fifteen seconds in the background. I'm sure you can imagine what works here and what doesn't. Elsewhere, brooding anti-greed ditty "Nihil Morari" suggests that hoarding will lead to destruction with surprising tact and subtlety... that is, until it pulls out the fake apocalyptic news reports.

A shame, too, because most of the actual music on BE is as fantastic as you'd expect from a Pain of Salvation record. One of my favorite tracks, "Lilium Cruentus", alternates forceful metal sections with mellower parts driven by military-sounding drumming and a bleak bassline courtesy of my childhood hero/chosen divinity Kris. Its lyrics set it miles apart from the usual "religon is a lie, I am the black wizards" metal drek--with neither approval nor explicit condemnation, the idea of religion being a coping tool for a humankind that simply cannot accept loss is explored in a surprisingly down-to-Earth way:

"They tell me you are better off
Where you are now
Well, I don't care
They tell me that your pain is gone
Where you are now
Well, you left it here
See, I need to be strong
Need to be brave
I need to put faith in something
How could I live on
Not hoping we will meet

Grim and frostbitten Norwegians and mopey pop-punk trannies alike could only dream of being as erudite. Not all of the lyrics are as equivocal; the first half of "Diffidentia" is pure contempt, with Daniel half-rapping a bitter attack on God's creating a "golden cage for [his] sheep, a stage too wide and deep for us to even see the play." Just the same, he admits later on in the track that God may be a helpful force after all even if just a social construct--perhaps BE's strongest point from a lyrical standpoint is that it never provides a sole viewpoint to its many topics.

The songs themselves are just as varied, as if Slayer are patrons of the arts and my just casually dropping reference to a broadway epic on a metal album didn't establish that already. It's not as lovably schizophrenic as something like Mr. Bungle's Disco Volante, but there's variety just the same. The album proper opens with "Imago" and closes with "Martius", both of which have their fair share of folk influences; on the other hand, the uplifting piano piece "Pluvius Aestivus" puts the hired orchestra (see what I meant about the delusions of grandeur?) to fantastic use.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in my eyes is "Vocari Dei", though, for which the band asked fans from all over the world to record messages on a supposed answering machine to God and then set some of the results over some peaceful acoustic guitar. Could have been another of the album's awkward stumbling points, but even my inner metal mongrel finds the whole thing strangely touching--the guy who breaks down crying and admits he's "so lost" is particularly effective. Yeah, I'm a softie, fuck you too.

Sure, this album could have been better, but had every song catered solely to the concept instead of effectively standing alone, it also could have been a lot worse . Even if you take a "fuck the story" attitude (I can't believe I have to say that about some music, instead of porn or Doom), album climax Iter Impius is just as gut-wrenching as an impassioned jab at our aimless strive for individuality as it is the tale of the last survivng person on Earth. Take away the amusical excess and BE is a masterpiece, one or two awkward moments offset by the fantastic lyrics and admirable variety; even counting all that, only 10 of the album's 70 minutes are particularly affected, leaving those of you able to tune out the fluff with a Gildenl÷w Brothers Power Hour that's easily on par with their best work.

Rating: 8/10
Reviewer: john
Reviewed: January 26, 2007

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