The eleventh full-length studio release from Swedish power/prog innovators Pain of Salvation, Panther (InsideOut Music) is a concept album which presents a futuristic city in which people are separated into dogs and panthers. The dogs being “normal” people while the panthers represent “spectrum” outsiders.
‘Accelerator’ opens proceedings with stabs of strident electronica, the staccato guitar riffs of the returning Johan Hallgren dull and buried in the mix while Daniel Karlsson‘s keyboards and the vocals of frontman Daniel Gildenlöw dominate the song like dark ’80s synth-rock. That vibe continues with the substantially darker ‘Unfuture’. Packed with a thunderously slow groove and backed by sinister pick scrapes and other sound effects, delicate melodies slither out of the darkness as the song creeps along in the shadows, Gildenlöw crooning and whispering before releasing himself for the song’s powerful chorus.
With its electronic vocals and off-kilter rhythms, the brilliant ‘Restless Boy’ is as bizarre as it is compelling. The quite beautiful ‘Wait’ follows, featuring a warm piano melody combined with bursts of Spanish guitar and a particularly stirring performance by Gildenlöw. ‘Keen to a Fault’ is up next, awash with pulsing, swirling electronics and dramatic vocals before giving way to the odd little Russian sounding interlude that is ‘Fur’.
Probably best described as “polarising”, the jarring title track adds rap into the equation with less than stellar results. ‘Species’ just sort of rambles along before heading into a country-rock meets Pearl Jam territory, but things quickly pick up again for thirteen-minute closer ‘Icon’, an atmospheric cut punctuated by a sensational bluesy guitar solo, which ends the record on a positive note.
The concept might not be the most original and the lyrics might not be the best you’ve ever heard, but Panther is an enthralling, eclectic ride that keeps the listener on their toes and isn’t afraid to take its fair share of chances.