Pain of Salvation at Islington Assembly Hall

Support: Kingcrow
September 13, 2018 at Islington Assembly Hall
Promoter: Tidal Concerts

Depending on who you ask, Pain of Salvation’s 2017 release, In The Passing Light Of Day was either a triumphant return to form, or the latest in a string of consistently good albums. And after Daniel Gildenlöw’s illness that inspired the album, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Swedes would want to take it easy. As it is, this was the second time they’d played Islington Assembly Hall in a little over a year along with numerous festival shows – including being, in this writer’s opinion, one of the absolute highlights of Brutal Assault.

The only support for the night was Kingcrow, taking to the stage with minimal fanfare, but with the stage lights bizarrely revealing that there’s an old CRT TV on one side of the stage. There’s a great energy from Diego Marchesi throughout, air-boxing before he’s even sang a note, even if the vibe of the band is more atmospheric than bouncy. This is a band at ease on stage, not daunted by playing support, and with a catalogue of excellent tunes to make it a successful performance with multiple spontaneous clap-along responses from a receptive crowd. If this had been a Kingcrow headline show, aside from them only getting 45 minutes, I’d have considered it money very well spent.

Pain of Salvation waste no time making their presence felt on stage, charging straight into the crunching riff that opens up ‘On A Tuesday’, complete with blinding strobe, and a flash of the CRT television set – in what would prove to be the only time it was used throughout the evening. It’s as far from easing an audience into a set as it’s possible to get – from Gildenlöw’s spoken word section, through the massive chorus, intense breakdown, and the peaceful, heartstring-tugging mid-section, with drummer Léo Margarit’s impressive falsetto vocals over a lonely piano section – the band covering more ground in ten minutes than most prog metal bands cover in their entire careers. The chorus of ‘Reasons’ shows the band at their synchronised best: group harmonies with robot like precision, before it all gets a bit weird after ‘The Perfect Element’. Gildenlöw sits down at the back of the stage, and starts rifling through a collection of records, asking for the crowd’s opinion on all of them, eventually settling on the final one as the one to play as the lead into the next song – ‘Disco Queen’. The skit took a good few minutes (and felt like twenty) that could probably have been put towards another song. . . well, it’s prog, half a song. The number itself is great fun, however, with a bouncy chorus that can’t fail but leave a grin on even the dourest prog fan, even if the endless innuendo in the lyrics isn’t as noticeable live.

If there’s one thing that both bands on tonight’s bill do particularly well, it’s emotional intensity; and as the set starts to reach its conclusion, this becomes more and more apparent: from the melancholy longing of ‘Ashes’ (a personal favourite) – Gildenlöw’s vocals at their soaring best – to the rousing metal-family anthem ‘Full Throttle Tribe’. But it’s the title track from In The Passing Light Of Day which, like on the album, closes the show with an emotional sucker punch. Across its fifteen-minute length, its lyrics weave a tale of two people falling in love, building a life together, only to have to come to terms with the mortality of one of them because of illness – something that would be powerful on its own merits, but made even more poignant by Gildenlöw’s real-life troubles that inspired the song. I doubt I was the only person choking back tears when I left. As much as Pain of Salvation’s recorded output has placed them firmly in the upper echelons of progressive metal, it’s live that they’re really in their perfect element; and for that the whole band and crew deserve credit: every instrumental and vocal line is performed to perfection, the heavier sections emphasised dramatically with an intense barrage of lights, which then only serves to emphasise the more melodic emotional sections by contrast.

An excellent show all round.

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