Progressive rock has been undergoing something of a revival in recent years. Having been banished to the outer limits of musical acceptability by the punk revolution, first generation progsters such as Yes and King Crimson have been touring and releasing albums to their not inconsiderable fan bases with some success. Not that any of this registers on the mainstream of course, but, thanks to the internet, bands, of whatever hue, can now survive on the smallest of followings, allowing second (or is that third) wave prog bands, such as Pain Of Salvation to survive on comparatively modest album sales.
There’s something altogether rather second-hand, however, about this generation of progressive rock, with the constant suspicion that they are just pale rehashes of the likes of Crimson, the Peter Gabriel-era Genesis and ELP. This “unplugged” live album has the occasional pretentiousness of those bands off to a tee – just one look at the song titles for this album provides evidence of that – but removed from the paisley, loon-jeans context of the early ’70s, it all has the feel of a low-grade tribute band.
This is the Swedish band’s fifth album and, for a reason best known to them, it is separated into three “books”, although without the benefit of a lyric sheet, it’s hard to discern exactly what it’s all supposed to be about. Comparisons with Spinal Tap, engendered by the band’s endearingly daft name, certainly can’t be avoided. Pete Sinfield (poet in residence for King Crimson, PFM and ELP, amongst others) they most certainly aren’t.
If there’s a musical reference point it’s the florid keyboards, and rather laboured classical references that typified the music of Renaissance (remember them?) although the high-pitched vocals conjure up vague overtones of those dreaded followers of Ayn Rand, Rush. There’s the occasional attractive melody, and some impressive classical guitar, but for the most part this is pretty hard going, and, in this acoustic context, the bouts of bombast and operatic excess just sound forced, which of course they are. It’s as nothing, however, compared to the band’s usual musical preference, best described as gothic prog-metal.
All in all, the main effect of sustained listening to this album was to send me, screaming, back to Close To The Edge and Brain Salad Surgery for a taste of how this genre of music should be executed – and I use that word advisedly.