There's a prog rock band from Sweden that I discovered when I found out they would be opening for Dream Theater on the Progressive Nation 2009 tour. I like to be familiar with a few songs from the opening bands before I go to the concert, so I sought out some of their more highly recommended tunes and began my research. Unfortunately, due to management and record label complications, they had to drop off the tour, so I never got to see them live, but that meant I did end up seeing Bigelf live (and met them afterwards), so that's okay with me. However, despite not getting the Pain of Salvation live experience, I liked what I heard from my song sampling so I, continued to investigate, and that's when I discovered their fifth studio album, "BE" (the quotes are part of the album title, so I'm not entirely sure how to punctuate that. Please find it in your hearts to forgive me).
The thing about Swedish prog bands is that they tend to get somewhat enigmatic when it comes to writing concept albums. Pain of Salvation generally follow this rule, and it's often difficult to decipher what exactly the overall message of the album is without the help of Wikipedia. However, "BE" is on an entirely different level; it's story-line is so convoluted it's pretty much unintelligible. Even Wikipedia is not entirely sure what Pain of Salvation are trying to get across, even with the linear notes and an entire website dedicated to the album set up by vocalist/guitarist/founder Daniel Gildenlow. So I don't really have a clue what the album overall is even about, and quite honestly it's not necessary to really "get it," so to speak, but there are two songs in particular that really stand out to me that between them create the only story-line I can decipher out of this 76 minute mass of impenetrable philosophy. It's a darn good story though.
The first song I want to mention, one that was the Song of the Day in the post from which this this column gets its title actually, is track 7, titled Dea Pecuniae. Roughly translated from Latin, it means Goddess of Money, and it is the longest song on the album, split into three parts. In the first, we're introduced to the wealthiest man in the world, known only as Mr. Money. He is a man who is obsessed with his namesake, and will bend and break all the rules in order to have financial power, or any kind of power for that matter. In the first verses and chorus, he flaunts that power by leading a woman on just to break her heart, and listing numerous material luxuries he has acquired, declaring things like "I could have bought a third-world country with the riches that I've spent," all while accompanied musically by what almost sounds like a showtune. He concludes with a toast to himself, but is then interrupted by Dea Pecuniae, who proceeds to lead him on in the same way that he lead on the woman in the first verse. The second part is about 45 seconds long, and in it Mr. Money has a silent, piano-driven moment to himself, admitting briefly that when he's by himself, he needs comforting because somewhere deep inside of him, he feels loss. Then, almost as abruptly as Part One ended, Part Three begins, in which Mr. Money symbolically affirms his life choices by shouting out that he's happy on top of the world, even if that means he's alone up there. The song concludes in a bombastic Broadway-esque salute to all those who do nothing while he steps all over them and exploits the system at their expense for his own personal gain.
The second song, track 13, is called Iter Impius, translated as Wicked Path. In this piano and orchestral ballad, Mr. Money wakes up one morning and realizes that he is old, alone, and has laid waste to the world in his path to its peak. He comes to a frightening conclusion that there is nothing now except the "relentless time" that is chasing him down and will eventually take him from this world. However, he refuses to leave the fortune he has amassed, and decides to preserve his body using cryogenics until he can be made immortal, declaring that he will "rule the ruins" of Earth by himself.
Obviously you can't understand how brilliant the characterization of Mr. Money is unless you've listened to the songs, so I've linked to them below and I highly suggest you listen to them before reading what I'm about to say, because this text will probably mean less than nothing if it is musically unaccompanied. That being said, the characterization of Mr. Money is freaking brilliant. In 16 minutes of music, Pain of Salvation have created a more compelling character arc for him than I've seen in most Hollywood movies. Here's a man who is a classic power addict; he amasses as much power as he can and thinks it makes him the king of the world, but in truth he is a slave to power itself. He has spent so much time convincing himself he is happy even though he has alienated everyone in his life that he can't even bear to face those feelings of loss for more than a few moments before resorting to his familiar facade of contentment. And you can't help but feel bad for him in the first few verses of Iter Impius, when he honestly confronts what he's done to himself and the world and realizes it's too late to fix it. Then he kicks into the first chorus and an even more profound pity is drawn from us because he can't even accept, at the end of all things, that the world is rust and ruins and it is all over. Instead, blinded by his greed or whatever it is, he insists that he will rule said ruins, presumably because he can't live in a world in which he is not the ruler of something. All of this comes from 16 minutes of music, about a third of which has no vocals!
It's impossible for me to convey exactly how amazing this is by just writing about it, so I think I'm going to stop here and let you guys listen to the songs and form your own impressions about them. I am fully aware that many of you won't appreciate the music or concept it in the way that I do and that's totally cool, but I still think you should listen to the songs anyways because, well you never know, do you? Besides, I think objectively you have to appreciate the way the music tells the story as much as the lyrics do, as well as the emotions that are drawn from us in response to the story being told, from admiration to disdain to heartfelt sadness. It's almost as if you can connect to Mr. Money as a character as if he were a real person. Anyways, that's what's been occupying my musical brainspace recently, so have fun with that :)
Hope you enjoy!
Ps. My good friend Dobes just tipped me off about this song, and it's really awesome and apropos to the time we're in now, so I figured I'd share. Thanks Dobes!