In The DropBox: Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly & Pain of Salvation

For the past week I have been listening to new albums from Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly and Pain of Salvation. They are labelmates on InsideOut, and they are both excellent efforts.

I’m familiar with Sjöblom through his stellar work with Big Big Train, and he also led Beardfish. Gungfly is now his outlet for his solo work. For their second release, he has pared down Gungfly to a trio with Petter and Rasmus Diamant on drums and bass respectively, while Rikard tackles everything else – and “everything else” covers a lot of instruments!

Overall, it’s a rocking effort with Sjöblom’s vocals running the gamut from a warm and intimate tenor to a harsh low-register rasp. The first track, Traveler, immediately grabs the listener with a driving rhythm that conveys an urgent sense of movement. Sjöblom sings of the difficulties of traveling and being away from family. The fact that its more than 13-minute length feels much briefer is a testament to how well it is constructed.

Happy Somewhere In Between, the first single, is a catchy rocker with a bit of a hoedown feel to it. The rhythm section of the Diamant brothers really shines on this track, effortlessly keeping pace with some very tricky changes.

Clean As A Whistle is a pleasant change of pace with an acoustic guitar opening and a beautiful melody worthy of Nick Drake. It slowly builds in intensity until it explodes into a synthesizer/electric guitar jam.

Alone Together is a song that tugs at the heartstrings. It is a sensitive portrayal of the emotional turmoil parents of mentally ill children have to deal with. Sjöblom’s guitar solos remind me of Steve Howe’s work on Relayer. 

After the brief folky interlude of From Afar, the album closes with the epic On The Shoulders Of Giants. In this delightful track, Sjöblom pays tribute to his prog forebears:

“What happened to me?
The boy who listened to Frank Zappa
And said, ‘This is what I want to be.'”

Sjöblom makes good use of nearly all of its 15 minutes length with some fine guitar work that showcases his talent. Alone Together is a very solid effort from Gungfly, and it illustrates Sjöblom’s mastery of guitar and keyboards as well as his maturity as a lyricist.

Pain Of Salvation’s Panther opens with a chugging, synth-heavy riff on Accelerator. It could fit right in with current “Synthwave” scene with its slightly retro sound paired with contemporary production. As always, Daniel Gildenlöw’s vocals are outstanding – his energy and passion never flagging for a moment.

Unfuture opens with a snaky acoustic blues riff that soon explodes into a full metal treatment which then retreats into a more subdued passage as Gildenlöw sings (as far as I can decipher), “Welcome to the new world/Which sounds sublime/A better and improved world/For our mankind.” This is a song dripping with menace and foreboding, yet sounding seductive and enticing.

In Gildenlöw ‘s words, “Panther is an album with many layers, but at the heart of it you will find my lifelong struggle to calibrate my interface towards mankind, trying to calculate the offset to a species that I have on some levels always felt myself estranged to. A feeling I think many can relate to. ”

His alienation comes through loud and clear throughout the album, which covers an extraordinary range of musical styles. There isn’t a single clunker in the bunch, either. It’s very hard to pick a favorite song, but I  particularly like the title track with its 16(!) tracks of guitar and chorus of “How does it feel to be you?” she once asked me
I said “I feel like a panther trapped in a Dog’s world”.

Another highlight is Species, with the lines, “I stopped watching the news/It was hurting me so/All that matters beats through/Like plutonium glow.” A relentless and addictive guitar riff underpins his frustration with modern media manipulation.

Panther closes with the epic Icon, which, now that I consider it, is the best track on the album. Okay, I admit it – every dang song on this album is irresistible! With Panther, Pain of Salvation have come up with a masterpiece that perfectly captures our current state of isolation and anxiety. It is an artistic triumph, and one of the best releases of 2020.