Review Kristoffer Gildenlöw – Empty – by John Wenlock-Smith

This review is for the new, fifth, solo release from ex Pain Of Salvation man, Kristoffer Gildenlöw, and follows on from ‘Dust’ (2012), ‘Rain’ (2016) and the pandemic releases ‘Homebound‘ (2020) and ‘Let Me Be A Ghost’ (2021), a poignant exploration of depression. ‘Empty’ takes a different tack and, whilst not a concept album as such, it does, however, have common themes and threads throughout its sixty minute duration.

After departing from Pain Of Salvation, Kristoffer spent time working and touring with Neal Morse, moved to the Netherlands from Sweden and became a highly sought after session musician. He also spent time as a part of Kayak, appearing on two of the band’s albums and has done sessions for the likes of Lana Lane and others.

Kristoffer says of this album, “I don’t write concept albums in the traditional sense, with characters stories  and dialogue, ‘Empty’ is a sceptic and cynical look at humans and humanity, viewed from three different perspectives. The personal view as humans against humans, as humanity as a phenomenon on a global scale and as a species inhabiting this pale blue dot in space, looked at by the creator who has its doubts about his creation. It is quite a deep and possibly challenging theme that the album pursues.”

The album begins with Time To Turn The Page, which has echoes of both Dire Straits ( for the guitar sounds) and Pink Floyd. The song breaks out into a more expansive soundscape with drums and bass adding to the rhythm. There’s a fine solo with some fine wah-wah effects and it is all rather stirring before the song quietens down once more as it draws to a conclusion, an excellent opening track. End Of The Road features a great violin motif, the song pulses along in a rather downbeat manner and has a good chorus with great vocals. The sound is actually very organic and quite different to what you expect. Harbinger of Sorrow has a persistent piano melody rippling throughout and also has a very solid bass line punctuating the rhythm. As the track comes to a close it takes a harder tone with lots of suppressed power awaiting the chance to explode, which it does not actually do. He’s Not Me is next and, once again, we find the Straits/Floyd influences apparent. This song has lots of restrained emotions, you want it to explode, however, in taking the route less travelled and obvious, this graceful song is instilled with much dignity and strength. It has a great guitar break and slide guitar which, when coupled with the swarming broody keyboard textures, puts you firmly in Floydian territory!

Black And White is hinged on a solid bass line, with a medium tempo, and great guitar fills. A fine guitar solo enlivens proceedings significantly and shows that this album is definitely a slow burner that will creep up on you and overawe you with its beauty and restraint. Down We Go is one of the albums two longer pieces, again, the spacey sound will be very familiar to many, shades of Pink Floyd again, perfectly recreated and reimagined with a tone right out of the ‘Wish You Were Here’ era. This is an excellent track with lots going on and a great sound, it’s all really Impressive with another emotive guitar break towards the end. To me, the best track on the album so far, magnificent even. Turn It All Around is up next, the first in a run of tracks that are all shorter, but no less interesting musically. This one has some interesting orchestral embellishments, violin playing pizzicato sections for example, and some guitar fills sound great in amidst everything else. Means To An End has more piano and moody, yet expressive, vocals. There’s good bass here again that carries the song along well. It has a melancholic air to it but a great guitar break certainly helps move the track forward.

Beautiful Decay sees the piano takes centre stage along with the fretless bass and another earnest heartfelt vocal from Kristoffer is pleasing to the ear. It’s a brief but entertaining track, as is The Brittle Man which is hinged on counterpoint Bass and violin lines, playing in harmony until a piano enters the fray and carries a similar melody. Saturated is the albums penultimate track and the Roger Waters influence is clear, especially in the vocals. Indeed, in the overall soundscape, this great sounding track could be the best unreleased Pink Floyd song you’ve never heard. Yes, it is that good! The album’s final song is also the longest and the title track, Empty, which imagines the creator looking at the earth and wondering was it worth it? One for the theologians amongst us to ponder, no doubt. There’s a pulsating timbre, akin to a heartbeat, recurring throughout and more moody, expansive soundscapes. Again, it’s quite a melancholic track with an emotional vocal from Kristoffer as he voices the creators doubt so eloquently and with such depth of feeling. As he sings, you can hear his raw anguish, the latter part of the song then has a heavier, yet no less epic, guitar solo that plays out in a Comfortably Numb style, with similar tone and feeling. It’s most impressively done and is a blinder of a solo to conclude the album.

Overall this is a real grower of an album and one that needs your effort to get the most out of it. It is an investment that will pay big dividends to the listener though, as within its tracks lies much crafting and skill to creating memorable songs and soundscapes. I have very much enjoyed this excellent release and feel that many listeners will find much to appreciate herein.

Released 8th February, 2024.

Order from bandcamp here:

Empty | Kristoffer Gildenlöw (