In this moment, coldness prevails.
Often viewed as a contradiction by many in the broader death metal fan base, melodic death metal has proven a stylistic niche with staying power. Though it can be more accurately understood as having developed out of the refinement of the old Florida death metal sound that occurred in the early 90s via the broader Swedish death metal scene, the prime movers would consist of a trio of bands that would later be dubbed the Gothenburg Three, namely At The Gates, In Flames and Dark Tranquillity. The mixture of older heavy metal influences and common practice melodic and harmonic schemes with several of the extreme metal stylistic tropes exhibited by all three of these bands would shape a broad movement of northern European bands well into the mid-2000s, though their individual prowess in studio output would not manifest equally, as In Flames’ embracement of American hardcore influences and At The Gates’ becoming defunct for more than a decade would leave Dark Tranquillity as the only stylistically consistent representative of the old guard.
Naturally this long-running outfit has gone through its share of lineup changes and a gradual evolution of sound, but compared against much of the scene that they helped to pioneer, Dark Tranquillity is a shining example of stylistic orthodoxy and qualitative consistency. The past few years have seen a number of consequential contributors to the band’s core sound exit the stage, with the particular case of co-founder and longtime lead guitarist Niklas Sundin being the most auspicious. Nevertheless, the release of their 12th studio LP “Moment” has not seen any decline in the quality of their songwriting craft, and a notably upping of the ante in the technical department with the acquisition of former Arch Enemy guitarist Christopher Amott (sometimes known as Amott The Younger given the famed six-string exploits of his old brother Michael in both Carcass and Arch Enemy). Almost equally as consequential as the aforementioned acquisition is that of Johan Reinholdz of Skyfire and Andromeda fame also handling guitar duties, further widening the possibilities within an otherwise by the numbers format.
While one might guess that the new lineup of musicians to enter the fray would result in some sort of progressive-infused romp or a more thrashing, high impact take on the melodeath style, this album ultimately winds up towing the same stylistic line that has been this band’s signature sound since the early 2000s. The most obvious comparison would be to that of 2007’s “Fiction,” an album defined primarily by a dense keyboard atmosphere and semi-frequent employment of a lighter, crooning clean vocal performance out of front man Mikael Stanne, resulting in something that is somewhat comparable to the dreamy sound typical to certain Finnish bands like Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum. However, in contrast to said bands, this is not an extended series of epic length compositions or speed-infused anthems blurring the style’s lines with power metal, but more so a compact and concise collection of somber anthems that place an emphasis on accessibility and familiarity, while putting some nice sugary lead guitar treats on the periphery when Amott and Reinholdz are given a solo slot.
For all of its predictability, this album delivers plenty of infectious anthems that would be sing-along fanfare were most of the world’s population comprised of amateur death metal growlers. The groovy and spacey serenity of opening banger “Phantom Days” starts the sonic journey off on a decidedly strong note, featuring plenty of glistening melodic guitar hooks and a dense atmospheric keyboard backdrop. As things progress, the band’s approach gets a little bit more aggressive with punchy anthems such as “Transient” and the more synthesizer-happy “The Dark Broken”, eventually reaching a respectable roar on the quasi-thrashing cruisers “Identical To None” and “A Drawn Out Exit”. It’s tough to really pick a favorite from the pack, as the whole album flows consistency and even proves highly effective at drawing one’s attention into its cold, melancholy little world when venturing into a sort of Gothic-tinged mode of balladry, such as heard on “Remain In The Unknown” and the more relaxed moments of the riff happy thrasher “Ego Deception”, each featuring prominent clean passages such by Stanne and offering up a stark contrast to the stormy, frostbitten segments surrounding them.
In the grand scheme of Dark Tranquillity’s near 30 year career, this stands as one of the more polished yet also one of the more safe ventures to come out of their arsenal. It doesn’t quite deliver the same level of lasting impact as Fiction, but it proves to be a slight step above most of what came between said album and the present. The contributions of both Amott and Reinholdz on the band’s overall sound is consistently positive, but a tad understated, almost making the listener beg for either one of them to throw in a few technical guitar fills out of turn or getting a bit busier with their melodic hooks. Then again, the gradual way that each song manifests itself and lingers upon each idea is one of this album’s greatest strengths, and the varied vocal performance combined with the chilling tone of the keyboard work does much to keep things interesting. With a greater amount of time and subsequent albums to further hone these two virtuoso players’ contribution to the band’s sound, a new classic to rival this band’s seminal works could lie a couple years down the road.
Released by: Century Media Records
Released Date: November 20th, 2020.
Genre: Melodic Death Metal
- Mikael Stanne / Vocals
- Martin Brändström / Electronics
- Anders Jivarp / Drums
- Johan Reinholdz / Guitars
- Christopher Amott / Guitars
- Anders Iwers / Bass
- Phantom Days
- Identical to None
- The Dark Unbroken
- Remain in the Unknown
- Ego Deception
- A Drawn Out Exit
- Eyes of the World
- Empires Lost to Time
- In Truth Divided
The member of the Gothenburg trio best known for its aversion to risky experimentation and sticking to what works returns with a consistent representation of melodic death metal in all its cold, atmospheric bleakness