Style: Melodic Death Metal
Release Date: 20 Nov 2020
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We may well have been witnessing the birth of a new Dark Tranquillity over the last few years but this is the first studio evidence of it. One of the pioneers of the Gothenburg style of melodic death metal, they've kept a relatively consistent line-up over three decades that's just been shaken up. Until 2016, they featured four founder members, with Martin Brändström also a constant ever since they added keyboards in 1999 too. Now it's two and the guitar assault of Niklas Sundin and Martin Henriksson is officially gone.
In its place is a new pairing, one that's been there on stage since 2017 but is now on record too. That's Johan Reinholdz, who replaced Henriksson in 2017, and Christopher Amott, who effectively replaced Sundin around the same time, even though Sundin didn't technically leave until this year. This is the studio debut for both of them as members of Dark Tranquillity and they sound like they've never not been there. Of course, these aren't nobodies. Reinholdz has a substantial discography with a bunch of bands and he's still with Andromeda, Nonexist and Skyfire. Amott, of course, co-founded Arch Enemy with his brother Michael, and Armageddon too.
Now, I haven't kept up with Dark Tranquillity all the way through, but I became a fan back when Sid at Groové Records in Halifax gave me a promo CD of Skydancer in 1993. It isn't merely the fact that there are keyboards here that makes this a much smoother listen than the product of their early years, and Mikael Stanne's clean vocal on In Truth Divided underlines that too, but it's recognisable as the same band and I enjoyed this for many of the same reasons that I did Skydancer. It's just the work of a more mature band, with the raw energy of their early years focused and channelled.
And that's where this may gain or lose fans. It's really hard not to like this album, with every track on it a polished slice of melodic death with fluid guitars, melodies and atmosphere. However, I'd suggest its very likeability isn't just the album's best aspect; it's also its worst. While this may be as accessible as melodic death metal ever gets and that might open up their fanbase to a much broader audience, some older fans may wonder why it's all so safe. Are Dark Tranquillity now the Eagles of melodic death metal?
The songs are all enjoyable, but in a relatively consistent manner. The atmospheres generated in each are very similar. Stanne's harsh vocals are about as smooth as harsh vocals get, as if he's aware that he can't switch entirely to a clean voice and get away with it, so shimmying us towards that by including a clean song in In Truth Divided, alternating between clean and harsh in Remain in the Unknown and softening up his harsh voice everywhere else. The music behind him kind of does the same thing. It's accomplished work but it doesn't want to bludgeon us or push us up against a wall. It's music to put on headphones and enjoy. It's not really music to mosh to any more.
So I wonder where the band are going to go from here. It's worth mentioning that Stanne has quite a melancholy aspect to his voice. It's not there when he's singing harsh but, when he goes clean, like on In Truth Divided, the result is a gothic feel like we might expect in darkwave. And it's that song that's standing out, because it's the only one that tries something different. I liked this album my first time through and I liked it a little more on my second, but I couldn't call out any one song as a highlight, because they all blend together so well. The question is whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. I don't think we're going to know that until we get another album to see where the next changes will be.
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