Dark Tranquillity, more well known to many as the last of the Gothenburg big three that anyone gives two hoots about anymore since In Flames decided to release radio-friendly crap and At the Gates stopped making music some 18 years ago. Oddly for a melodic death metal band, they have also managed to fill up their catalogue with very solid enjoyable material; even their transition records "Haven" and "Projector" still contain stellar cuts of music that ranks up there with the 5 pieces strongest work.
2010's "We Are The Void" was an interesting affair for all the wrong reasons. Gone was the strong tremolo riffing and winding melody, instead replaced by gothic keyboards and less interesting song structures, especially in the records first half. While "Iridium" was a chilling piece hearkening back to the bands darker days present upon the masterful "The Gallery" and "The Minds Eye", most of the joy was found in the "Zero Distance" extended play that featured 5 cuts of music removed from the album. Alongside the catchy title track was the brilliant "Out Of Gravity" that sounded more sincere and developed than the whole album save for "Iridium" as well as the brilliant instrumental "Star Of Nothingness". So enter "Construct", described in press releases as the groups most diverse album since "Projector", which became renown for the bands most prominent use of clean vocals and progressive tendencies yet. It was also an excellent disk so many were immediately excited.
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The three tracks that were released before the whole album showed a lot of promise, especially "For Broken Words" which sounds a lot like "Out of Gravity" mixed with one of the stronger songs from the previous effort, "Iridium". Mix with some tremolo picking akin to "The Minds Eye" and even melodic black metal and you begin to get the idea. And while "The Science of Noise" was very much Dark Tranquillity doing what Dark Tranquillity do best, it was a solid song much more reminiscent of "Fiction" than "We Are The Void". "Uniformity" was the most projector sounding song, featuring long, drawn out melodies and a prominent use of clean vocals in the chorus. So all looked good. And then you listen to the album as a whole.
I will start by saying "What Only You Know" is one of the worst songs the band has recorded in a while. It has absolutely no direction and the transitions from light to dark (clean to harsh vocals especially) sound incredibly lumpy. I always liked Stanne when he dropped in some excellent Depeche-Mode vocals in his work but this song sounds incredibly forced. Also, the track placing seems off. While it makes sense to place a song such as "For Broken Words" at the beginning of the record to signal a new path being forged, placing "None Becoming" after "Weight of the End" seems somewhat odd. Because the latter sounds like a much better ending track and because, as far as ending tracks go then "None Becoming" is just not very good. "We Are The Void" had the brilliant "Iridium", "Fiction" had "The Mundane and the Magic" while "Character" closed with "My Negation" which summed up that whole album brilliantly. "None Becoming" does none of this. While far from terrible, it just doesn't fit right with the flow of the album, something more upbeat and dark like "Weight of the End" with its shifting dynamics would have been much more effective.
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When Dark Tranquillity actually play to their strengths and spread their wings however, the result is more than satisfying. "For Broken Words" is incredibly atmospheric and tells the listener almost immediately they are in for something a little bit different. "Apathetic" has blackened choruses not sounding too dissimilar to bands such as Dissection on their final studio outing and a pissed version of "Amon Amarth", while "Endtime Hearts" is probably the strongest song overall. Setting out at a fair pace with an excellent mixing of the sound present on "Character" with the blackened atmosphere that the album possesses, this is Dark Tranquillity at their brooding best.
As far as individual member performances go, then surprise surprise Mikael Stanne's vocals are as strong as ever. On "Endtime Hearts" he combines a full death metal roar with nice mixes of his higher harsh register with sinister whispering in the pre-chorus, while "Uniformity" is one of his stronger showings in clean vocals. Sundin and Henriksson on guitar are much more present than in "We Are The Void", returning to tremolo picking which contributes to the more sinister atmosphere rather well while Anders Jivarp has a strong outing on the drums, slotting into the rythmn section very well. The bass is somewhat non-descript but it was never a focal point in Dark Tranquillity's music anyway so no major qualms. Jens Bogren's mixing is also very good, bringing clarity out in the guitar and vocals while keeping the synth work and bass bubbling away in the background.
Overall, this is a strong album from Dark Tranquillity and is undoubtedly better than their previous effort. It is also more engaging than "Haven" and at times, probably a little better than "Character". But it is far from their best work. ou can clearly tell the effort has been put in and when the record works, it is excellent. But there are just too many bumps in the road, just one or two too many forgettable songs to make this an instant classic. Its not even the best melodic death metal album of the year. Dark Tranquillity fans and In Flames detractors alike will lapse this up and call it truly amazing. For many, this is just another strong outing from a strong band, adding another strong addition to their catalogue.
"Construct" is unleashed on May 27th via Century Media