Since 1989 Dark Tranquility have been pushing at the boundaries of melodic death metal. Like fellow Century Media artists Arch Enemy, they have a rich heritage and a powerful fan base which has helped to ensure that the band remain of consistently high quality in their output over the years.
The first thing that becomes apparent upon listening to ‘We are the void’ (due for release on March 1st, 2010) is that the electronics have moved more conspicuously into the foreground and Mikael Stanne seems to have been taking notes from Angela Gossow’s throat ripping intensity as his vocals here are all delivered as if by a man possessed. However, despite the outward changes the cold beating heart of the band remains the same and the guitars (courtesy of the diabolical duo of Sunndin and Henrikkson) remain as razor sharp as ever, with blistering lead runs permeating the intensely heavy songs. First track ‘Shadow in our blood’ is, thus, like a vicious slap in the face, all pummelling drums and screamed vocals, while ‘Dream oblivion’ wouldn’t sound out of place on the recent Arch Enemy album were it not for the industrial sounding keyboards propelling the whole thing in a slight Samael direction. However, while Samael let the electronics eat into their sound too much, Dark Tranquility have balanced the whole thing to perfection maintaining all the power of the band while employing the electronic touches as an embellishment to the main, adding a new dimension to their already powerful sound. ‘The fatalist’ begins ominously, with a sound reminiscent of a beefed up ‘one second’ (Paradise Lost) before lurching into thrash territory with tight drums and harmonised solos kicking the keyboards to the side for a brutal rampage through your senses. ‘In my absence’ has a frightening groove which is guaranteed to see every head in the mosh pit banging, and a sense of dynamics which prevents the whole thing from becoming a one-dimensional blur of speed and technical prowess.
‘The grandest accusation’ is something of an oddity as it has more than a touch of goth-lite nuisances Evanessence about it, with its down-tuned stop-start riff and piano led melody, but the maxed out vocals prevent the whole thing from stepping sideways into pop territory and it’s closer (in spirit rather than sound) to Cradle of filth’s poppier outings such as ‘nymphetamine fix’ where melody and emotion are used comfortably by a band who no longer have any need to prove their credentials to carping purists and have the confidence to express themselves in their own way. The clean vocals and harmonised guitars around the half way mark add a touch of class to this hybrid ballad and it creates a wonderful contrast to the stupendous heaviness found elsewhere on the disc. Speaking of which, ‘at the point of ignition’ hammers in with all the force of a sledgehammer and all the melody in the world can’t blunt the force of the vicious guitars and the furious drum assault found within. ‘Her silent language’ sees the piano leading off the melody again and clean vocals lending the whole thing a dark Sisters of mercy feel. “Why do I see her wearing nothing but the dark?” croons Mikael, before the death metal growls provide the answer. It’s a powerful track with an awesome lead and seductive melody. ‘Arkhangelsk’ has more than a touch of Paradise Lost about its introduction but it once again slips away from familiar territory into much heavier pastures which are almost Dimmu Borgir in places. It’s one of the heaviest tracks on the album and it is powerful stuff even as the melody burrows into your skull. The title track,. Meanwhile, is a straight up rocker, all thrash drumming and frenetic riffing which cleans the sonic palette nicely after the richness of the previous tracks. ‘Surface the infinite’ continues in a similar vein, with both tracks providing instant fixes of pure metal thanks to their uncluttered arrangements. Final track ‘Iridium’ arrives far too quickly, with its creepy opening chords and clean vocals giving way to a hailstorm of pure metal fury for a suitably epic finale.
Let’s face it, Dark Tranquility were never going to pass off their fans with a weak album, but here they have surpassed expectations to create a heavy, urgent masterpiece that has groove and depth by the skip full. As an album it benefits from repeated listens to tease out the nuances and to truly appreciate the flourishes that these excellent musicians have placed in their work. Still leading the melodic death metal crowd (with, perhaps, only Arch Enemy keeping pace with them), DT have produced a remarkable, sonically crushing album that not only sits grandly amongst their back catalogue but which, in many ways, eclipses it. A furious assault on the senses that gets better with every listen this is thoroughly recommended.