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I am quite fond of Dark Tranquillity and wished to rate this higher, as some of their previous outings were consistent and 'tolerable' Gothenburg mainly because of the eerie atmosphere this band has a knack for conveying. The Gallery, for an example, was kind of a fuck up in the ‘heavy riffing’ department due to its way too constant lead guitar, but it sure had some interesting melodies to make up for it, and it was released at a time when they wouldn't overuse keyboards.
Well, that's my problem with this particular album, AND it also happens to be one of its finest assets. Here, Brandstrom's keys are loud and simplistic, but the atmosphere they create is probably the best in this band's career. It's introspective, sorrowful and melancholic without the sugary aspect this genre is known for when employing keyboards, but more on that later, let us talk about some other aspects of this release, shall we?
Unfortunately, the weakest part of “Fiction” is the guitar playing, which is unimaginative and quite bland as the riffs take a backseat to the keyboards. There are some points where these guys almost try to throw some soloing and leads, and some of them work (such as in “Blind at Heart”) but others feel unfinished (“Terminus”), and it feels like a big part of them was cut away for no apparent reason.
It's not a complete waste though, as the intro riff to “Icipher” works really well with the keys and tracks like “The Lesser Faith” and “Nothing to no One” strike me as particularly riff-heavy, even when employing that start-stop bullshit that tends to grate on my nerves after repeated listens.
Vocally, this album is also not bad. I do enjoy Stanne’s vocals because the man just never failed me. I mean, his voice was always good, it didn’t go from tolerable to shit like Angela Gossow’s or from shit to a complete goddamn disaster like Anders Friden’s. This man is probably one of the most focused and enjoyable Gothenburg vocalists and is also a damn fine lyricist too. Also, his clean baritone vocals are back and they don’t sound bad, fortunately. Nell Sigland (of Theatre of Tragedy fame) also makes a cameo in the last track trading some vocals with him, and the result is also quite fun, but like some other good ideas in here, it sounds slightly half-baked.
The lyrics are the good ol’ Dark Tranquillity fare, featuring obscure metaphors and abstract themes, but this time they apparently chose a slightly more direct way of writing, as evidenced in ‘Misery’s Crown’ and ‘Icipher’. And as far as drumming goes, Anders Jivarp delivers a sharp performance, as always. As for the production, it is slightly thin but not raw black metal-like thin. I found it very fitting to the kind of icy sensations they were trying to convey here.
There are some highlights, such as this album’s best track, the great “The Lesser Faith”, which blends the keyboards seamlessly with the guitar tracks and is an absolute winner in terms of atmosphere. Other good tracks include “Empty Me” with its beautiful chorus and ending, and the aforementioned “Icipher” for its somewhat cold and introspective feeling.
Definitely this is a step up from the overly electronic style of keyboards found in Character, but they really need to work a little bit more on their riffing, because there is a lot of talent to be found here, and it can surely lead to an amazing album if they can focus it more on the guitars. Recommended for its interesting lyrics, and overall tasteful melodies.
Choice cuts: The Lesser Faith, Icipher, Focus Shift, Empty Me
(Oh, and the album also features some bonus tracks which are not bad, though.)