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Dark Tranquillity is without a shadow of a doubt the best band to come out of the much disparaged Gothenburg melodic death scene. The Gallery is an undisputed classic, whether you happen to like the album or not there is no denying the fact that it is a landmark release in the genre. To me it's among the best (or maybe even the best) melodic death album ever released. Character, released by Dark Tranquillity in 2005, comes very close too. That is not to say that everything they've come up with is solid gold by default, far from it. For example, The Mind's I and Haven aren't close as enthralling as what they can and have achieved. Still, even if most of their albums are not particularly amazing, they don't have any truly awful releases either and always manage to produce at least a few entertaining moments. This put together with the fact that they change their sound on every album makes every album release something to look forward to.
After the very aggressive Character, Dark Tranquillity have chosen to take a step back and mellow out a little. Fiction is basically something of a mix between the highly melodic, keyboard-driven Haven and the easily accessible, song-oriented Damage Done, yet it is much more atmospheric than either of those albums. Songs like ”Icipher” and ”Inside the Particle Storm” are perfect examples of this. The production kind of blends everything together into something that could almost be called a wall-of-sound, making it quite hard to distinguish some elements of the music, with one element rising over the rest to gather the attention, usually in tandem with the vocals which are the obvious main attraction in the music. One example is the way the piano melody accentuated by Stanne's growls take prominence over the nondescript and uninteresting mess during the choruses. In this case it creates a lovely atmosphere but it isn't the case with all the songs. How annoying it gets varies from time to time, and depends on both how much is going on and of what quality the ”element of interest” is. Usually the simplicity is quite pleasing, but offers very little musically as the other instruments are overshadowed. Not that Dark Tranquillity are or have ever been a ”technical” band to begin with.
The first track ”Nothing To No One” is a very good example of what Fiction has to offer. It starts off with a mid-paced pompous riff that along with the drumming has an almost symphonic feel to it and grabs the listener immediately. Upon hearing this the first time you'd think what follows is just as awesome but it becomes evident that the ideas end here and they repeat the same theme over the course of the song. Still not bad, but not stunning either. Same goes for ”The Lesser Faith” and ”Blind At Heart”. The genuinely bad songs are ”Empty Me”, which has nothing to offer after the nice atmospheric pieces ”Icipher” and ”Inside the Particle Storm” that are quite similiar to it, only done better, and ”Misery's Crown” which reintroduces clean vocals we haven't heard since Haven and ends up sounding not only horribly out of place, but also terribly boring. Not everything is bad though, ”Terminus (Where Death Is Most Alive)” with its insanely catchy keyboards (reminiscent of ”Senses Tied” from their previous outing) is nothing short of being one of the great Dark Tranquillity tracks along with ”The Mundane And The Magic” which is easily the best closer they've done in a long time. This time even the clean vocals work well, both Stanne's and the guest female vocalist's.
Bottom line: great melodies, great vocals, and at times great atmosphere somewhat flattened by a bit tired songwriting effort. Though they are far into their career, Character proved that they are still capable of reinventing themselves and producing great material. But Fiction is not Character. It isn't even Damage Done, and providing the band will keep making music it will go down in the annals of metal as a work of lesser importance, just like ”The Mind's I” and ”Haven” before it. Still, like those two albums, it has some value to offer and though it is not an essential purchase it will be enjoyed by any fan of the band. It has it's moments and also shows that even though the rest of the Gothenburg scene has sold out and the genre is filled with interchangeable worthless bands and copycats they still stand tall making albums worth listening to.