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When one is attempting to get into more extreme styles of metal, there are a series of paths which he or she could take. One could delve headfirst into brutal blackened tech death metal with some grindcore influences. Or they could ease themselves slowly. If the latter path is to be taken then there are several essential bands to start out with. Two of these acts are old-era In Flames and Dark Tranquillity. No, neither of these bands are really all that heavy or extreme, but it is a step in that direction. And though I would take The Jester Race over Dark Tranquillity's better albums, In Flames hasn't really done anything worthwhile in seven years (when they released Clayman). So that leaves only Dark Tranquillity as a source for some of the genre's more consistent works. And with their latest album, Fiction, they definitely deliver.
To be honest, Fiction isn't all that different from its predecessor, Character. Both in terms of quality and the actual music, the two albums are very similar, and to consider Fiction a continuation of the exploits found on Character wouldn't be a stretch in any imagination. But what does this Character-Fiction musical hybrid actually sound like? While it is not really all that complicated, as some of metal's more progressive acts, it isn't all that difficult to realize that there are multiple dimensions to the music. Songs like Nothing to No One and Inside the Particle display this characteristic, incorporating both ferocious, aggressive overtones along with a softer, more soothing atmosphere. Other songs, such as Misery's Crown for example, focus more on the sombre, heartfelt aspects of the band's writing. To accomplish such a sound, Dark Tranquillity taps into the talents of guitarists Niklas Sundin and Martin Henriksson for the dark, relentless riffing which for the most part compliments Martin Brandstrom's spacey, electronic work. The result is quite interesting and rather superb, as it catches the listener's attention and does not let it go for, well, the entirety of the 45 minute recording. Despite sounding similar to the band's past works, Fiction also manages to sound fresh and new, which is hardly a negative characteristic.
So, so far I've done nothing but praise Dark Tranquillity for their efforts on the new album. Yet, while a 85 is definitely a strong score, Fiction contains certain elements which prevent me from rating it higher. Though while one can go listen to it for the first time and love it instantly, the album still somewhat takes awhile to truly appreciate. None of the songs really stand out and grab you by the neck upon the first few listens. The aforementioned Nothing to No One along with perhaps Focus Shift should definitely impress first time listeners (of the band or the album), but it's difficult to immediately pick one particular track which is catchy and memorable right off the bat. Another issue that Fiction sometimes displays is the lack of individuality (for lack of better terms) between each track. It sounds as though Dark Tranquillity was resting on its laurels, as many a song has similar structure and, well, sound as another. Now, the famous quote which reads "if it ain't broke, don’t fix it," may ring true, as I did mention Fiction sounding fresh and interesting, but a little more variance wouldn't have hurt the album. All and all, these are just minor qualms and do not really distort my views of the album, but I feel if they were improved upon, that Fiction could be a better album.
Overall, Dark Tranquillity's latest album, Fiction, does not really explore any new territory. Fans of the band (especially Character) will love it. Detractors (especially of Character) will hate it. All is right in the world. Ultimately, I feel that Fiction is a quite enjoyable, worthwhile collection of music and definitely an album to listen to if you want to get your feet wet with some of the more extreme metal genres. Perhaps one of the metal's stronger releases this year, Dark Tranquillity's eighth full length album is definitely an interesting album to check out.
(Originally written fro Sputnikmusic)