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'The Gallery': a gathering of pieces of art - 98%

Agonymph, August 14th, 2006

A gallery is a home for art. And 'The Gallery' by Dark Tranquillity is no different. The band is one of the originators of the Gothenburg scene, just like In Flames and At The Gates, but 'The Gallery' is so much more than a downtuned version of Iron Maiden with Death Metal vocals and the occasional blastbeat (in fact, drummer Anders Jivarp hardly does any and when he does, they're used effectively). This album actually displays a unique bland of melodic, progressive Metal and Swedish folklore elements. It's too bad the band never made an album as inventive after this one, but it's better to make one album as breathtakingly wonderful as this one than none at all.

As far as I know, no other Gothenburg band has ever made an album as experimental, as refreshing and above all as good as this one. I don't see any other Gothenburg band do that beautiful bass intro to 'Edenspring', that wonderful piano and acoustic guitar middle part in the same song, the exciting structure of 'The Gallery' or that haunting intro to 'Lethe'. The use of a female vocalist, and not even an operatic one, but a normal voice, is pretty unique too. Sometimes she's slightly off-key, but that hardly gets disturbing. Even Mikael Stanne's grunts don't disturb me, even though I prefer clean vocals. He actually does a few here and there that aren't bad at all! In fact, on the 1999 'Projector' album, also a great and unique album from the Swedes, he does some very decent clean vocals.

But back to 'The Gallery'. The album starts out in a perfect fashion with 'Punish My Heaven', easily the best opening track ever written by any Swedish band. And even though every song on this album is a little different, 'Punish My Heaven' is an adequate example of what you're going to get on the rest of the album: the song has a lot of changes, an incredible shitload of amazing riffs and haunting melodies, with the two guitarists often playing completely different things that should be dissonant, but somehow work so perfectly that the only thing we can speak of is compositorical brilliance. The twin guitars are also much more than just two guitars playing the same line with an interval of a quint, they're really one-of-a-kind!

'Silence, And The Firmament Withdrew' is, despite the fact that its title is the longest on the album, the shortest track on the album, but even within the two and a half minutes it lasts, there is a lot going on. It's actually surprising that the song is midtempo. There are some beautiful guitar interludes throughout the song. Not exactly one of the most striking moments of the album, but not by any means less good.

I've said this before, but I really want to point this out specifically, the bass intro to 'Edenspring' is one of the best moments of sheer beauty I have ever heard. From the moment my ears were first confronted with these notes, I had been hypnotized. After that, the song turns into a beautiful chaos of different riffs and tempo changes, constantly swapping beautiful tranquil parts and heavy, yet melodic parts. Like on a lot of songs on the album, the lead guitar plays a very important role, I kind of have the feeling that the guitars take over the role that clean lead vocals usually have, because there are lead guitars almost all throughout this wonderful song. Another absolute highlight of the song, and of the entire album, is the middle part of the song. There's a beautiful interaction between a piano and the acoustic guitars there, followed by an almost as beautiful twin solo. Sheer brilliance. One of the best songs on an album that was nearly flawless anyway.

'The Dividing Line' is another moment of pure brilliance. Another song full of beautiful lead guitar lines and changes. There are some riffs that are clearly inspired by At The Gates, but then taken to a higher level. I don't know what it is, Niklas Sundin and Fredrik Johansson play them in a different key, which makes the emotion attached to the riffs completely different. Also, like in the previous song, bassist Martin Henriksson makes a stellar appearance. He plays his instrument as if it's not a rhythmic instrument, getting beautiful melodies out of it. It didn't come as a surprise to me that he would take over the guitars two albums after this one.

In the title track of the album, the acoustic guitars play a very important role, which immediately gives the song a Swedish Folk kind of vibe. During the middle part of the song (where the bass once again is quite dominant, yet not disturbing at all), the female singer makes her first appearance. As I've said before, I have the feeling she sometimes sings slightly off-key, but that might also have to do with the fact that I, as a non-Swede, am not used to these Swedish Folk melodies. Nothing stops this song from being one of the best on the album.

'The One Brooding Warning' isn't as memorable as the rest of the songs, but it's still a great song, definitely as good as the rest of the album. It also contains one of the best riffs on the album. If you own the album...it's the riffs that returns the most. Right before the last part of the song, Anders Jivarp does some amazing work on his toms as well.

Up next is probably the least memorable moment of the album for me personally. Not that 'Midway To Infinity' is a bad song, not at all, there are some good riffs and melodies in the song, they just don't stick in your head as well as the rest of the album. Coincidentally enough, it's one of the few songs with blastbeats.

Then we get one of the most memorable moments of the album. 'Lethe' is probably one of the slower songs on the album, it has a doomy, almost desperate atmosphere, partly caused by Mikael Stanne's vocals, which turn this song in a lament to Death. As you might know, Lethe was the river of the dead in Greek mythology. It's funny that Stanne pronounces the title wrong all throughout the song, but that only was a complaint the first time. The intro once again shows Martin Henriksson in optima forma. The atmospheric bass line gets a little help from some very subtle keyboard lines, just subtle enough to not spoil the song. The rest of the song shows remarkably few lead guitars, but that fits the song really well. One of the album's highlights.

'The Emptiness From Which I Fed' is probably the prototype of how well the changes work on this album. There is an enormous load of guitar riffs, in fact, some of the riffs are only played for about two or three seconds and never return again, but that might just be the force of those parts. There are so many surprising changes in this song, that the biggest surprise is that there actually is a chorus in the song. Another surprise is that the song is never going too chaotic, everything flows well and sounds well together.

'Mine Is The Grandeur...' is an acoustic interlude that also has a unique sound, partly due to the percussion in the song, but the melodies are something one-of-a-kind as well, they form the interlude to '...Of Melancholy Burning', just a perfect closer for the album. It sums up everything heard in the past songs, including the female vocals. Not a single bad moment has passed and I just want to put the album on again.

That's where the CD ends, unless if you get the Osmose re-release. That one has a couple of completely useless throw-away bonus tracks. All of them are covers from great bands (excluding Metallica, which isn't a great band at all). I might be a bit biased about covers as I don't like them, but they're really a letdown after such an amazing album. Especially the cover of Iron Maiden's great '22 Acacia Avenue' is a complete rape of the original, the best riff is even taken out of the song! I own that version, because that was the one being sold in the only store that had it, but those covers add absolutely nothing to the original release.

But without those covers, what you get is a near perfect Metal album, which is quite possibly the best album ever to be made by a band from Gothenburg. If you want to listen first, I'd suggest you listen to 'Punish My Heaven', 'Edenspring', 'Lethe' and 'The Emptiness From Which I Fed', but to be honest, this album just belongs in a serious Metal collection.