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The early days of melodeath are a curious phenomenon, largely because they are all but joined at the hip with the death/thrash character of the American pioneers of the style, drawing just as much from images of coldness and darkness as from the cliché themes of gore and insanity. With the advent of acts such as Cannibal Corpse and a few others, the various sub-groups of death metal became more obsessed with the vomit inducing side of the lyrical paradigm, and with it came a much more brutal and barebones approach to the style. But the more spiritual side of the coin stayed a bit closer to the thrash roots of the archetypical founders, at least during the early 90s, and one very clear example of this is the first demo under the Dark Tranquillity name that is “Trail Of Life Decayed”.
While the name of the band had changed, there is still a good amount of commonality between this work and the “Enfeebled Earth” demo under the Septic Broiler moniker. The melodic trappings of the early thrash scene and the largely Teutonic thrash character of the pacing and riff work is still largely present, though dressed up with a larger production that goes even heavier on the reverb, and also introduces some keyboard and acoustic guitar elements to spice up the arrangement. The intro “Midwinter” and the closing seconds of “Void Of Tranquillity” provide much of the atmospheric additives in question, but even during the bone crushing thrash sections of the bulk of these songs, or the blasting madness of Beyond Enlightenment” which ventures outside of the early Death paradigm, the vocal elements hint at a denser, less 80s sounding character that is definitely seeking another level outside of what Kreator had been doing up till this point.
As with the Septic Broiler material, this is hinting at the typical Gothenburg sound that would come later, but is still much closer to the thrash metal character of the likes of Death, in fact, the occasional keyboard chime-ins are fairly reminiscent to some of the material that was found on “Human” at around this time, though the character of the meat and potatoes of these songs hints a bit closer to Nocturnus. Suffice to say, there’s a fair amount going on here, including a rather impressive display of gut wrenching barks and vile mutterings out of Anders Fridén that seem really out of character for him when also considering the bulk of the work he did with In Flames (even and including their monumental achievement with him “The Jester Race”).
It is understandable why some might consider it odd that this demo is readily included amongst Dark Tranquillity’s discography but “Enfeebled Earth”, but actually when given the commonality that this shares with “The Key” and “Soulside Journey”, it’s a good bit closer to their characteristic sound. It’s a subtle distinction, and ultimately this doesn’t quite present the paradigm shift that was going on in the Swedish scene in as blatant of a fashion as what would emerge a couple years later. This is something that could probably be more readily appreciated by death/thrash fans than those who’ve grown accustomed to this style sounding like mid 90s In Flames, but both groups should definitely check it out if they haven’t already.
Behold, the earliest manifestation of Dark Tranquillity under the band name… Dark Tranquillity. This demo is an ode to the thrash and death metal juggernauts at the time, which bands like this and In Flames were mere mice against. There worship comes in the form of unpolished, menacingly evil sacrifices in four tracks.
“Midwinter” is just a keyboard intro with atmosphere up the ass. Make me think of medieval kingdoms, fantasylands, maidens in distress, and early Candlemass album covers. This whoever is rudely awakened by the shift into “Beyond Enlightenment,” which shows no mercy as it tramples the weak in an Atrocity-like fashion. The vocals by Fridén are dull and forced, which is a bad thing. They’re harsh exhales of breath from what I hear, and he’s pretty much rapping, considering he has a hard time keeping up with the fast rhythm. The riffs are also tiring and bland, but the energy is awesome and dark intentions are spot on.
“Vernal Awakening” I find to sound a lot like Sodom, and I swear I’ve heard that riff halfway in the song from somewhere. What I find to stand out the most are the solos here, since Sundin and Stanne never show this sort of liveliness on later albums – those ones have quality, but never spirit like these early ones. The seven-minute monolith “Void Of Tranquillity” carries on Entombed style, with drumming particular brisk and thumping, but the snares sound annoying and sharp.
The really class comes from the leadwork during interludes and solo bridges: adoring classical influences, melodic channels, medieval synths, all coarsely produced to give off that distinct retro sound. If I were to hear this demo back in 1991, I’d give these guys kudos for a pretty enjoyable demo. It isn’t essential to have, but if you are a fan of the band then it’s kind of a treat to check it out and see how they played before they got big.