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After 2007’s very impressive Fiction, Dark Tranquillity seemed to have reached a culmination of the modern sound that they had adopted ever since 2002’s equally solid Damage Done. This sound revolves around a very well-produced, keyboard-based and extremely catchy variation of the traditional melodic death metal they had been playing since their beginnings. They were basically on top of the world with that sound, and had to find a way to adapt it for the next chapter of their existence: We Are The Void. And, I’m afraid to say, We Are The Void is a major letdown as an album, with too much filler and too much inconsistency. That said, the album has a core of five godly tracks which redeem it from being a complete trainwreck to being a strategically enjoyable album.
On the surface, this album is deceptively similar to its predecessor. Pretty much the same elements are there, but their arrangement is what causes most problems. The guitar playing is essentially the same, with the exception of a somewhat greater number of solos involved, which unfortunately seem pretty out-of-place on the album due to the simple fact that they’re not compatible with the new Dark Tranquillity sound: the guitar playing sometimes comes out at the forefront of the sound with relatively technical riffs and solos but without the songwriting context to make them seem good. It’s like the band decided to add some more technical stuff to make a more “metal” album without adapting the whole structure to the changes. And that’s what we get in pretty much all of the weaker tracks: the keyboards are neglected for more traditional metal instruments, which would be fine with most bands but new Dark Tranquillity lives and breathes keyboards; it’s the only thing, along with Mikael’s vocals, that makes the band truly unique.
The result is an utterly dry and misplaced sound on many tracks, including the first two: Shadow in Our Blood and Dream Oblivion, which sound like parodies of previous aggressive tracks from around the Character era. The choice of production does little to help here, with everything being tuned quite low. The title track is perhaps the greatest offender, in that it’s the most aggressive track here, and should be good, but isn’t because it sounds generic as hell. The keyboards are almost left out and some simplistic chugging riffs drive the music, with disastrous results. The drumming is competent throughout the album, but often contributes to that feeling of extreme dryness in the sound that plagues the more fast-paced tracks.
That was the bad part. However, there’s fortunately also a good part: the five consecutive godly tracks, starting with the epic The Fatalist and culminating with the sublime Her Silent Language. The very first seconds of The Fatalist are a sign of things to come: beautiful piano-imitating keyboard strokes that are a perfect sound to accompany the rest of the song, turning an otherwise ordinary track into a masterpiece. This sound culminates in the extremely epic and memorable chorus, where Mikael’s harshest of harsh vocals really work well to create a contrast with the soft, very melodic keyboard lines. This is the missing element that ruins the other songs and that makes these five incredibly good. This is the element that makes Dark Tranquillity what they are today, love it or hate it, and they lose the uniqueness of their sound without it! Similar patterns are at work on the following triad of songs, making each one of them excellent, if not necessarily that different from one another.
The last song in this streak of excellence is Her Silent Language, and it’s basically the album’s ballad. Continuing where Misery’s Crown left of, it greatly improves upon it. Mikael’s clean vocals here are simply perfect, creating one of the most powerful atmospheres when contrasted with the harsh vocals of the chorus; the keyboard lines work to seal the deal of what is undoubtedly the best Dark Tranquillity ballad and probably the best track on this album (The Grandest Accusation is close). Even the solo here is good, not suffering from the delusions of technical grandeur that others (Shadows in Our Blood) seem to have. It works perfectly with the rest of the song’s elements, notably the omnipresent keyboards.
Even the keyboards aren’t used perfectly, however, as the disappointing Arkhangelsk reveals: it begins with a wonderful keyboard line that promises another great song, but then loses itself in a mess of harsh yells and a go-nowhere structure. This song just tries to be extremely heavy while being slow and it kind of fails. Surface the Infinite is another attempt at making a song like the good part mentioned above, but the guitars are slightly misused here, resulting in a decent but not great track (the solo is good though). The pace is a bit too slow for what it tries to accomplish and seems a bit plodding. The same can be said of Iridium, which tries to be very epic but just crashes and burns as a nearly seven-minute bore fest that pretty much sounds alike from beginning to end.
We Are The Void could have been such a powerful album, but it’s plagued by massive amounts of filler and so many incoherent ideas that it turned out to be the band’s weakest in at least a decade. However, at the core it has five tracks which represent the very best of modern Dark Tranquillity, so no fan of the era can simply ignore this. What could have been a perfect EP has been turned into a mediocre album.
Things seem to be getting a little bit complicated. As a Dark Tranquillity fan, I usually get somewhat frustrated while reviewing underwhelming releases by these guys. After “Fiction”, many fans (including myself) probably thought (or hoped) the Swedish sextet would once again try to reinvent their sound, but alas, it didn’t happen. “We are The Void”, their 2010 release, is strange album that takes some time to fully appreciate. First, let’s go through the bad aspects of their most recent output.
At first listen, it may sound like a slightly more hollow-sounding version of ‘Character’, but the fault should not fall entirely in the band’s hands. The production is similar to Fiction’s; thin-sounding and kind of sterile, probably made to augment the natural metallic sound of the B-tuned guitars. For those who are still not familiar with such tuning, well, it’s low. Low enough to force newcomer bassist Daniel Antonsson to play almost nothing but boring root notes (and at a very low volume), lest the whole thing become and unbearable mush of growly, bottom-end sounds. I’m aware that after “The Mind’s I”, this band kind of forced the bass guitar into playing a weaker role, but I expected things would be different with the new bassist. Unfortunately, I was mistaken.
Sundin and Henriksson do their thing once again as they’ve been doing for the past decade. They play Gothenburg riffs (sometimes interspaced with tremolo riffing), some vaguely thrash-sounding passages, some Maiden melodies and that’s pretty much it. Anders’ drumming is still competent, but it lacks flair and variation. It’s like he’s playing because he needs to, and not because he’s enjoying every minute of what’s being played. I don’t know if I’m asking too much, but the man is a good drummer and I wish he could show more excitement or variation.
Martin attempts to mix the styles he used in ‘Character’ (more inspired by electronic music) and ‘Fiction’ (more organic, classical) to varying degrees of success, and Mikael’s vocals – by far my favorite aspect of this band – seem to be showing signs of weakness. While still not bad, his voice is far from the great performance showcased on Damage Done, Character and Fiction; also, distortion effects are being used at some parts to augment an aggression his natural technique seems to be unable to sustain any further, which is sad for a singer that is usually pointed as one of the best of this subgenre. Clean vocals are also back, which fortunately is a plus because Mikael has a beautiful tone.
However, despite this lengthy rant, “We Are the Void” still has enough redeeming values to please Dark Tranquillity fans. While “Fiction” received some flak for its overall lack of interesting lead guitar parts, WATV makes up for it by having both guitarists play varied and interesting solos in almost every song; of course its no Tipton and Downing, but its good for what its worth.
Opener “Shadow in our Blood” begins with an ominous (yet unnecessarily distorted) bass line that segues into your standard Gothenburg fare (Or did you expect anything different?). I kinda dig the little scale descent at 0:57, the solo is cool enough (should be a tad longer, in my opinion) and the chorus is acceptable. This first song somewhat represents what the album means to me: it’s good and very well-played, but it’s not a graceful atmospheric rocker like "The Lesser Faith" nor it grabs you by the balls like "The New Build".
Dark Tranquillity is a band that simply cannot be led to run on autopilot or set a standard and stay in it forever. This band’s entire career is based on the fact that they always found a way to reinvent their sound; THIS is what makes them so special. What I see here is stock-standard DT fare, strong and competent, but not interesting enough. There’s no suspense, there’s no "Oh, what the hell they’re going to do next?" (Like we’ve experienced on Projector, for an example), it’s just "Riff one, riff two, Atmospheric/Solo break, Chorus, rearrange everything and ok guys, next song!" This is not the Dark Tranquillity I’ve come to respect and admire.
Of course, however, this album is not devoid of good ideas and some spark of interesting songwriting. “The Fatalist”, for an example, is a very strong song with a great verse and powerful, fist-pumping chorus that will become a live staple in no time, and “Surface the Infinite” gets the ‘best chorus’ prize here. Listen to the beautiful melody underlying it and try not to sing along. Also, this song features Stanne’s best performance on the album, check out how he briefly returns to his “Damage Done” roars at 3:06.
“Arkhangelsk” and “Iridium” are odd songs focused on atmosphere. The first one tries a little bit too much to be a successor to “Inside the Particle Storm”, probably due to its gloomy, dark nature. Thumbs up to Stanne here, the man sounds like a doomsayer on crack and it works wonderfully. The latter is slightly more boring but once again benefits from Mikael’s riveting, spine-tingling vocals and a good chorus.
Another reviewer noted a resemblance between “Her Silent Language” and Fiction’s “Misery’s Crown”, and I agree. Both follow a very similar structure and have a poppish feeling, especially with those lyrics. Could be a much greater song, but it’s dragged down by an overly simplistic build-up, despite its relaxing lead work and Mikael’s great cleans.
However, the best song is undoubtedly ‘I Am The Void’. Holy shit, if the whole album was like this I would be going nuts. It just grabs you and doesn’t let go until the very last note !
Beginning with an attention-grabbing thrash riff, it then goes into this album’s most interesting Gothenburg riff/Tremolo transition and all of a sudden Sundin and Henriksson remember how to make an interesting staccato section again; being rhythmically significant and highlighted by the keyboard work, it doesn’t become a throbbing mess. “I am the call, I speak inside of you!” Stanne says with a more subdued and sinister growl on the chorus. After the second chorus, the staccato riff comes back briefly and offers a little suspense, then greeting us with an excellent and very well placed solo section, and then it thought “Ok, now they’re going into one of those boring electronic, guitar-less breaks and it will completely crack the song’s flow” only to have the thrash riff come back suddenly and punch me in the face. Now WHY can’t they write more songs like that? This is true Dark Tranquillity, and not boring, overly keyboard-driven stuff like “At the Point of Ignition”.
While it may seem that I hated this album, it is not the case. I still hold much respect for these Swedes and I just hope they can come back with a more interesting output next time. Dark Tranquillity must realize the fact that they’re loved not just because of their near-flawless chops, but also because of their soul and inventive character. This group is capable of renewing its sound like few others can, so it is sad when such a great skill is not put to good use.
Optimistically speaking, a lackluster but good album is still a good album, unless of course they decide to sit down and keep writing the same thing over and over again, which will erase any positive outlook even from the most diehard fans. Let’s all hope for the best.
Highlights; "I Am The Void", "The Fatalist", "Surface the Infinite", the chorus and solo section to "In My Absence".
Among with In Flames and At the Gates, Dark Tranquillity is one of the founders of the Gothenburg death metal scene. Their 9th album, “We Are the Void”, got me excited for I feel this will sound as good as their last album three years ago, “Fiction”, although a very melodic album, the band has managed to use the melodic elements for the better. Will this album live up to its expectations?
The musicianship, first of all, is what you’ve expected: very professional. It’s no surprise for these guys have already made 8 full-length albums prior to this one and because of their fame nowadays it’s not a surprise that the production is polished, making the bass silent. The music has a dark and a very melancholic atmosphere, although this album is what you will call a “Fiction Pt. II”. The vocals, which are raspier than the average melodic death vocals, sound very graceful indeed. The guitars and the keyboards sound like the ones on “Fiction”, but more melodic.
“Fatalist” is the first good song here in the vein of “Fiction”. Although the chorus is somewhat annoying, it makes it up for the atmosphere. “At the Point of Ignition” is one melancholic song with a very melancholic atmosphere that is bound to keep you from boredom. “Her Silent Language” is the album’s ballad, again with clean vocals. The singing performance on this song adds more melancholy to the song. “Arkhangelsk” has a good build-up of its very dark atmosphere, albeit the weird title. “I Am the Void” is the only aggressive song in the album that reminds me of “The Gallery”, but still manages to keep the album’s melancholy by slowing down during the chorus. “Iridium” being the last song, suits to end the album for being more melancholic than the rest of the songs.
The album’s problem lies on two things alone: first, as I’ve told you earlier, being “Fiction Pt. II”. Even from the very first time you hear this album, you’ll notice that this album has little, if not none, difference compared to “Fiction”. And second, this album is too radio-friendly. All the songs here have the keyboards as the main instrument. Well, this is death metal, only melodic, so basically you’ll need the force and the power that the guitar gives. Although it’s not bad to let the keyboards be the main instrument on the chorus or some other part, the band should know that too much keyboards is bad, especially on a death metal record.
Despite the negatives, this is still a very solid release nonetheless. Dark Tranquillity is indeed a band excellent at delivering you melancholic songs to your mind, ever. Just get this one if you like “Fiction”.
Originally made for http://mystifymyserie.blogspot.com
Perplexion. Total perplexion.
My first exposure to Dark Tranquility was way back in 1996 with the Enter Suicidal Angels EP and I thought it was brilliant, thereby leading me to The Gallery, The Mind’s I, and Skydancer, all of which I found equally good. When I hear the term “melodic death metal” I think of some emo kids in the mall playing two chords and screeching into microphones at ear-splitting volume. It’s sad but true. DT had once owned that particular subgenre and kept it somewhat pure and unsullied, but I’m still not sure what to make of We Are the Void to be perfectly honest. It’s a good album to listen to, but I would think that aside from the vocal delivery the “melodic death” tag no longer applies here. My only fair comparison is Metallica’s Load: it’s a fine album in and of itself, but not a Metallica record, plain and simple. I think the same goes for We Are the Void. I’m sorry to say this is as close to mallcore music as one can get without flopping one’s hair into only one eye.
On the surface it appears that DT has progressed, yes, but there’s progression and then there’s the foregoing of your own self, which has happened here. As I say, the album sounds pretty good for some “groove metal” that is somewhat enjoyable and well-crafted within its parameters, but as far as a Dark Tranquility CD it’s short of that former acceleration and flexibility that made them so good once upon a time.
The songs are well-structured, nicely played, and abound with somewhat memorable, albeit transparent melodies. Still, it’s very difficult to render this album high praise simply because the transition from one sound to another is almost too drastic. If not for the vocals a couple of the tracks actually sound radio-friendly, even power metal with heavy keyboards and melodies more akin to Nightwish or Rhapsody than the band that once issued “Zodijackyl Light.” I must admit the keys on this album utterly killed me! They are far too prevalent and I keep imagining power metal bands all over the place, a very unpleasant occurrence for me.
I hasten to use the term pedestrian as I seem to use the word a bit when describing something not up to par with a band’s ability or past achievements, but this release is so commercially-geared it’s almost saddening. The track “Her Silent Language” sounds like a bad Bauhaus-meets-extreme-vocals hybrid to be taken seriously. In my opinion it reeks of a go-with-the-flow mentality, one that should never have been realized considering the band’s past successes. The closest track to the old feel is “I Am the Void,” which manages to blast the ears like a sledgehammer, but right as you’re getting into the feel of Dark Tranquility the way they deserve to be heralded the keyboards come in and dismantle the aggressive emotional knot just as quickly.
While musically brilliant in its own way, We Are the Void spans too far an emptiness to be called a simple void. The leap here is more like an infinity journey that doesn’t fare well for the long haul.
(Originally written for http://www.metalpsalter.com)
Twenty years into a band’s career, it may become increasingly hard to come out with fresh and innovative music. Still, Dark Tranquillity somehow always managed to. The mainstream metal market seems to be oversaturated with bands milking their tried and true formula forever. DT has, on the contrary, always managed to evolve, experiment and be original, while being instantly recognisable in every way – something that many bands promise, but very few manage to pull off. Ever since they went big, somewhere around 2002, they’ve put out consistently fantastic albums – I couldn’t personally say which one in their newer output is my favourite, since there was literally no weak moment or wrong note to be found on any of them. However, 2007’s “Fiction” left everyone in doubt; the album itself was close to perfection, but everyone knew that it was almost the same thing the third time around and that the band would do itself no good if they were to release another album in the same vein.
Yet they did exactly that, and it shows. “We Are The Void” could easily be called “Fiction II”. It’s different in some respects, yes, there are new elements in the mix, but it doesn’t maintain the, admittedly incredibly high, level of quality set by the band’s previous output. The problem isn’t in the album being a bit formulaic – Dark Tranquillity came up with the formula and they’re the only ones to date who pull it off that well. No, it’s creativity that seems to be lacking here a bit. The first thing that becomes obvious is that it was Martin Brändström’s keyboards that play the main role here. He’s excelled in that ever since he joined the band in 2000, no doubt about that, but keyboards were usually the supplement to DT’s sound, never the main instrument. Hell, the first four tracks on “Fiction” are a perfect testament to that. But for whatever reason, guitarists Sundin and Henriksson played a secondary role this time around, which seems to have reflected on the album’s sound as well, as the guitars aren’t as harsh and hard-hitting as we’re all used to. The album flows well, seems well thought out, the production is perfect and everything is in its place; it’s simply plagued by the same problems as the last AmonAmarth was, for example – lack of originality and the overall feeling that the album was recorded more because it was time for another record than because of creativity reaching critical mass. A welcome refreshment came in form of clean vocals, which are more present on this release than before, although far from the vocal abundance of “Projector”. Mikael’s growls are as good as ever, although they sound a bit “overprocessed” at times.
All in all, this album is a hell of a strong one and has a fair share of classics-to-be, such as “The Fatalist”, “Her Silent Language” (easily one of the best Dark Tranquillity songs ever) or “The Grandest Accusation”. Still, it doesn’t live up to the enormous amount of hype preceding it and probably won’t reach the status the previous three albums did. Still, if the band needs to “mellow out” a little and take a break in order to recollect and rediscover the energy, I can’t really condemn that decision. As long as they gather their forces properly before the next studio session.
(originally written for http://www.metal-sound.net)
I went through a period of a few months where I ate, breathed and lived Dark Tranquillity, pretty much because of Character. On a very immediate and visceral level, the combination of Iron Maiden derived melodic leads, driving verse riffs and death metal vocals was an absolute winner. Just the ticket. Fiction was a mixed bag. With We Are The Void it may well have come time for me, not without regret, to sign off as a fan of this band.
This thing suffers from the same curse as its predecessor, which is the band's tendency to make all their choruses essentially the same: a repetitive, plinking keyboard line over throbbing guitars and usually the same speech pattern used by Stanne. The feeling that, no matter where the song goes or what it does, it will always end up at the same point, can inspire a claustrophobic, trapped fear in the listener, who frantically skips songs only to return, inevitably, to the same warbling synth melodies. By the time you get to 'At The Point of Ignition' and it starts again, you realize you're in the wrong place for excitement or tension.
If you took all these keyboard bits out of We Are The Void, would it be half the length and exciting as fuck? Half the length, yes at least, exciting perhaps not. The album shamelessly recycles several bits of songs from Fiction, and raises the question how the band could, in good conscience, leave a studio session satisfied they had created a song worthy of being featured on their first album in three heavily promoted years. 'Dream Oblivion' sounds like it could be filler for Damage Done; agreeable between great songs like 'Hours Passed in Exile' and 'Single Part of Two' but hardly strong enough to carry an album. 'Her Silent Language' is an attempt at a rewrite of 'Misery's Crown' but is nowhere near as catchy or engaging. For some reason, Mikael Stanne has largely toned down from his full-throttle roar of the past to something sounding inexplicably like Angela Gossow.
The main draw with Character and forays into back catalogue selections like Damage Done and stuff, was the skill of the guitarists. Everything was heavy, high-velocity and really damn catchy. Again, it was immediate. Simple pleasures. This one suffers from a bit of laziness on the part of Niklas Sundin and Martin Henriksson. The riffs and melodies simply revisit old Dark Tranquillity terrain - 'In My Absence' is like a jigsaw of riffs cut from Character - and where things have changed, they've changed for the worse. 'Dream Oblivion' has some hideous chug-riffing in it, for example. 'Shadow in Our Blood' has the speed, it has tight riffs, but sounds very mechanical, failing to tap any energy or passion in either the musician or the listener.
In all fairness to Dark Tranquillity, the whole album sounds extremely mature and is very well executed. The title track and to a lesser extent 'Surface The Infinite' are examples of what the whole album should be: piledriving, hyperactive bursts of adrenalin with furious, dramatic riffs, throaty growls, a flamboyantly fret-scaling and elaborate guitar solo and concussive drumming with some blastbeats. The former is as compact as the faster cuts on The Mind's I, as heavy as Character and a great bit of metal despite the minimal presence of the keyboards staining it; they are felt more strongly on the latter song mentioned. The break just half way through 'The Fatalist' it must be said is extremely sweet. Meanwhile 'Arkhangelsk' is an interesting, if rather bland, experiment in the dark and 'Borgiresque, as well as harking to the ambiences of Haven.
I have nothing against Dark Tranquillity. I like them. Because of the enjoyment their music has given me in the past, I am predisposed to like them very much. But an obliged-sounding album of repetition and tail-chasing, as tightly performed and mature-sounding as it might be, shouldn't really be interesting to anyone but the people whose first experience with the band is this album. We Are The Void doesn't differentiate itself from past Dark Tranquillity releases except by a drop in quality, and unfortunately, in terms of other Swedish exports, Dark Tranquillity are now more of an Ikea than a Kopparberg.
I really feel that Dark Tranquillity peaked with their 2002 album Damage Done, which was basically flawless, each track loaded with good hooks, and an excellent fusion of the bands keyboard-heavy atmosphere, driving inspirational guitar lines and Stanne's heavy (if not brutal) delivery. It more than compensated for the half-mediocre albums the band had been releasing like Projector or Haven. Since that time, Dark Tranquillity have remade Damage Done in 2005 and 2007, calling it Character and then Fiction. Granted, the riffs were not always exactly the same, and the production was arguably superior, but just listen through the chugging and the tempos of the tracks in general and it becomes clear that the magic of Damage Done was the formula that the band wanted to relive.
Here, eight years after the fact, we have the bands 9th album, We Are the Void, and once again, I am reminded very closely of Damage Done. Stanne's vocals seem to have a blacker edge to them, more of a vicious rasp which I actually don't think even borders on improvement. The band still experiments a little with the writing, but most of the album does feel as if you've already heard it. That being said, there are about 3-4 tracks on this which do stand out pretty far, amidst a crowd of filler that feels like it was already perfected earlier in the previous decade.
We Are the Void feels as much modern as the past few releases, opening with the booming bass and synth-driven mystique of "Shadows in Our Blood", which has a few decent thrashing melodic death rhythms and acceptable lead work, but doesn't feel all that remarkable. "Dream Oblivion" has a huge groove hook not unlike something Soilwork would have written during their 2000-2003 period, with a bouncy bridge over which the proggy electro keys strafe. "The Fatalist" has some resonant electric piano strikes over a generic chug, and then a melodic pick me up riff which isn't far from Damage Done, though the synth line there gives it an enhanced atmosphere. "In My Absence" is the first track on the album which I felt compelled to listen more than once, with a great chorus and some nice charging segments that shift into breakdowns.
And that's the story here: you go through a couple of filler-feeling tracks to get at the meat of the album. "The Grandest Accusation" and "At the Point of Ignition" went straight in one ear, and out the other, but "Her Silent Language" is fairly poignant and memorable through its goth vocals and gorgeous melodic mute pickings. Of course, if you don't like a mix of clean and melodeath vocals, stay clear. "Arkhangelsk" borders on symphonic black metal, not unlike Dimmu Borgir or Moonspell, but it's not all that great. "I Am the Void" is another of the album's strongest tracks, with a rousing rhythmic pulse that veers between dense thrash and layered synthesizer atmosphere. "Surface the Infinite" is similar if less interesting, but the closing track "Iridium" is possibly the best on the entire record, with a massive wall of ringing pianos and a highly melancholic riff sequence.
It's a fairly good album, and I'd expect no less from a veteran band such as this, but it just doesn't have that level of songwriting which evokes any desire to play it through in its entirety. If you think Character and Fiction are the be all end all of this band's catalog, then I can't imagine you'd find this disappointing. Nor did I, since I haven't exactly built any expectations around the band in years. There are a few songs here I'd certainly incorporate into an iPod playlist of the band's material, but the rest simply feel too average to revisit.
Highlights: In My Absence, Her Silent Language, I Am the Void, Iridium