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Action without movement. - 70%

Diamhea, November 5th, 2016

A fair bit of criticism has been levied against Dark Tranquillity lately, largely due to the cyclical, monotone repetition that has defined their sound ever since Character gloriously raised the bar initially set by Damage Done. The lame attempt at going halfway back to the Projector-era on Construct exposed the band in ways not seen before, taking this half-baked temperament to a new level of pointlessness by committing a grievous artistic sin on par with Children of Bodom's Blooddrunk. Three years later, and right on schedule, Atoma brings us the newest cadre of repackaged odes to a sound perfected over a decade ago. At this point, the best we can hope for is a solid spiritual successor to Character or maybe Fiction. To be frank, that is what we get here more or less, which inherently makes this album superior to Construct.

Atoma feels much more competent than its direct predecessor, and even trumps We Are the Void at points due to the more fleshed-out songwriting and the fact that the band has sifted out virtually all trace of extraneous fluff. One could argue that the material is wholly lacking in soul, and despite the band's wise inclusion of Stanne's brooding, morose cleans at more than one juncture, I can certainly comprehend this criticism. That said, I'm not expecting nor pining for Dark Tranquillity to reinvent the wheel, merely deliver the emotive, poignant melodic death that they have more or less mastered at this point. It feels more sincere than At the Gates latest cash grab and the less said about In Flames' current state of affairs, the better. The isolation, depression and emptiness evoked by the graceful synths and tortured vocals is retained and present in spades. Songs like "Neutrality" feel like decent followups to the straight-laced bangers of earlier albums like "Lost to Apathy" and "Focus Shift." On that same note, however, Stanne has begun recycling vocal lines/cadences to the point of basically plagiarising his old self. The inclusion of the cleans was great, but he needs to work on the lyrics more.

The surging leads contrast and gestate well within the framework set by Sundin's distinct rhythm constructions. The band still falls prey to stock melodeath riffs that just sort of sputter along in the background, and the mix seems to favor the bass and drums more than the guitars as a whole, lending to an unusual sonic palette for Dark Tranquillity. The song structures are more of the same, and invite a fair bit of nuance, which is partially squandered by the dialed-back synths. The band needs more songs like "Terminus (Where Death Is Most Alive)," instead of repeatedly deferring to the grand piano. In isolation, this style works much like it did on earlier songs like "Her Silent Language," but more upfront synths would be appreciated. The production fits these guys' dense, nihilistic volition quite well, feeling darker but not in a forced way like Construct did. This is best felt on the dynamic "The Pitiless."

Obviously, Atoma won't change many a mind out there. Haters will continue to rag on the band for leeching off of past glories, but at least this time it feels like they are aiming for a period that most people remember most fondly. To those intentionally unfamiliar with the band and melodeath in general, all of this is going to sound more or less the same, but those of us who remember Character as the near-masterpiece and watershed moment that triggered a riptide in the melodeath scene pursuant to summoning many imitators, this album feels more than listenable. It adds a handful of good tracks (and a few great) to keep the tour bus wheels rolling and the band motivated enough to continue existing and releasing quality material. You know what, I'm just fine with that.