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Forward Momentum - 85%

mjollnir, April 5th, 2017

Dark Tranquillity are one of my favorite bands for a multitude of reasons. I think one reason is because they seem to be able to experiment with other sounds without forgetting their roots. As one of the pioneers of the Gothernburg sound, along with In Flames and At The gates, they helped create the explosive sub-genre melodic death metal. We all know where In Flames ended up and At The Gates are still hanging on but it’s Dark Tranquillity that remains on the top of the heap. The reason why is because they have a strong songwriting unit and even though they may stray away from what one might consider a true melodic death metal sound, they have a strength in being able to create catchy songs.

With 1999’s Projector, vocalist Mikael Stanne began to experiment with clean vocals while the band added more keyboards to the songs to provide more atmosphere and melody. This seemed to be a temporary thing since Damage Done and it’s flawless follow up, Character, were heavier with little to no clean vocals and the keys played less of a role. I still consider the latter to be a melodic death metal masterpiece. Then with We Are The Void it seemed like they were going back to that Projector era sound that seemed to push a lot of fans away. What were they thinking? With Atoma, it has become apparent what they were thinking. It took a few tries but it seems that they were able to mix the best of what they have done throughout their career into a sound to create an album of great songs.

I think this album will still divide because it’s not the return of Character, nor is it a complete transition to the Projector/Haven era. Instead it’s a mix of of riffs, keys, clean and death metal vocals, and great soloing. I actually wish that they included more guitar solos because when they do add them they are well done and add another layer to the songs. The album opener, “Encircled,” is a prime example of how they mix great riffing with a strong keyboard atmosphere. There are no clean vocals here and it’s possibly the heaviest song on the album. “Forward Momentum” is another song that seems to have that “FreeCard” vibe. It has some nice riffs, a really nice solo and the cleaner parts are really well done. I think this song is the defining Dark Tranquillity sound for where they are in their career.

We Are the Void and it’s follow up, Construct, were decent albums but were lacking a lot. I even defended the latter because it seemed apparent to me what the band was attempting, they just missed the mark a bit. Atoma is a much more solid album. Even the weakest songs on this album have enough substance to make them interesting. “Merciless Fate” is not a bad song, it just could have been much better if it were a bit more coherent. It has some great moments but seems to plod along in places. “Faithless By Deafult” is another song that does not stand up to the better moments on this album but it’s still a good song.

At this point in their career, Dark Tranquillity have nothing to prove to anyone. They have their legions of fans for a reason. They were one of the trailblazers and they are still on top. These guys will continue to create great new music because it’s who they are. Am I biased because I’m a fan? Maybe, but great metal can not be denied.

The Elitist Metalhead

Wasting Away on the Merry-Go-Round of Meh - 30%

blackearth, December 22nd, 2016

I’ve ignored Dark Tranquillity for the last 15 years. I have not listened to them since 1999’s Projector album, which marked the first semblance of the shift in their sound away from the original Gothenberg melodic death metal they pioneered along with In Flames & At the Gates back in the early-90s. You remember this style, right? Aggressive, speeding riffs and drums, juxtaposed with well-timed melodic passages, all paved with harsh vocals that border on black metal shrieks. On Projector, things started to slow and become more accessible. Clean vocals, acoustic guitar passages and piano were added to the chaos. And while Projector was by no means a bad album, this period found Dark Tranquillity surrounded by a myriad of imitators, which by association, watered-down the genre and led to listener fatigue due to more of the same. Thus my diversion from this band and the genre as a whole.

So, seven albums later in 2016 has anything changed? Yes, but not for the better. Only 4 songs into the album, a distinct formula emerges. Soft keyboard intro followed by a heavy guitar riff with harsh vocals, then a bridge with that main riff slowed down and overlaid with the soft melody. Repeat for 4 minutes each song. It’s almost like they are trying to make a synth-wave/metal mashup but without any good synth-wave. A few guitar riffs here and there are actually pretty good (see “Forward Momentum,”) but the arrangements of the songs give them little impact. A lyric in “Faithless by Default” goes “we’ve lost our way,” and I’m sitting here like, “…and knowing is half the battle.”

I would think a more accessible hard rock sound & production as found on this album would warrant more clean-singing, like it does on the title track. However, many songs lean heavily on the harsh growls. Dark Tranquillity seem to be trying to be more accessible but still extreme at the same time. Maybe I’m just too far removed from this style of music, but I don’t understand why this blend of sounds is pleasing. I suppose it must be for quite a few people since this band still exists and continues to be a live draw, but I just cannot get excited about this album.

Toward the end of Atoma is a track named “Merciless Fate.” Don’t get excited. It sound nothing like Merciless or Mercyful Fate. Just more of the same on this twelve track merry-go-round of ‘meh.’ Lyrics from the last track actually sum up the album better than I can in this review:

Here we are doing nothing
Being nothing
We are wasting away

Originally posted on

Dark Tranquillity - Atoma - 60%

Opus_Oculto, December 18th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Century Media Records

As a longtime Dark Tranquillity fan, I can’t help but be concerned with the future of this once amazing band. Atoma is the eleventh studio album of the Swedish melodeath masters and even though the band does not seem to be getting out of shape, this new full-length just looks like “more of the same”. I mean, the album was not intended to be a continuation of Construct, but as Construct it lacks a lot of musical elements that were the trademark of the band’s previous releases. Atoma is way too soft. The riffs are too soft. Vocals are boring. Lyrics are just okay. This is something unacceptable for a band that helped to create melodic death metal.

First of all, the presence of keyboards and synthesizers are a constant in Atoma. It wouldn't be a bad thing if they were accompanied by the amazing guitar riffs and melodies that Sundin and Cia have always been able to create, but after several spins on this album, riffs and melodies just seem to be forgettable. The synthesizers alone give a goth-like vibe to the songs that makes them sound like some kind of post-dream pop metal. This album really lacks some amazing guitar melodies that were the strong point of all of the band’s most successful albums.

Atoma also lacks aggressiveness. It is still a melodic death metal album, but it does not have the fury or even the pace of a death metal album. Some tracks like “The Pitiless”, “When The World Screams” and “Encircled” still have that energy and atmosphere which resemble Character or Damage Done (and they are the highlights of the album), but the other ones are just average melodic death metal. Also, Stanne’s clean vocals were never so unnecessary. They are even annoying. Dark Tranquillity made the risky decision to put clean vocals already in the first tracks and simply made them the down point of the album. If they had just skipped the clean vocals, this album would be much more enjoyable as a whole.

Nevertheless, Atoma is not a bad album at all. For a band that’s been almost 30 years on the road, they still have the same heart and passion for composing and playing like in the glorious old days, but this album sounds too soft for what we're used to hearing from these guys. Their songwriting is still amazing, but from the beginning to the end, Atoma simply looks like a continuation of Construct, only a little more fast and better produced. A good choice for new fans, not so much for the old fans.

Originally written for

Depressive gothic rock rejuvenates the veterans - 80%

kluseba, November 9th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, 2CD, Century Media Records (Limited edition, Mediabook)

I have listened to several Dark Tranquillity records and I have seen them in concert twice with other more interesting bands so far and my impression was that the band almost always sounds the same. The Gothenburg melodic death metal pioneers offer numerous mid-tempo or moderately up-tempo tracks songs around four minutes dominated by melancholic melodies and singer Mikael Stanne’s unusually hoarse and almost whispered growls with occasional brooding clean vocal parts. The only release I have listened to so far that was a little bit more ambitious, eclectic and intense was the band’s debut Skydancer twenty-three years ago with a certain Anders Fridén on vocals. It’s not a surprise that I have seen Dark Tranquillity playing in small metal pubs with a few hundred fans while In Flames still fills arenas with several thousands of supporters.

While Dark Tranquillity sticks to its same old trademarks on the new output ‘’Atoma’’, this release is a definite improvement over the last few studio efforts and a true career highlight. Especially the longing clean vocals are executed very well and used more dominantly. They give several tracks a depressive alternative rock or even gothic rock touch that isn’t a far call from bands such as Katatonia or even Placebo. The clean vocals work quite well in contrast to the more desperate and sluggish growls in the numbing ‘’Atoma’’ or the melodic ‘’Forward Momentum’’ that evoke a depressive, longing and mysterious atmosphere that dominates the entire album.

There are three tunes that manage to stick out a little bit on the regular version of this release. The opener ‘’Encircled’’ has more urgency in its angry and fast verses while the melodies in the chorus are epic and sluggish and almost recalling Amorphis. ‘’Force of Hand’’ is rather the opposite and has a rather slow, numbing and hypnotizing touch supported by carefully employed cold electronic influences. This track reminds me a little bit of what In Flames did twelve years earlier on their album Soundtrack to Your Escape. Another highlight is the emotional and melodic ‘’Clearing Skies’’ that sounds almost hopeful compared to the rest of the album despite the rather dark lyrics. The dreamy, mysterious and sluggish instrumental middle part fits perfectly.

The biggest surprise comes along with the bonus tracks on a separate disc. These songs don’t feature any melodic death metal elements and offer haunting and profound depressive rock instead. These slow tracks are entirely dominated by airy electronic sounds and fragile clean vocals. This style reminds me of the more sluggish tunes of German gothic metal institution Crematory minus the growls. I can understand why the band put these tracks on a different disc because these tracks almost sound as if they had been recorded by a different group but I believe that these two tracks could have added some diversity to the album if they had been at different spots in between the twelve regular tracks. Melodic death metal purists will despise these two songs but those who have a weakness for depressive alternative or gothic rock will see these two tunes as highlights of the album.

In the end, Dark Tranquillity’s new record is much better than I would have expected. It has a more gripping atmosphere than the predecessors and it’s easier to distinguish several tracks on this output thanks to small but efficient differences. My personal highlights are the two bonus tracks ‘’The Absolute’’ and ‘’Time Out of Place’’ where the veterans offer something haunting, intense and original that some fans will adore while others might find it forgettable. If I had to buy another album besides the outstanding debut record Skydancer, I would definitely go for this one here.

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.