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The damage is elsewhere. - 86%

hells_unicorn, December 6th, 2012

It was difficult to avoid noticing the sharp decline in quality material coming out of the older guard of the melodic death metal genre by the time the 2000s had come to be. One need not venture much further than the absence of At The Gates and the detestable studio misfire that was "Reroute To Remain" to see that the big names that pioneered the Gothenburg sound had faltered, save the 3rd part of the triumvirate in Dark Tranquillity. While it could be effectively argued that even said band's best days were behind them by 2002, the album that is "Damage Done" rests pretty comfortably on a higher level than even the album that influenced it most in "Slaughter Of The Soul". It effectively utilizes the same winning formula of catchy melodic hooks, driving thrash riffs and solid rock grooves, and the old fashioned principle of songwriting that less is more that was all over At The Gates' heavily criticized final offering, only it closes the deal more effectively by sticking to the foundational aspects of the style and avoiding too much peripheral detailing.

In essence, this album represents the mirror opposite of what was on the agenda in the early 90s when the style was first starting to take shape, opting for a cohesive, rock solid sound rather than a diffused mixture of technical playing. It is completely removed from the high speed flash and low-fidelity obscurity that marked the early masterworks in the Swedish scene that still had traces of the parallel black metal sound in the mix, coming off as a sound with more in common with traditional heavy/power metal. With this sort of direction comes a high level of accessibility that normal detracts from the core fan base of extreme metal, but it works far better here than with In Flames because Mikael Stanne's vocal work maintains that darker, deeper barking quality drawn from the older Stockholm sound. Even when listening to the near sing-along anthems drenched catchy themes and consonant keyboard lines that are "Monochromatic Stains" and "Format C For Cortex", the character of the album is dark and forbidding due to the werewolf tinged growls covering the foreground.

The downside of an album like this is pretty obvious; whenever the catchy factor is the chief drive of an album, it usually comes at the expense of variety or development of ideas. This is a collection of songs in the same sense that early Saxon might put together a collection of songs, with no songs hitting the 5 minute mark or spending too much time outside of the typical verse/chorus format. This is compensated for with a driving sense of energy and a dense atmosphere, resulting in a set of songs that sate one's hunger for variety through variations in texture and slight change ups in pacing. Certain numbers such as "Final Resistance" and the title song "Damage Done" fire the guns in typical death/thrashing fashion, and while they don't attempt to match the sheer fury of the bulk of "Crowned In Terror", they prove to be formidable in their own right and showcase the interesting duality of melancholy and rage that defines a good Gothenburg album. Even when crossing into lighter territory as on "The Enemy", this album's closest thing to a ballad proves to be rougher and darker than the bulk of In Flames' later 90s work.

The prospective newcomer to melodic death metal will find this to be one of the best entry points, especially if approaching it from a vantage point where little extreme metal has been on the menu beyond the earliest works of Death and Morbid Angel. The amount of commonality that it shares with mainline heavy metal gives it an appeal that would be fit for the arena if it were not for the toneless vocals and dark themes, and at the same time it manages to surprise at a few key points, particularly when the keyboards make a few brief appearances on equal footing with the guitars. But more than anything else, it's the sort of album that will be difficult to get out of one's head once its nestled itself in, and it takes little time for the infectious melodies and smooth atmospherics to overpower the ears once they've started. It may not be death metal in the strict sense of the style, but it kills with a similar degree of mastery.