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Dark Tranquillity > Skydancer > Reviews
Dark Tranquillity - Skydancer

The Dawning - 67%

OzzyApu, April 1st, 2020
Written based on this version: 2013, Digital, Spinefarm Records (Bandcamp, Remastered)

Skydancer is a moment in history. Every song feels like an arcane story being retold. It captured that sense of wonder as the early ‘90s was awash with ideas on the evolution of extreme metal. Dark Tranquillity relied on much of the same trademarks, but their brand of guitar tremolo, frenetic riffing, and beaming melancholic atmosphere put them on a different footing than almost any of their peers at the time. It’s also one of the least death metal albums to come out of an era known for being the golden age of death metal.

Skydancer’s roots are in thrash and death (with some semblance of Swedish black metal), but what propels Dark Tranquillity here is melody influenced by the band’s deep interest in classical music and traditional Swedish folk. However, their approach to writing was a bit convoluted. There’s a disjointedness that turns what should be cohesive songs into sweeping compositions packed with overcompensated riffs, curious arrangement shifts, and other minor elements. All backed by production and (thankfully remastered) mastering that wasn’t geared for metal. Instead of buzzsaws and crunch in the guitars it’s a nebulous, raw clarity. It lacks power behind their music, restricting whatever goals they set out to achieve. This goes beyond just the guitars – it affects the entire experience by making everything sound weak and unrefined. On one hand they failed, but on the other they succeeded.

Dark Tranquillity’s success comes after years of experimenting and developing their craft. Skydancer is not a beginning, but an early chapter after even earlier entries: Enfeebled Earth, Trail of Life Decayed, and A Moonclad Reflection. As much as the band was trying to figure out something new and be innovative every step of the way, they weren’t aimless and incapable of writing good songs. There’s a mystical liveliness to “Crimson Winds” and “My Faeryland Forgotten” that feels evocative, with its forlorn tone trying to balance aggression and beauty through intertwining lead work, pummeling rhythms, and Fridén’s dry, light growls. “A Bolt of Blazing Gold” contains an acoustic build up and an easy pace full of pleasant melodies to make for a relaxing listen. Both the female singing and Stanne’s clean vocals are a bit awkward but don’t detract much overall (both are showcased heavily on the ballad “Through Ebony Archways”). There’s enough going on to keep the music from being too one-dimensional, but also so much that it becomes forgettable at times.

This album was a trial run of sorts to see what worked and what didn’t. It took years to warm up to its charm, which doesn’t make it very appealing from the onset (despite its fantastic cover art as a first impression). By 1993, Dark Tranquillity was still figuring out what they were trying to accomplish. Skydancer is a good album – one whose failings are in its technical faults, overambition and lack of purpose. There was an abundance of riffs and arrangements, especially this early in melodic death, to create and explore. It was new territory, something which the band was at the forefront of. But that didn’t mean they struck gold on their first real effort. Skydancer was a stepping stone in an evolving subgenre. It was a work in progress stemming from years of ideas conceived out of brutality and nurtured into melody. Not to be a landmark for successors, but evidence of something larger than itself coming to fruition. It was the cultured beginnings of a young, eager band that now had something that, with spirited intent and definition, was truly melodic death metal.

Brilliant, exhausting, wayward, overwhelming... - 70%

doomknocker, January 12th, 2015
Written based on this version: 1999, CD, Century Media Records

Before the glut of Gothenburg wannabes, before the "melodicore" bastardization, before the captains of stylistic industry turning high tail and selling out, there was "Skydancer". Before this little doozy came at us, there was really no concept of "melodic death metal". There was just "death metal", and despite its appeal it wasn't for everyone. It was even considered taboo in certain Nordic circles, where bands and musicians found shadow-dwelling corpse-painters sending death threats for even bothering to exist (just ask Euronymous back in the day...). But then, out of the blue, a group of Swedes decided to take the deathly approach, add in Maiden-esque guitar harmonies and folk melodies and, before they knew it, a new branch in the heavy metal tree was slowly growing...

As this was one of the first melodeath albums to come out, one can tell that both the album itself AND the style were works in progress. You could detect some serious black metal influence with this (the drumming, trem. picking, vocal style, atmosphere) versus a more legit death feel, which is rather understandable given the musical climate at the time in ye ol' Scandinavia. But that actually works well in "Skydancer's" favor, where the inherent melodies are more natural and cold in scope. The whole of the album has the ambient feel of a quick jaunt through a wintry wood sans the snow; bleak, dark, chilly and beautiful in its savagery and black cloud overhanging, where the band, as a whole, go about their respective instrumental wares like they were all aflame, with frantic performances and an almost inhuman level of tightness given how wild abandon it all is, as if not playing this fast and insane would lead to their demise. "Spirited" only gets halfway there as a description, and the more into it the listener gets the more tired they'd be trying to keep up. This is easily the musical equivalent of running a marathon, but appreciating every exhausting step until it all comes to a halt and you collapse under the weight of your fatigued legs. It may seem way too much to handle at first, but the pay-off is worth it. But it's not all mind-blowing speed; there are slower, more gentler moments and songs that cut through the hurricane of notes that, in their own right, are just as enjoyable, if a touch rough around the edges and almost sounding like restraints holding the immediacy at bay. These end up adding the most amount of atmosphere to the album, where one could sit a spell beside a deep forest bonfire to warm their bones for a little while before the chase resumes.

On a musical level, I cannot deny the sheer amount of inspiration that flowed from the band at this point in their career. Guitars (electric and acoustic) and bass stay in the respective key but forge paths all their own and only rarely coming together, more often playing off one another rather than with each other. Said guitar parts don't really fall into the power chord trappings for the most part and instead come at the listener from more than eight different directions, literally flying to and fro at high rapidity sometimes too fast to be noticed at first listen, and common song structures were cast asunder in the name of seeing just how much the listener can take in terms of instrumental bludgeoning and spitfire vocal calisthenics of myth and nature helped cultivate that 'forementioned atmosphere. I really couldn't keep count with how many harmonics and riffs just burst from each track after the seventh or so, only to find that I was merely halfway through a track, and each of those successive ideas sounded as grandiose as the ones preceding and following. Goodness me, it was almost too much to handle... But with all that said, the material as a whole doesn't really come off as cohesive compositions and more like off-the-cuff jam sessions the band threw together a day or so prior to recording. In a way it's grand in that nothing is forced or phoned-in; the level of energy in the performance itself speaks higher volumes than the material at hand, but the lack of serious cohesion and riffafterriffafterriffaterriff! arrangement schemes could very well lose the listener and thereby fade into the background. That's not what the work of legends is supposed to do, by gum!

All in all "Skydancer" was choking on potential and an influential nature, but it really felt like it was released before it was ready. Maybe an extra year or two on the burner could have done some real good, but I guess being able to essentially birth a sub-genre single-handedly is worth it in the end...

The Prototype of Melodeath - 79%

PKendall317, November 26th, 2011

The first Dark Tranquillity album I listened to was Fiction, which I greatly enjoyed so I decided to go back in time to their first album, Skydancer.

At first glance, Skydancer reminds me of In Flames' early work, but less refined and less polished. The similarity to In Flames becomes obvious when one checks the lineup and finds that the vocals are performed by Anders Friden, Mikael Stanne performing backing vocals and guitar at this point.

I'd describe Skydancer as being "proto-melodeath." The music, although good, and in the case of "Shadow Duet," great, sounds very experimental, as if they're still attempting to polish and refine their sound. Throughout the entire album the band uses accoustic guitars, clean vocals, and on "A Bolt of Blazing Gold," female vocals. All of these are basically inserted onto a melodeath framework to see how they work together. And for the most part, it all fits together nicely if one ignores the production and seemingly prototypical sound.

Despite this the album does have several highlights. In my opnion the best songs on the album are "Shadow Duet," and "A Bolt of Blazing Gold." "Shadow Duet," is a duet performed by Anders Friden and Mikael Stanne, but if it didn't have the word "duet" in the title, the average listener would just assume its one or the other. The problem is that Friden and Stanne's vocals are too similar to be distinguashable from one another. On "A Bolt of Blazing Gold," the band experiments with using backing female vocals,. These are pleasing to the ear, but they also seem somewhat out of place during the portions ofhe song that they're featured on.

Musically, there's nothing really new or innovating other than the bands style. The guitars play both accoustic melodies and more fast paced almost early death/thrash metal sounding riffs. The drums don't do anything special either. The main problem with the bands playing at this point in their career is that they haven't really defined themselves yet, they're still trying to decide what kind of style they're going to play.

Skydancer is a decent album but it's nothing special. It's fun to listen to especially if you want to hear what the band sounded like in their early days.

Dark Tranquillity - Skydancer - 75%

TheShrineofDeath, June 7th, 2011

Dark Tranquillity is one of those bands that were pioneers of so-called Gothenburg sound. The original idea was to combine death metal with melodies. Dark Tranquillity has released great albums during their career and at the same time made some changes in their sound on every album. Now it's time to find out what did this band sound on their first record.

Skydancer is energetic and melodic death metal. The catchy riffs bring the melodic side of the album as Anders Fridén's vocals and some aggressive drumming bring the brutal side. The tracks are quite straightforward and the band seems to master their own style. There are also some experimental elements like female vocals and acoustic guitars. To me, they create more depth in the music. Sometimes the tracks are fast-driven but luckily they sometimes slow down for the atmospheric parts. The biggest experiments the band had have left on their demos. The material can't be compared to their modern material, but there are still some nice tracks. The album misses the last touch and the climatic parts. The production is quite weak. It would have been better if the sounds were sharper.

Skydancer shows a band full of energy. There are things that would have been made a better way, like the production and sound, but this album was still a good start for this band. The members at least had fine musicianship so it isn't a wonder how they have evolved to this day. The thing that also raises the value of this release is that this album must have sounded much better when it was originally released.

The beginnings of melodeath - 81%

differer, June 16th, 2009

Sometimes it’s funny to listen to an old debut album. Nowadays, a band that’s clearly still developing doesn’t often get a chance to put out a full-length album, but things were very different in the early nineties. What makes Dark Tranquillity a special case among all the bands that started out back then, is the fact that they managed to start on a high note. ‘Skydancer’ is their best album to date, and not only that; it’s also one of the best melodic death metal albums ever.

However, this does by no means imply that the album is flawless. There is a certain awkwardness in the music that could perhaps be explained away – on grounds of early stages and all that – had it not grown worse on some of their later releases. For one thing, the songwriting is most of the time patchy and illogical (as opposed to unique or innovative), and not fluent in any conventional way. The songs feel like rambling – there are often simply too many different things in one song. If you can’t take my word for it, listen to ‘Shadow Duet’ which, incidentally, is probably the best track this album has to offer. When the structures are more straightforward and a song sticks to one distinguishable mood, a different type of awkwardness appears – namely, that the melodies don’t seem to “go” anywhere. It still seems patchy, in the sense that the parts don’t work together very well, even if they are good individually (see: ‘In Tears Bereaved’). There’s also often a hasty feel in the music, like the band can’t leave well enough alone but keep on cramming notes into melodies, beats into drum patterns and words into vocal lines just for the sake of having more of them there (see: ‘Nightfall by the Shore of Time’).

As many probably know, the music mainly consists of tremolo-picked two-guitar melodies that clearly have their foundation in Iron Maiden et al., but there is also a technical quality to this that makes me think a band like Atheist could count as an influence too. The palm-muted riffage typical for most death metal is very seldom heard and the compositions are anything but "brutal"; I would rather say that there is a sophisticated and thought-out feel to this, focusing more on musicianship than heaviness per se. What is also notable is that some of the tracks seem like "theme and variations" instead of following any common structures. For example, 'A Bolt of Blazing Gold', shifting from clean plucking to distorted riffage and back again, has essentially the same melodic form throughout the song. When executed well, the guitar parts are phenomenal in their melodic interplay, but only very rarely does this last for an entire song. 'My Faeryland Forgotten' (which even features some conventional riffs) and 'Alone' (a slower, almost peaceful track) are the most consistent ones. Sometimes the twin guitars can sound a bit thin, as both occasionally venture to higher tones, but these parts are salvaged by the bass. I'm not a huge fan of the bassist's style - he often plays much like a third guitarist - but at least the instrument takes up a lot of (otherwise empty) space where appropriate, leaving the guitars free to explore their harmony lines.

What I don't like at all on this album are the drums and vocals. The drumming sounds stiff, in a word. The beats are unimaginative and don't often fit the music too well, making the rhythm feel forced and unnatural.
There are times when I wish the drums would keep quiet altogether, in particular some of the clean parts suffer from the rigid beating; 'Through Ebony Archways' is a perfect example of this. As for the singing, there's simply too much of it. Or, better said, too much lyrics - they have their role in making the music feel hasty. Some great instrumental work is buried under a mass of growls (and those are not really spectacular, either). What's more, I honestly don't see a point in having two vocalists, as Fridén and Stanne sound just about exactly the same. The clean male voice that appears on two tracks is dreadful and should have been left out completely. The voice is weak and barely in tune, the kind that makes you wonder if the band knew what they were doing. And then there are the lyrics that seriously make me shudder; way too many fancy words and totally obscure metaphors that seem pretentious and make you think they were written with the help of a dictionary.

But, even with all its flaws, I have to say I like ‘Skydancer’. It’s personal, really, since this was one of the albums that introduced me to death metal. (Not that I ever thought of it as death metal; to me this was always more like “melodic metal with harsh vocals”, but the difference is rather slight.) There are parts on the album that still give me the chills. I’ve only started criticizing some sides of the music after becoming a somewhat analytical musician myself, so my complaints are not to be given too much weight – I don’t even do so myself.

For a concluding historical note, it is astonishing to notice how remarkably few obvious similarities this album has with the established styles of the death metal scene of its time, be it Florida, Stockholm or NYC – as we all now know, 'Skydancer' is for its part responsible for creating the "Gothenburg sound". I don't care much for what melodic death metal, the Gothenburg scene, or Dark Tranquillity themselves have later become, but this is an album of undeniable historical significance. It has its flaws, yes, but as a document of early melodeath, it also has its place in the collection of any DM enthusiast.

Skydancer - 95%

L_Hypnos86, September 12th, 2007

This album is a classic. An amazing classic, even if it is often underrated.

The first thing you will notice is the drumming which is powerful and never lacks of originality and technique. The guitars play a heavy and very melodic kind of death metal and sometimes leave place to an acoustic guitar intro or intermezzo (like in "A Bolt of Blazing Gold" and "Through Ebony Archways"). The acoustic guitar never sounds cheesy or out of place, it gives a note of sadness and melancholy, instead, and melts very well within the songs. I can say the same thing for the beautiful female vocals, which also appear in the songs above and sound quite tragic rather than meek.

I suppose the hard point of this album is its complexity. Yes, because even if melodies could sound easy to catch by their own, in fact they get interlaced into each other in a tight frame. The music build is very complex and needs a siege of a few attentive listens to get really into it (or, however, that's how it worked for me). My supposition is also supported by some bad comments I found about this album from people pretending to do a dissection of each song, looking for nice pieces here and there.

This is the best way to kill this album.

Every song is filled with a great variety of melodies and each melody is important for the mood of the song. Usually riffs aren't repeated but they're often subjected to variations and trasportos. You really can't get bored of this music. If DARK TRANQUILLITY had released this album without lyrics, leaving just the istrumental part of each song, this would have been the same great album it actually is.

In fact the best adjective to define this album is baroque. You will hardly find something alike elsewhere.

Even lyrics are elaborated and really hard to follow sometimes. As an example, take the lyrics on "Shadow Duet". In this song Mikael Stanne and Anders Friden play two consciences, residing in each man's mind. They undertake a (vocal) struggle for supremacy giving place at a kind of theatrical piece.

The last song, "Alone", is quite different from the average of the album. Slow death metal melodies and powerful depressive lyrics... a kind of doomdeath song (the strongest track in this album in my opinion).

Finally, the production is the only thing you may dislike, being not raw but neither elegant enough to let the music completely unleash its power.

Gothenburg Classic - 90%

DamnRight, September 7th, 2002

After hearing about the band a couple years ago, I finally decided to check them out. I had heard a bit of Haven and I thought it was pretty good, so I decided I'd start from the beginning and purchase DT's first cd, Skydancer. I was very surprised to find that i was listening to an almost entirely different band. They had alot of the same members they have now, but they have changed greatly since 1993, to the point where they have almost no resemblance to their former sound. Here we have some fast, emotional, and powerful melodic death metal.

The playing on this album is all very tight and melodic, and the drums and bass compliment the guitars very well. The vocals, however, are somewhat strange at first. Anders Friden (now In Flames) is somewhat lacking on this album compared to his work with In Flames. However, the vocals still fit the music fairly well and on some places he does a very competent job. There is a female singer that appears here and there on some of the songs, and it fits in very well. The lyrics are all very poetic and good, even though i don't understand a word of it. Also worth mention are the excellent acoustic guitar parts that come in at very appropriate times, and end up sounding very beutiful.

The album opener "Nightfall by the Shore of Time" is a speedy track with some fast melodic parts. "Crimson Winds" begins with a beutiful duel lead that quickly becomes intense melodic death. My favorite on the album, "A Bolt of Blazing Gold" is next, with a nice acoustic intro that builds into an intensely emotional masterpiece, and ends with another fine acoustic piece. Another of my favorites on the album is "Shadow Duet", with its great melodic riffage and excellent gothenburg screaming duet by Anders and Michael Stanne.

If you are interested in the Gothenburg sound and want something that is more about melody and emotion than headbanging aggression, then I highly suggest you purchase this album. Although I greatly enjoy the latest offerings from DT, they are an almost entirely new band, and this form of Gothenburg style Death Metal is nearly extinct.