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Dark Tranquillity > Skydancer > 2013, Digital, Spinefarm Records (Bandcamp, Remastered) > Reviews > OzzyApu
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.