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Too much, indeed... - 42%

robotiq, January 14th, 2020

Tastes change when you get older. In 1995 I liked white chocolate and Dark Tranquillity. I remember hearing “Punish My Heaven” on a cover CD for Terrorizer magazine. I was blown away by everything that was going on, all that audacious melody (but with harsh vocals making it sound 'edgy' enough for my teenage brain). I was already into At the Gates (particularly "Terminal Spirit Disease"), so Dark Tranquillity seemed like a logical step. I rushed out and bought "The Gallery" as soon as it was released. I loved it and played it constantly.

My taste back in 1995 was informed by the music I’d heard up to that point. This was mainly thrash and death metal. I was a narrow-minded teenager and just wanted to hear distortion and growling. I didn't have much understanding of any music beyond metal. I had no appreciation of aesthetics and atmosphere. I wanted to build my CD collection with all the latest metal bands and their flashy tricks. Dark Tranquillity would fit the bill because they were extreme enough and had an interesting capacity for melody. In some respects, I was right, because "The Gallery" became the yardstick for the Gothenburg melodic death metal genre (which conquered the globe).

Nowadays I find this album unlistenable. Everything I loved about it back then (the melody, the rasping vocals, the clean production, the singalong sections, the pseudo-emotional parts) are the most grating, annoying things about it. I remember liking "The Dividing Line" (with its incredibly lightweight solo at 2:24). I remember singing along to the plodding title track (with woefully mismatched female vocals). I remember playing "Lethe" time and time again, indulging in its overwrought glory. I've not listened to this album for 20 years, but I can still remember quite a few riffs and lyrics. There are hooks here.

There are a couple of reasons why I changed my opinion. First, I discovered music beyond metal. Second, I got into Iron Maiden. Back then I barely listened to Maiden because they weren't heavy enough for me. Now I can hear that nearly every Dark Tranquillity’s trick comes from the Maiden handbook. Melody is only a small part of what makes Maiden great, they also have an incredible vocalist, several amazing songwriters and some epic concepts. Forcing Maiden-esque melodies into an 'extreme metal' framework makes little sense because that isn't what makes Maiden appealing. Records like “Storm of the Light’s Bane”, "Slaughter of the Soul” (or even Desultory's "Into Eternity") get away with overt melody because they also retain some intensity. Dark Tranquillity only retain the melody.

I would struggle to call "The Gallery" a 'bad' album. The musicianship is excellent, the bass sounds great, there are some amazing melodies (as you would expect). Dark Tranquillity put a lot of effort into this record. It is a genuine attempt to make music and I don't resent them for pulling the wool over my eyes. “Punish My Heaven” is still an impressive song after all these years, like it or not. The problem is that "The Gallery" lacks perspective. It is the musical equivalent of standing two inches in front of the Mona Lisa and expecting to see a masterpiece. Everything is too close, too present, too bright, too obvious. Just like white chocolate, this will make you sick if you consume too much of it. Unfortunately, 'too much' equates to about 30 seconds for me nowadays.