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.