REVIEW: DARK TRANQUILLITY – “Atoma”
Having come off the back of their highly successful album Construct, Dark Tranquillity faced something which had the potential to tear the band apart. Earlier this year, guitarist and 25 year member of the band Martin Henrikkson told the band that he couldn’t find the passion to continue playing music. But that didn’t stop Dark Tranquillity from pushing forward and writing their 11th opus Atoma. Often cited as an offsider to In Flames and At The Gates as pioneers of the Gothenburg sound, Dark Tranquillity has consistently produced albums at a level which many bands have been unable to maintain over their storied careers. So does Atoma live up to the standard that Dark Tranquillity has prided themselves on for 25 years? You bet your ass it does!
I’m sure this will come as no surprise to fans of Dark Tranquillity, but where Atoma really shines is the way in which its songs almost instantly establish an emotive connection with the listener. From the onset of the album, you get a feel for exactly the mood that Dark Tranquillity wants you to embrace – dark, melancholic and contemplative. Lyrically this album does a great job around questioning the reality of the world that we live in, and musically that rubs off and makes the listener introspectively assess their own self existence in the greater scheme of this world, and it’s this powerful and thought provoking imagery that makes tracks like Encircled, Atoma and Merciless Fate so strong.
The use of these darker undertones has allowed the band to incorporate more diversity among the tracks and adopt a more nuanced approach to their music, particularly on songs like Faithless by Default and Proof of Life while tracks like Encircled take the speed and ferocity that has normally been seen on previous tracks like Cathode Ray Sunshine and engage the listener to the point of whipping up that headbanging frenzy which the band can do so well. Perhaps the most eclectic track on the album, Clearing Skies not only embraces this faster and slower dichotomy that the band uses to great effect, but also the melodic majesty that captures everything that makes this band special. With a quiet interlude piece in the middle, it’s definitely one of the most emotive songs I have heard in recent memory.
Musically this album is perhaps the band’s most complete to date, with the variance in tempo across the tracks adding to the overall atmosphere and ambience the album. This is an album that harkens back towards a more Character, or Fiction sound than those of recent memory, while still retaining the flair, technical precision and intuitiveness that has been a staple across the band’s career to date and Dark Tranquillity has done a great job in that respect. The band really hits a homerun with not only their track placement, but also the musical arrangements of each song, with the inclusion of some soaring guitar work atop methodic bass and drum lines being the main bread and butter for each track. However, Martin Brändström has produced possibly his finest work on Atoma and it is in the keys where most tracks shine.
One of the other greatest highlights on this album, and one which I am sure fans are happy to hear is that vocalist Mikael Stanne has been able to incorporate his cleaner, more softly sung vocal style into many more of the songs than was possible on previous offerings. Using that cleaner singing to a greater and more in depth level than before just brings a whole new element to the band’s sound on this album.
In a year where there are already so many albums vying for the coveted ‘album of the year’ slot, Dark Tranquillity has pulled a wildcard and produced something which is sure to pip a few albums at the post. This album is an instant classic and a timeless reminder that Dark Tranquillity, despite all their setbacks and perils, remain one of the greatest bands ever to have graced the melodic death metal genre.