Review Summary: Hands down one of the finest Melodic Death Metal albums ever released.
Sometimes in life there are things which change the way you look at the world, change the way you think, talk, and feel about your existence. There are things so revolutionary, things so ground breaking to you and your world that everything you seemed to know about it before gets re-written. Very rarely does a simple thing such as a piece of music do this, but there are those albums released which can shock you, and make you think that the band which wrote that album knows everything about you, knows what you think about things, what your specific emotions are and what you makes you unique as a human being. This is the kind of thing that I feel now as I listen to Dark Tranquillity's masterpiece, "The Gallery". It is plain and simply one of the best metal albums ever made, and has climbed the ladder to become my favorite album of all time. To think that I didn't even intend to buy this CD seems ludicrous to me now. It also makes me wonder, what if the CD store did have what I was looking for in stock, would I have ever even glanced at this? Would I ever know what lies beyond the opener, "Punish My Heaven" (the only track I had heard from this CD prior to buying it)? This was back when I was a moderate DT fan, had 2 or 3 of their CD's, but back then I enjoyed more metalcore than anything, a genre which I now think of as mediocre at best. But nevertheless, here I am, "The Gallery" at my side as I write this, glad that I was graced with the work of these 5 rather little known (at the time) Swedes.
For those of you who haven't read my previous review of this, I am re-doing it, because I honestly feel that I did not give this album the credit and respect it deserves, and I really didn't go into much detail on each of the tracks. Back in 1995, Dark Tranquillity played a rather unknown sub-genre of metal, one known as Melodic Death Metal, taking the harsh vocals of typical death metal and wrapping them around harmonized guitar leads and very melodic solos, creating an experience quite unlike anything anybody has heard before. At this time in their careers, Dark Tranquillity also did not feature a keyboardist, making the music much more raw sounding, and taking away that sometimes cheesy electronic effect and replacing it with simple, pure, and totally awesome riffing. This is also the first full length album after vocalist Anders Friden departed from the band to join fellow Melodic Death band In Flames as their vocalist. So, stepping away from his former role at guitar, Mikael Stanne now took over the microphone as the band's vocalist, marking a significant point in the band's history. This album is, along with In Flames' 1995 release "The Jester Race", the turning point for Melodic Death, coining the phrase "The Gothenburg Sound", and gaining worldwide success.
"Punish My Heaven" is undoubtedly a Dark Tranquillity classic. It opens with a very fast, very melodic, in your face riff. This is the riff which got me to even think about buying this CD, and I along with almost every other person who has heard this song just sit in awe at how DT could come up with riffs like this so early in their career. Harmonized guitars pick along, creating a musical heaven as the song unwinds. Stanne's vocals come in, raspy and desperate, with so much emotion in it, especially in the unforgettable chorus, with another amazing riff backing the vocals. The pace in this song is unrelenting, it seems like one giant solo with some vocals thrown on top. The drumming of Anders Jivarp is spot on and fast, keeping the tempo up very well. I hadn't expected the mix of harsh vocals and highly technical and melodic guitar leads which caught on like no other album had done to me before. With this kind of guitar playing, you actually enjoy that the keyboards are absent, because it just makes the experience so much more surreal and unrefined. This CD contains what I think is Stanne's finest vocal performance, as his emotion is unmatched by anything the band has ever done before, except maybe by the final track on "Of Chaos And Eternal Night", entitled "Alone '94". There are some piano notes put in at the end, which close the best opener on any Dark Tranquillity CD.
"Silence, And The Firmament Withdrew" is a shorter song, 2 minutes less than "Punish My Heaven". This song is very emotional and well thought out, they convey a lot in the short duration of this song. The riff is simple but effective, taking you to another world altogether. This song drags you in, making you want to listen to more of it. The vocals are the highlight on this track, being slower and more depressing, with some whispered lines also thrown in. "Edenspring" begins slowly, with cymbals and a slow guitar chord getting you ready for the rest of the song. The other guitar and the rest of the instruments pick up the pace, before Stanne unleashes a drawn out scream, then gets right into the verses. This is a good point to mention the lyrics, and how they set DT apart from other Melodic Death bands. DT writes some of the most dark (but not in a Black Metal type way) lyrics I've ever read, being very sad and giving the music an atmosphere which sets it apart from anything I've heard. Awesome writing on behalf of the band. The piano comes back in the middle, but its not overbearing or too electronic sounding, just a straight forward piano. The guitars go into a cool solo, before the vocals kick back in.
The next track, "The Dividing Line" is a great song. It begins with a SWEET riff, which is hard to describe, but its slower paced. The chorus is great, and that riff from the beginning comes back into play here, before another one takes over. The riff changing on this CD is flawless, you never really notice and point out "Hey, this riff sounds much different than the last one". The blend in their changes seamlessly, but throw in enough variety to keep you occupied and never bored. It's really amazing to listen to this album, and to listen to it in one sitting is quite the experience, capturing all the mood changes and the seemingly endless guitar riffs and song variations. The end of this song is fast and desperate, and at this point you are really into this song, before it ends quite abruptly, and a change in pace is quickly introduced. "The Galley" floods the speakers with another simple chord like the one I described in "Edenspring" before the rest of the instruments come in with another catchy riff. Acoustic guitars are incorporated into the song, and what really sets it apart, and the thing which caught me off guard, were the female vocals in the middle. Never ever had I heard female vocals used in a metal album, let alone ones that I love to listen to. The singer sings in a wonderful voice, and it really is depressing and is one of the most emotional sections of this entire CD, with Stanne whispering after this happens, before going into a sweet solo, one of the longest solos on the CD at that. This is the way to write and execute a title track, and it deserves the name it's given in every way. This song really is a gallery of everything Dark Tranquillity can put forth.
"The One Brooding Warning" picks up the mood a bit from the last track, again blending seamlessly as the transition takes place. With some cool guitars at the beginning before the vocals come in. Stanne's vocals are fast and go along with the beat, making the vocals seem like an instrument. Classic Dark Tranquillity right here, a great song, one of those ones which you really enjoy even thought there is no blazing solo or an ultra-melodic riff, just the atmosphere of this song and the way it's performed just pulls you in. "Midway Through Infinity" is one of the fastest paced songs on "The Gallery" with a not too melodic intro, but gets right to the vocals, with Stanne showing off his unique, raspy death voice.
"Lethe" is really a special track to me. This song here is one of those songs, like I described before, where it seems like the band knew you when they wrote it. I can relate with every line of every verse in this song, and I will go ahead and say this is Stanne's best vocal performance on any song, ever. He throws his emotion into this one, making this at the top of my list of songs I want to see live. The song is full of thought out lyrics about an unattainable love, though he does not really come out and say what it is, Stanne puts out great lines such as "You are my blade and my rope... you are my lethe.... you are my all", and its lines like this which show how emotionally charged this song is. It may take a certain person to appreciate this song, but if you do it will come to represent your life, if not it may just be another song. Not for me though, and this whole story of a track begins with Acoustic guitars picking away a somber chord, setting the tone as one of sadness and hate. Just close your eyes here and take it all in, knowing the feelings that simply this single chord throws out there. The guitars come in abruptly, along with Stanne screaming out like I've never heard him do before, almost gasping as he searches for more energy to express this song and what it was meant to mean. The guitars are melodic and somber. It's hard to put to words how this song makes me really feel, because it directly relates to what is going on with my life. There is nothing more to say about this song, you have to hear this to get what I'm saying here. This is truly a song which you can feel.
"The Emptiness From Which I Fed" is another great track, and has everything and more that you could want in a song. The pace is fast, the guitars are melodic and well played, and the vocals are top notch. There are a lot of riff changes here as well. With Stanne screaming his heart out, you get breaks only through a few spoken lines in the middle. The riffing on here is like "Punish my Heaven", being melodic throughout the entire song, no matter if its a verse or a chorus. Some lines of acoustic guitar interlude at the bridge, with the electric guitars slowly fading them out, returning the vocals in. The last few minutes of this song are fast and unrelenting, ending with one of my favorite riffs on this CD, even though the riff only lasts about 20 seconds.
Ending "The Gallery" is perhaps the greatest duo of songs ever created. "Mine Is The Grandeur..." and "...Of Melancholy Burning" is a staple of how to finish an album, leaving the listener speechless and filled with awe. "Mine Is The Grandeur..." is an instrumental, with only acoustic guitars and some drumming in the background. It reminds me of a tune you would listen to on a march to your death, with deep drums backing the somber, repeating riff of the acoustic guitars. The pace quickens as the track goes on, before finally the drums quitting out, and the guitars repeating the same simple riff, which slowly fades out into the real monster which is the last track...
"...Of Melancholy Burning" is an amazing song. It is a definition of how to do a song right. The riff is mind-blowing, I like it better than the opening one on "Punish My Heaven". The vocals and lyrics are thought out and hold meaning, surrounding the riffs and drumming flawlessly. The dark atmosphere reminds you of.... of a sort of Dark Tranquillity..... this is probably tied with "Lethe" and "Alone" as my favorite song ever. The female vocals come in again, sounding amazing yet again, very epic and getting you really into this song. Stanne and the singing vocals overlap as Stanne lets out a vicious scream, before breaking into more desperate cries of long forgotten calls of help. The lyrics are sad and tell an equally sad tale, just wrapping up into a classic song, no doubt about it. The best part was I had no idea that this song would be what it turned out to be, which made it that much greater. To this day I still get chills down my spine listening to this song, its that great.
I will go as far as to even say this CD is better than "The Jester Race". I own both of them and I can honestly say this album did a lot more and made me feel like I actually just dove into the mind of the band. I know I will most likely get some s**t for saying that, but this is my honest opinion. There is nothing out there which can compare to the feeling I had inside myself when this CD ended. I never felt more alive than I did at that moment, and it shocked me because a piece of music has never done that to me before. It literally took my breath away, and I couldn't really say much afterward, because life was one big blur, and in the middle was "The Gallery", an experience unlike any other. This is the longest I've ever taken to write a review before, because its hard to convey my feelings to words in regard to this album. It really has to be heard in its entirety to be understood, and if it hits you like it did me, you will know what it means to love an album.
...Of Melancholy Burning
Punish My Heaven
The Dividing Line
The Emptiness From Which I Fed