Way back in 1993, Dark Tranquillity was a little known band from the town of Gothenburg, Sweden. Nobody knew what Melodic Death Metal was at that time, nor did they really understand what a huge impact this band would have on the world of metal come 1995's "The Gallery". So here we have the band's first full length CD, "Skydancer", and their next EP "Of Chaos And Eternal Night". It is nearly impossible to find these CD's seperate, in their original realease packaging, so I am choosing to review the CD which most will find online or at their local CD shop, the version with both "Skydancer" and "Of Chaos And Eternal Night" on it.
During the time between these two releases, one thing happened which would define the course which this band would take in the forthcoming years. Vocalist Anders Friden left the band to pursue further interests in the metal world, namely become vocalist of the other great band to come out of Sweden during that time period, In Flames. So Mikael Stanne, former guitarist and backup vocalist, took over as lead vocals. Fredrik Johansson was recruited to take the place of Mikael at guitars, and such was Dark Tranquillity's lineup until the addition of Fredrik Nordstrom some years later. So, the band lineups are as follows:
Dark Tranquillity 1989-1993
Mikael Stanne- Guitars
Anders Friden- Vocals
Anders Jivarp- Drums
Martin Henriksson- Bass
Niklas Sundin- Guitars
Dark Tranquillity 1993-1999
Fredrik Johansson- Guitars
Mikael Stanne- Vocals
Martik Henriksson- Bass
Niklas Sundin- Guitars
Anders Jivarp- Drums
Let us begin our journey through this melodic death classic by beginning with the "Skydancer" section, which has Anders Friden on vocals. The first 9 songs on the CD are from "Skydancer", and oh what a nine they are. Now before I continue though, I have to point out that Anders Friden doesn't sound a THING like he does with In Flames. I was actually quite shocked when I first heard him and I wasn't sure if it really was him. The vocals are very fast, rather deep and a bit raspy, but do a very good job of portraying the emotions featured within the lyrics and the riffing, which is something Dark Tranquillity is renowned for, and I think its what sets them apart from In Flames, who aren't nearly as sad or melancholic as DT, especially during this time period.
Even though I prefer Stanne as a vocalist, Friden opens up the first track, "Nightfall By The Shore Of Time" with your first hint at his vocal style as he screams "NIGHTFALL" before the guitars and drums kick in. The vocals immediatley continue at a relentless fast pace, which is also another thing which threw me off track. However, the classic DT riffing is still there, with rapid pace changes and tons of different riffs. Things slow down, only to speed up a second later, when you're least expecting a change in pace. This song really shows their Death Metal roots, with not as much melody as there is heaviness, but the song is still a great headbanging song nonetheless, with a really nice acoustic riff around the 2:10 mark. A really cool song, its nice and different, while still being something your used to.
"Crimson Winds" opens with a really good, slow moving riff which is amazingly catchy and has a really laid back sort of style to it. It continues up until the 1:15 mark, when Anders' really fast paced vocals come in, speeding everything up abruptly. Another really nice riff comes in behind his vocals during the verses. This song is all about pace, with a nice guitar solo 2 minutes in, and continues the fast pace afterword. Anders shows some real emotion in his voice toward the end of the song. "A Blot Of Blazing Gold" is next, and at 7:15, this is the longest song on the CD. It begins with nice acoustic guitar work. The electric guitars come in at the 1 minute mark, before the vocals rip through, and once again Anders screams rather fast, but its really sick, as now you're becoming used to his vocal style and you begin to actually admire it. Dark Tranquillity is starting to switch more into a melodic death metal style here, with slower, more melodic riffing and acoustic work. Also here, the first female vocals come, performed by Anna-Kaisa Avehall. They add a nice emotional upheaval on top of Anders' harsh death metal growl, and blend seamlessly. This song closes the same way it opened, with clam acoustic guitar work.
"In Tears Bereaved" and "Skywards" turn the pace back up, with some fast, but catchy riffing on top of the seemingly tireless vocals, as the pace is never given up. Quite a change from some of Dark Tranquillity's more recent works, where they like to take their time and play a lot of chugging (but still awesome) riffs, where here riffs are changing constantly. This is for sure a headbanger's dream, as the speed is perfect for it.
The pace, though, comes to a screeching halt with the next track, "Through Ebony Archways". This song really is quite unlike anything I've heard from this band before, with it being 90% acoustic, and with screamed vocals for only about 1 minute of the track's 3:47. It is here where we first catch a glimpse of Mikael Stanne's absurdly deep clean singing voice, which are overlapped by the female vocalist singing about life and death, sadness and bitter defeat. A very, very emotional piece, this is probably one of Dark Tranquillity's best ballads.
The next song is once again something I have never heard before or since from either In Flames or Dark Tranquillity. "Shadow Duet" is just as the title suggests. Mikael Stanne and Anders Friden duke it out for control of the mic, with you hearing Anders' scream along with Stanne's clean vocals and his screaming voice. The star is obviously the vocals, but dont think DT dont throw down some insane riffing on this one, with fast paced action of epic proportions. 7:05 of awesomeness. The vocal performance is clearly unrivaled by anything on either this of "Of Chaos And Eternal Night", this one is extremely catchy and really will be on repeat in your player for days, because I know it was on mine. This is my choice for the best song on "Skydancer". Don't miss out on this one.
"My Faeryland Forgotten" has a really crushing riff to start it off, but then, where "Skywards" left off, the vocals come in at a good pace, which I think works the best for Friden, seeing as he can really say all the lyrics really fast and still be somewhat coherent as to what he is saying, so he can get the message and feeling across of the lyrics. "Alone" is next, and is the farewell track of this CD and of Anders Friden's stay with Dark Tranquillity. If you are looking for a sad song, this is it. The title says it all, with lyrics about being lost in life, all alone. The riffing is amazingly sad, and is one of my favorite melancholic riffs ever. A true classic of Dark Tranquillity, this is the example of how to end a CD, this song has 5-stars written all over it. But more on this song later, as we venture into the second part of this CD, DT's next EP, "Of Chaos And Eternal Night"......
Mikael Stanne's first time as lead vocals starts with a bang, as the opening riff of "Of Chaos And Eternal Night" kicks down the door and then some. Picking up in the footsteps of Friden, Stanne starts of with furious fast vocals, with his raspy voice taking ove the song before a break into the awesome riffing of the chorus. This song really is another definition in the dictionary of the word epic, covering every span and horizon of melodic death, from sad to bright to pure anger and hatred, this one has it all. If I were a fan of DT way back in '94 when this was released, I would breathe a sigh of relief that DT wasn't going anywhere or letting up on anything since Friden left. "With The Flaming Shades Of Fall" slows it down a notch, with slower, but still really technical and catchy riffing. This song is about the season of fall, describing its grandeur and underlying darkness. Talking about each month, Stanne pulls out some whispered-type vocals when he says "September", "Octobor", and "November", speaking about each month and the whole season in general.
Oh man... wow....
Those are my words as "Away, Delight, Away" begins its firing squad of highly techinal and fast riffs. I am not going to lie here, and I am going to go out there and say this is the BEST riff Dark Tranquillity has ever written, and its nothing short of jaw dropping. The song continues on in such a fashion only Dark Tranquillity can do, with the speeding riff coming back after the first verse. During the middle, Stanne lets out some whispered passages before continuing on yet another fast paced passage before that great riff returns one last time to close out a masterpiece of a song.
"Alone '94" is a re-recording of "Skydancer"'s awesome closing track "Alone", except this time Mikael takes over on the mic. I honestly prefer this version, and it is the benchmark for a sad song. Just flawlessly written and performed, this one is just ecstasy to listen to.
I just sat wide eyed after listening to this CD the first time through, and it continued after listening to it each time. This is an absolute classic of a CD, and it isnt just classic in the sense that it was DT's first full length and the first EP with Stanne on vocals, it is just awesome song writing and flawless execution of each song. There is no filler to be found here, just pure, pounding Melodic Death metal, in fact the first one the entire genre had to offer, because DT will always be the first to play this style, and they to this day play it the best.