If you haven't already noticed, I love Dark Tranquillity. This will be my 4th album review for them on this site, and even after all these years of hearing every single song they have to offer over and over again, I never get bored, and nothing ever gets old. It's in this sense which makes a band rise above the rest, and become legends of their genre. To achieve greatness with Dark Tranquillity's old sound (The Mind's I and before) was a given. They were the masters of their craft, creating epic after epic for each song on each album they have ever released. Then came a rather large shock to myself and most of their fan base. "Projector" introduced a whole new side to their already great sound. Not only could these 6 men from Sweden create some of the most shatteringly beautiful metal to ever grace this earth, they could throw down such ballads as those found on "Projector" such as "Therein" or "Doberman". The one thing Dark Tranquillity did that most bands could never pull off without extreme criticism and a loss of their entire fan base, was to change their sound almost completely. In Flames tried it and it turned into basically a collapse of that band from the throne of greatness. Metallica tried it with "St. Anger", which received mostly bad reviews from angry fans who wanted their old band back again. Not is the case though, when Dark Tranquillity added electronics master Martin Brandstrom to their lineup, finalizing it for the time being.
So, imagine my surprise as I am casually browsing through the Dark Tranquillity section here on Sputnikmusic and discover to my dismay that the very first Dark Tranquillity album I bought, 2002's "Damage Done", did not yet get the review it so gratefully deserved. About 4 years ago, I first heard of Dark Tranquillity through word of mouth from a friend, and didn't really think of it much for a few months. Then, in the winter of 2002 I caught my first earful of "Monochromatic Stains". I was floored. The shredding guitars, harsh vocals, ominous keyboards, and pounding drums altogether flowed into one brilliant piece of music. Anyway, I stumbled out into the CD store in a sort of daze from what I've just heard, and found "Damage Done" and hastily threw my money at the store clerk and ran out into the parking lot back to my car, almost tripping flat on my face in the process. I opened the case and inserted the CD into the player, turned up the volume, and enjoyed....
"Final Resistance" begins with a simple intro riff, before just erupting into a sick headbanging session. Mikael's vocals come in, and they are much like those found on "Haven" but I think they are little bit deeper. This song is extremely catchy, with a really sick chorus. The electronics add a whole new dimension to their sound, making it seem more technical and adds quite a bit of melody to the mix. This is a classic DT song, albeit a short one (3:01) but a very fitting opener for this CD, it really gets your blood flowing and leaves you begging for more. "Hours Passed In Exile", the next song, is a rather odd one (but still great!). It begins with a distorted effect, with some sort of piano or chimes in the background before the guitars come in. The beginning of this song is heavy on the electronics. A sick riff then tears the song open, setting the tone for the rest of the track. Mikael's vocals come in, being lower and more brooding than many of the songs here. The chorus is slower but still heavy. Mikael uses his screaming vocals for every word on this CD, something they haven't really done since "The Gallery" or "The Mind's I". Also, the track lengths have gotten shorter, with this song being the longest at 4:45 (compare that to 7:15 from "A Bolt Of Blazing Gold" from their first full length "Skydancer"). The strange electronics come back to a forefront here at about 2:40, going into the bridge of the song. The first solo lies here also, being rather short but pretty good. I have a feeling Mikael's vocals are taking over as a more prominent role as of late, but thats OK since his vocals are awesome.
The third song, "Monochromatic Stains" is a masterpiece. The opening riff just shreds at your speakers, being melodic and bone crushing at the same time, which made me think of their older riffing on "The Gallery" and "Of Chaos And Eternal night" (actually the opening riff on this song reminds me strangely of another great work by them, "Away, Delight, Away). Right from the beginning you know this is going to be a great song, and it doesn't disappoint. Stanne's voice has a sort of whispered tone for half the song, and an all out scream for the other half. The lyrics are strong and get the point across fast. the chorus is intense and will leave you short of breath when you're done screaming it at the top of your lungs (a feat which I caught myself doing many a' listen). The pace here is very quick, a significant change from "Hours Passed In Exile".
"Single Part Of Two" has another electronic intro. This song is really melancholic and sad, which is an emotion Dark Tranquillity has mastered many times over. The chorus has a really slow, sad riff covering Stanne's growls. Things come to halt near the end, where the electronics pick up a chilling section for a few moments before we are propelled back into the song. "The Treason Wall" is a really upbeat song, which reminds of a sort of revolution song, with its lyrics such as "I Don't Believe.... I WON'T BELIEVE", its just really awesome songwriting coupled with shut-up-and-rock riffing, this one will surely have you headbanging around your room, car, or office (looking like a complete idiot) every time you listen to it.
"Format C: For Cortex" is more of "Haven"-era style song, showcasing Dark Tranquillity's newer style, with more flowing vocals and riffs, not quite as melodic as old stuff but still great. This song, much like this whole CD is extremely catchy, and this has a cool break in the middle where some piano notes are introduced, along with some slower drumming. Another solo on this song too, this time a little longer than "Hours Passed In Exile" and its still good. The last minute or so of this song is really sick, pulling out all the stops and unleashing hell. "Damage Done" seems like a shorter song, but the beginning it gets right off to Mikael's vocals, as intense as ever, with a really cool beat in the background keeping pace with the vocals. The last minute and 10 seconds of this song is just instrumentals, which I don't think really suits this song, but sort of slows things down and showcases more of the instrumental talent at work here.
"Cathode Ray Sunshine", "The Enemy", and "The Poison Well"(*) are, in my eyes, very similar songs, and go well with one right after the other. Instead of three songs, it sounds like one epic trio telling a single, whole story. These tracks alone have nothing which really stands out, but nothing even remotely bad about them, as I usually always listen to them all three in a row.
(* - Note that depending on which version of this album you buy, track 10 will either be "I, Deception" or "The Poison Well")
Next up is the brilliance that is "White Noise/Black Silence". Apart from the really cool song title, this song has an awesome opening riff, which lets you know Dark Tranquillity means business with this one. Its a great song for their last "real" track (Ex Nihilo is an instrumental). The vocals remind me of those on "Hours Passed In Exile" and "Final Resistance" all in one, being low and furious but at a sort of slower pace than "Final Resistance". The synths and other electronics are prominent here, and there is that sick opening riff, adding another dimension of power to this song. Great track all in all.
The closer, "Ex Nihilo" is an odd, if somewhat out of place song. I would have liked it if Dark Tranquillity didn't include this song, as "White Noise/Black Silence" is a much more fitting closer to this CD. Basically to put this song in a nutshell its just a bunch of electronics work with not very catchy or complicated guitar work and drumming. Some may enjoy it, but I feel its missing something. I usually want an instrumental to be soft, soothing, and meaningful, which this is not. But, whatever floats your boat is fine with me.
As with all Dark Tranquillity CD's, this one is crafted with the utmost care and precision, and has flawless execution and production. This CD will always hold a special place in my heart, as this is the CD which introduced me to the band and genre which now defines who I am as a person.