Dark Tranquillity is peerless. Perhaps it's presumptuous to say they're one of the most important contemporary Death Metal bands, but as Gothenburg, Sweden's longest running, most successful, and most influential, such a distinction is long belated. Over the course of six albums, Dark Tranquillity has defined borders, redrawn them and never stopped, and without their singular vision it is safe to say the scene, as we know it today, would not be the same. From Death to Black Metal to Metalcore, Dark Tranquillity's remarkable impression is felt everywhere.
That paragraph is the one which greets you as you open the lyric book to Dark Tranquillity's "Exposures: In Retrospect And Denial". The first 4 pages of the book is lined with the entire history of the band, dating as far back as 1989, when the band was known as "Septic Broiler". They first began as a traditional Death Metal act, with rarely any melody and just a brutal, unrelenting nature to their sound. However, this little known Gothenburg underground band would soon become the staple of modern Death Metal, taking the genre and refining it to near perfection time and time again, advancing with the times and trends without actually changing their sound, a feat very few bands can accomplish. They have endured over 15 years playing the same metal they played back in the early 90's, and still going strong here in 2007, which is showcased by their latest brilliant piece of work "Fiction". "Exposures: In Retrospect And Denial" is a sort of chronology of all those years, including unreleased tracks from all of their albums except "Fiction" and "Character", also including the tracks from their rare "Trial Of Life Decayed" demo (1991) and their "A Moonclad Reflection" EP (1992). It really is some interesting stuff, as it shows how the band has changed so much over the course of their career, but keeping their core sound the same as it always has been, and probably how it always will be in albums to come. Sure, former vocalist Anders Friden's voice on "A Moonclad Reflection" and "Trial Of Life Decayed" isn't the greatest performance, but you must keep in mind that this was 15 years ago, and 15 years can make a lot of difference in the way your voice sounds, as it gets deeper over time. Also included is a whole CD of live performances, taken from their concert in Krakow, Poland on October 7, 2002. This same performance was featured in their live performance DVD "Live Damage", but it is of the utmost quality and it is performed quite well.
Disc 1- In Retrospect And Denial
It's often interesting to look back in the past, see what you once were and compare it to what you are now. This is kind of like what DT was doing during this album, and the title I believe is one of their best chosen album titles to date, because it describes the album with spot on perfection. Before you indulge yourself in this time line of an album I find it best to read the band history as it is described in the lyric book, because it gives you an idea of what is to come and what is to be expected. It also describes what the band's goals were at that period in time in which the song was written, and it is for you to decide whether the band should have stayed with their older, more brutally melodic (if there is such a description) sound or keep up with where they are now, with electronics adding another dimension to their music. Each has its own ups and downs, but together each instrument is a brush painting the full picture of what DT as a whole was going for.
The first 7 tracks on Disc 1 were written and recorded during the "Projector", "Haven", and "Damage Done" sessions (1998-2002). These tracks are either ones which never made the original version of the album, or were included on deluxe version released in specific areas. The first track, "Static" was recorded during the "Damage Done" session, and was simply an unreleased track which never made it to the final version of the album. Electronics and keyboards comprise the intro, before the drums and guitars kick in. The electronics are rather prominent in this song, adding that eerie effect in the background. The vocals are the same as the ones found on "Damage Done". This is a very catchy song, with a great chorus, almost making me feel like this track would blend in perfectly with their latest album "Fiction". Like I stated before, most of the melody on this track is created by the keyboards and electronics, but it still sounds really good, with the guitars adding that sense of brutality to the song. "The Poison Well" was also off of the "Damage Done" session, and was originally released with the Japanese version of the album, but strangely enough on my copy of Damage Done this track was included in the place of "I, Deception". Anyway, in case you haven't heard this song it is very well done, and I enjoy it better than "I, Deception" anyway, it's a slower paced track with some good melodic guitar interludes and the keyboards are, as always, superb.
"In Sight" was recorded during the "Haven" session, and it wastes no time getting into the song, with a very dark and brooding riff beginning it, quite unlike the whole atmosphere on "Haven" which is why I think it never made it on the album. Also featured on here is Stanne's clean singing, remnants from their previous album "Projector". I'm not a huge fan of his clean vocals, I think he can scream much better and much more emotionally, but his performance on this song is good nonetheless. If you enjoyed "Projector" then you will like this song. "Misery In Me" is more on track with what was featured on "Haven". The vocals come in pretty much right off the bat, and they are all in Stanne's raspy death growl. It has some slower parts, but the vocals remain heavy, making this song one of the best ones from the first half of Disc 1. "Cornered" is next, from the Japanese release of "Haven", and it begins with simply the drums for a few seconds before the guitars overlap and weave into the song. The vocals are also in a Death Growl, and being slowly and more oppressive before the chorus breaks out, speeding it up, with some sweet guitar work in the background, and the pace picks up still. This song has some really sweet guitar work, I don't really see why this wasn't included in other versions of "Haven", because I enjoy it a lot.
"No One" is from the "Projector" sessions, and that doesn't mean that this song isn't heavy. After the strange electronic into, the guitars light up and get the song going, and Stanne's screaming voice comes in, not his clean one, which is the forefront of the rest of the songs on "Projector". It has some slower sections of the songs, and it is during one of these that Stanne's clean vocals come in for a short time before being overlapped by his screams again. It is a nice change from a lot of the other songs on "Projector", because this song has only two short sections with clean vocals, and the rest is just like you are used to. "Exposure" is the last track from the "Projector", "Haven", and "Damage Done" sessions. It starts out fast and in-your-face, with a great riff before the screamed vocals come in, yelling furiously to the good guitar work in the background. There is an awesome sort of breakdown in middle, this section really gets your head-banging. I would like to see this song live, the energy which would be thrown into it would be amazing. It's really hard to believe that this was from the "Projector" sessions and not from their previous album "The Mind's I", because it would fit in there almost seamlessly. This song is my pick for the best song out of the fist 7, a great and entertaining listen (with no clean vocals also).
Now we shall enter another world entirely with the last 5 tracks of Disc 1. This is a time when Dark Tranquillity was at it's darkest, when they wrote (im not kidding here) some of the most depressing song's I've really ever heard. Just listen to the opening riff of "Yesterworld" and tell me that isn't a sad, sad song. The mood and atmosphere is suffocating almost, immersing you in a completely different world than what you just listened to in tracks 1-7. So just be prepared for a Dark Tranquillity you most likely haven't heard before, back when they were a more Death Metal band with almost no melody. 3 of the last 5 tracks are over 7 minutes, with all of them over 5 minutes. Just let yourself go as you listen to these songs, as they will take you into the scene depicted on the hand-drawn cover of the "A Moonclad Relecton" EP.
Yesterworld begins with a hard to describe riff. It sounds familiar but it is entirely different. Its melodic yes, but its oppressive, its melancholic and it puts you in a sort of looming fog of uncertainty, truly a strange feeling. It's well written and sets the tone perfectly. The riff fades off into the same riff repeated in different keys, before the growl of Anders Friden comes in. Friden's vocals during the time were nothing like the vocals he displayed on any of his work with In Flames, but if you have heard "Skydancer" by DT you will know what they sound like. Some acoustic guitar is used in this song, with a slow, repeated riff in the background with the electric. The song gets a quick change of pace as it speeds up very suddenly, along with a change in the riff. The growls are incoherent, you most likely won't be able to understand a word he says, but the lyrics are much more involved if you read them than any recent Dark Tranquillity work. The song closes with some ominous acoustic guitar work before it fades off into the abyss. An epic song and a classic one without a doubt. The second song taken from "A Moonclad Reflection" is "Unfurled By Dawn". It begins with electric guitar grinding along with some acoustic guitar, before the vocals kick in a few seconds later. This song is more straight forward than "Yesterworld", more of a traditional Death Metal song, with furious riffing and pounding drums. A cool riff comes in at 1:20, and lasts for a little while before the vocals come back in full force, taking you back to a barren wasteland which this song makes you envision. There are a lot of lines to the lyrics, enough to take up 7:30 and have none of them repeated except the chorus. This particular song takes up an entire page in the lyric book.
Next we enter their earlier "Trial Of Life Decayed" demo from way back in 1991. On this demo you will find virtually no melody at all. I was actually shocked to learn that this was what Dark Tranquillity was like when they first started, sounding like simply another Death Metal band. "Midwinter/Beyond Enlightenment" starts with rain falling in the background and a weird electronic effect backing it, before the wonderful acoustic guitar overlaps it all, playing a graceful riff quite unlike the rest of the song. The real grinding guitars are thrown in, whipping you around to the reality of what this demo is. The vocals are grunted, not really screamed, think traditional Death Metal grunts. The riffing is not melodic but unrelenting and brutal. The pace is fast and really makes you think a whole different band is playing, quite shocking when you first hear it. It is nothing like "Skydancer" or anything DT has put out before. There is a brief guitar solo for maybe 10 seconds, being a bit melodic but not very technical, but a nice change of pace from the rest of the song. The bridge is right after the solo, being more melodic but nothing like some of the other riffs they have come out with. The grinding guitars come back, with Friden's grunts rolling like thunder through the verses and the chorus. "Vernal Awakening" is more of the same from the previous song, so you know what to expect pretty much. The riff is a little catchier, but still rooted deep in Death Metal origins. The verses are a lot like "Midwinter..." and are still grunted and not melodic whatsoever. This is what Dark Tranquillity sounded like when they were known as "Septic Broiler" and it shows the transition between the Death Metal phase of their career and their Melodic Death Metal phase. Don't get me wrong, these songs from "Trial Of Life Decayed" are really good a a nice change from what DT usually is, showing you their roots and what their influences were. "Void Of Tranquillity" begins with drums again before a simple guitar riff comes is, with the vocals then beginning. The vocals, I should point out here, have that "echo" effect which is so common on Black Metal albums such as "A Blaze In The Northern Sky" and "Storm Of The Light's Bane". I like it, it makes the music feel more raw and shows even a little bit of a Black Metal influence in their music, something which I didn't think was a part of DT's style, but even the band history in the book mentions Black Metal influences. The closing two minutes of this song are really the coolest part of "Trial Of Life Decayed" and shows how DT could combine furious death vocals with intricate harmonized guitars, and do it well at that.
With that, Disc 1 of "Exposures: In Retrospect And Denial" comes to an amazing close, it shows the history of perhaps the most legendary band to come out of Sweden, showing their roots in Death and Black Metal, and their evolution into the genre they pretty much created themselves, Melodic Death Metal, a style they still play today and a style they have perfected.
Disc 2- Exposures
Disc 2 only really requires a brief summary. These tracks were taken from the concert in Krakow, Poland, and are the same songs used on their DVD "Live Damage". For those who haven't seen DT live, this is a good introduction into the kind of quality DT uses during their live shows. However, it is nothing like being there. I know firsthand how great this band is live, Stanne is very very enthusiastic and is a great frontman. You can tell he truly loves what he does. The best performed songs here are "Punish My Heaven", "The Wonders At Your Feet", "Hedon", "Lethe", "Insanity's Crescendo", "Monochromatic Stains", "Hours Passed In Exile", "White Noise/Black Silence", and "Zodijackyl Light". I love how they add keyboards to their old songs, especially during certain parts where a keyboard simply just fits in there, its like a whole new song. The guitars are very melodic and quite different from the recordings on their CD's, and the vocals are natural, sometimes Stanne sounds a bit tired (hey, he's performing a whole concert here) and sometimes he uses whispers instead of screams, or the other way around, adding some variety to songs you've probably already heard and memorized before. A worthwhile listen indeed.
So, what is there to be said about this collection of lost songs and live performances? A great addition to the collection of any DT fan, worth the extra money over the price of a regular CD simply because the amount of music and the significance of the songs found here. This is history here folks, history of perhaps the greatest band to ever pick at a guitar or unleash a scream into the mic. History is what wrote the future.