Review Summary: While by no means a bad album, Haven is just missing the usual Dark Tranquillity spice that would turn it into something special
Dark Tranquillity’s fifth studio effort, “Haven” is yet another strong release from everyone’s favourite melodic death metal band, but something never feels quite there. Everything from the snarling rasps of Mikael Stanne to the fills of Anders Jivarp feels watered down and without the usual bite expected when you listen to albums such as “The Gallery” and “Character”. For sure, you could dump the blame upon new boys Michael Nicklasson and Martin Brandstrom, but this would be highly unfair as the keyboards integrate well with the softer sound and Nicklasson can be heard clearly through some of the slower songs, especially on the title track and “Indifferent Suns”. No, the blame can be placed upon the band as a whole, for “Haven” is a good example of a band settling within their genre and refusing to explore their creative boundaries.
The main problem is that “Haven” just does not feel fleshed out enough. The guitars have plenty of melody and riffs thanks to Niklas Sundin and Martin Henriksson, but still doesn’t hide the fact that some of the songs feel short of ideas. There is no real standout track on “Haven”, although opener “The Wonders at Your Feet” does an admirable job in trying to be one. Even with the rather corny opening vocals of Mikael Stanne growling “Alright!” the song develops into a strong effort, with plenty of melody and new boy Martin Brandstrom fitting in well around his band mates. Follower “Not Built to Last” continues in much the same vein albeit with a much more prominent bass line and keyboard part, but from here the album goes through the motions.
In fact, it is not until “Rundown” that the CD seriously picks up any pace, as the aforementioned finally sees Stanne’s growls return to anything resembling full power. Throughout too many songs, one of the genre’s best vocalists sounds weak and even short of breath at times, which is odd considering that his vocal abilities return to full strength of later releases. What Stanne is singing about is still lyrically as strong as ever, but the overall delivery is rather disappointing.
“Haven” even goes against the traditional Dark Tranquillity flow established with their “new” sound and has a decent, fast album finisher in the shape of “At Loss for Words”. By this point, it is unlikely to change your opinion on the album considerably, but by finishing on such a high note it was a good sign of things to come for “Damage Done” from 2002. While Dark Tranquillity has not made a bad album by any stretch of the imagination, it just lacks the usual spark from this reliable group of musicians. If you’re a fan you’ll have heard this by now, if not then there are much better places to start in their discography than this.
Final rating: 3/5
• Strong guitar playing from Henriksson and Sundin
• Good lyrical content
• Both new members make a solid case for themselves
• Unusually poor vocal delivery
• No real standout moments on offer
• Overshadowed massively by “Damage Done”