Review Summary: A flat out melodic death metal classic with a variety of riffs from galloping ones to chord based goodness, with some beautiful keyboard work and a vocal performance to be proud of
What has always set Dark Tranquility apart from almost every other melodic death metal band out there is their ability to create a bombastic and relentlessly incredible guitar experience that remains varied and considerably more adventurous than their comrades in the genre. Punish My Heaven, the introductory track to their magnum opus The Gallery, showed this off perfectly with its fantastic guitar introduction and the band's fan base remained quietly optimistic that following the masterful album The Gallery turned out to be, the band would release another album of the same caliber. Come 2007, six albums later, Dark Tranquility finally delivered with Fiction, an album that often rivals and at times eclipses The Gallery, standing out as a perfect example of how melodic death should sound.
The best thing about this album is the keyboard work provided by Martin Brandstrom. The keyboards are constantly there in the background creating a beautiful back drop and really toning up the melodic side to make the starkest contrast possible with the energetic and crushing riffs found such as in the song The Lesser Faith. The album opener Nothing To No One also showed off how well the keyboards could be used, as they do not rely on being overly flashy but are instead purely there to create a gorgeous backdrop for the rest of the band to build off and create an atmospheric masterpiece. There are times, such as at two and a half minutes into The Lesser Faith and especially the end of Misery's Crown where the keyboard comes to the forefront of the music which creates a fantastic dynamic for the band to play off, switching from the crushing and yet melodic brutality found throughout much of the duration of the album to something so soft. This is certainly an album that goes above and beyond what has come to be expected of the melodic death metal sub-genre since bands such as Arch Enemy bastardized it.
The guitar work on this album is once again absolutely top notch, although not quite as well written as that found on The Gallery, but not too far off. The riffs are fantastically crafted and flow into one another better than most albums out there, making for a rock solid album all the way through, and is also extremely varied. For those looking for tremolo picked death metal goodness and even a few seconds of a blast beat, Blind At Heart is for you, but the song also goes into absolute overkill on the melody during the chorus which is about as catchy and accessible as death metal gets. The soloing is what really stands out about the guitar work as Focus Shift shows off well among other songs. The soloing on here are, as should be expected from melo-death, not complete shred fests but instead focus on showing off the talent the guitarists have at creating something that sounds absolutely beautiful but at the same time completely chaotic. The soloing on here ranks among the best that has ever been produced from any album out there.
The drumming is highly varied, with some fast beats but usually it is a lot slower than what should be expected from a death metal album and fits in very well among the music. The double bass work on Blind At Heart is definitely the stand-out of the drumming on this album but it is all very well written and performed. The bass guitar is very low in the mix but is still audible enough and sounds very good, although following the guitars throughout. The pinch-harmonic fest that is the introduction to Icipher and the drums and bass-only opening to Nothing To No One are the stand-out moments for Michael Nicklasson. The vocal work is among the best in the genre, being fairly low in pitch but having a decent enough range with some higher, raspier shrieks to be found. This is one of the best vocal performances in melodic death metal and Mikael Stanne should be proud of his work on this album. The production is as tight as can be, with everything being audible throughout and no single instrument dominating the mix. The song craft is also of a high caliber but this is really an album of a great consistency as opposed to one that you pick a single song out of as being the best on here. If forced to pic, then opener Nothing To No One would be the best choice as it is a varied and thoroughly enjoyable song that everyone should experience.
I recommend this album to anyone who enjoys melodic death metal as it is among the best in the sub-genre, but I would also recommend this to just about anyone looking for a fantastic album that is near perfect at everything it does. Dark Tranquility's 2007 outing is a flat-out classic of its genre and has some of the best sounding guitar work out there, on top of some brilliant vocal work and a consistency that is nearly unparalleled. This or The Gallery are Dark Tranquility's essential albums, and it is between the two as to which is better. Both are essential and you should listen to both.