Review Summary: Dark Tranquility continue to cultivate their signature sound.
Of all the virtues possessed by melodeath bands, a long shelf life isn't often one of them. For most bands it plays out one of two ways: either they stick to their guns and become derivative, or they discard their entire core philosophy in favor of jumping on trends, often burying the ideas that led them to prominence in the first place.
Swedish Gothenburg/melodeath godfathers Dark Tranquility have flirted with both outcomes at times, but they remain among the best of the bunch due to their dedication to a shared vision, and their consistency in executing it. Their 10th full length, Construct, doesn't change the blueprint much and generally consists of slower paced to mid tempo crunchers, but the band does their damage in enough ways to keep things varied and maintain your attention. One of the key themes is an expanded emphasis on the airy, atmospheric side of their sound. "Uniformity" is laden with excellent keyboard work from Martin Brändström and benefits from Mikael Stanne's impeccable baritone vocals. It lends of sense of stoic grandeur to the track, while sounding like their take on Katatonia's patented brand of atmospheric metal.
Speaking of which, "State of Trust" is dominated by clean vocals that very much capture the vibe championed by Katatonia frontman Jonas Renske, or perhaps Steven Wilson. It certainly stands out within their recent catalog. But of course, melodic metal has always been the band's forte, and yet again they do not disappoint. "The Science of Noise" boasts a downright catchy chorus which is followed up with some great winding melodic guitar passages; if this isn't the album's best track it's certainly one of the top two or three. "Endtime Hearts," with its twinkling keyboards and driving guitar passages, is reminiscent of Children of Bodom song, while "Weight of the End" boasts some of the album's best headbanging sections.
However, those looking for something fast and visceral would be advised to look elsewhere. "Apathetic" is one of the fastest and most aggressive songs the band has penned since 2005's ultra aggressive Character. It's anchored by Anders Jivarp's pounding drums and a kickass solo, but unfortunately it's the only real screamer Construct has to offer. The only song that noticeably falls flat, curiously enough, is the opener "For Broken Words." It does feature a nice verse riff from guitarists Niklas Sundin and Martin Henriksson, but its attempts to focus on atmosphere are somewhat awkward. It features several passages consisting mostly of just the bass, drums and vocals, but it's too slow to develop, and feels entirely too tepid and unsure of itself. As for the bonus tracks, "Immemorial" serves up more catchy metal while proving the band still has some grit, while instrumental closer "Photon Dreams" feels like it should have been a little more fleshed out.
As always, the instrumentation is first rate. There's not much about any of the individual performances that really grab your attention -- rather, the focus is on demonstrating how each part of the whole works together as one cohesive unit. Stanne's vocals are full of their trademark bubbling, sneering wrath, and he has shown great improvement in his clean vocals. The lyrics, meanwhile, are typically glum and moody, delivering a darker undertone to the project as a whole.
Anyone familiar with the band's output following their 2002 album Damage Done won't find any major breakthrough or revelation here, although Construct does come at a pivotal time in the band's career. It sees them picking themselves up and re-energizing following 2010's We Are the Void, which notably lacked punch and seemed to be the first major sign of lethargy and monotony setting in.
Dark Tranquility have managed to adjust and make alterations to their sound over the years without sacrificing their credibility, and there's good reason they remain one of today's most viable and well respected metal bands. Construct excels at upholding one of the band's innermost principles of consistency along with catchy and well constructed songwriting, and can stand ably in the band's catalog alongside Damage Done, Character, and Fiction.