Review Summary: "Bridging between Beauty, Tamed Ferocity, and Atmospheric Experimentation"
Fiction is Dark Tranquillity reshaping their sound after their 2005 masterpiece, Character. The band takes their catchiness from that album, cuts down on the ferocity and introduces a new and refreshing sound to the unfortunately dwindling Gothenburg melodic death metal. Mikael Stanne's vocal performance is much better, however it would have been greatly appreciated if he returned with the high range in vocals that he teased in Character. He has potential to increase his vocal range but he decided to remain with his consistent but fitting growling that we have grown used to in Dark Tranquillity's albums. The guitars also adjust to the newer sound as well as the drums, bass and keyboards. The production is much clearer and the keyboards add an atmospheric sound that accommodate the beautiful performances from the rest of the band.
The opener, Nothing to No One hits hard and clear with the message that Dark Tranquillity will inject freshness into the listener's ears. Guitarists Niklas and Martin provide excellent melodic riffing. On the opposite end, bassist Michael plays consistently with drummer Anders. The keyboardist Martin covers the rest of the band’s sound with a slightly melancholy touch befitting of Dark Tranquillity’s signature style. The third track, Terminus (Where Death Is Most Alive) exhibits the return of the faster paced songs such as those in Character. Martin Brändström (keyboards) plays with passion along with the talented guitarists who never outshine one another.
If there is one strength in the band, it’s the cohesion and balance where all musicians get their chance to show off making Dark Tranquillity exactly who they have been for more than twenty years. For the band it has never been about fast and mindless songs that feel like a rollercoaster, it is the experience of each minute that they strive for to ultimately succeed in making their albums truly memorable, especially Fiction. One of the best songs on the album is Blind at Heart. This is a song I was waiting for that perfectly displays true Gothenburg sound displaying the beautiful keyboards that add equal melody and atmosphere. Mikael Stanne growls with passion as I start to hear similarities between this band and their brother, In Flames.
The sixth track, Inside the Particle Storm, is a song that grew on me. It is a slow and incredibly atmospheric song that is as depressing as it is beautiful. It is the longest song on the album (5:30) which is important in how it encompasses the listener and truly drowns them in this epic showcase of “melodic” death metal. Once again, each band member does their part without consuming one another to bring us this slow song where every note, beat, cymbal crash, and growl fits in perfectly to set that unique and memorable mood. Some may like this song, others may completely shun this track. This may be the turning point in Dark Tranquillity’s career where they further changed their sound by laying a heavy emphasis on slower, atmospheric songs.
Another powerful track is Misery's Crown, reminding me of their 1999 album Projector where Dark Tranquillity surprised fans and critics with long clean vocal sections that significantly changed their sound and status as a band. The band has learned to enhance their strength and sound by incorporating Mikael Stanne’s unique singing which adds that continued freshness to Fiction. Misery's Crown includes the beautiful keyboards, Stanne's clean singing, and a short but complementary solo. Clocking in at 4:14 it isn’t the longest nor the shortest song on the album which is perfect as it showcases again each band member’s abilities in a tight but masterful form.
Focus Shift is another strong track on this album bringing back that harsh sound from Character. Mikael Stanne sounds especially frustrated as he growls “Whatever was missing is gone!” and “I let my Focus shift!” This solid song transitions to the slower but more thoughtful The Mundane and the Magic which expresses its magnificence with the eloquent piano sections from Martin Brändström and of course Nell Sigland's (from Theatre of Tragedy) voice that beautifully intertwines with Mikael's. It is an emotional song in which Mikael and Nell sing back and forth about personal struggles. It is meant to be interpreted by everyone in various ways, we all strive for the best with different shortcuts and paths. In this case they use magic in order to battle what is constant and perhaps even boring in their dazed lives. The Mundane and the Magic is an experience like Inside the Particle Storm except it acts in a beautiful way to finish off the album allowing you to ponder about your life as well as what kind of album they will write again in the future.
This is a very well-crafted and thoughtful album that harnesses Dark Tranquility’s aggression in a meaningful manner that demonstrates their growing maturity in their 30 year old selves as well as their music. From here the band takes an interesting path which leads to We are the Void and Construct. If you love Dark Tranquillity and their deeply atmospheric songs, you might like these next two albums where they feature a lot more experimentation.
2007 was a very strong year for these Swedish metalheads and Fiction is a perfect showcase of them wrapping themselves in their signature sound as well as bridging between beauty, tamed ferocity, and atmospheric experimentation.