Review Summary: Atoma might be competent, but it fails to inspire.Atoma
is a bittersweet ordeal for me. It’s the album with which Dark Tranquillity have finally solidified their pop-tinged style and ironed out the creases, with the hitches of We Are the Void
now a distant memory. As someone who once worshipped the ground this band walked upon, it’s personally gratifying to see them fulfil their ambitions, but at the same time, Atoma
completes their migration away from the riff-centric approach that made me fall in love with them in the first place. As a consequence, refusing to allow my own sentimentalities to colour my impression of this record is nigh-on impossible.
Front man Mikael Stanne has more-or-less become the “star” of the show; his warm, baritone voice is now fit to lead proceedings in combination with that trademark snarl, and he scarcely misses an opportunity to put one or the other to good use. I suppose this comes as no real surprise, because he’s developed into a genuinely accomplished singer – the untrained vocal melodies of “The Mundane and The Magic” sounding almost parody-esque in retrospect. However some of his choices as to when either technique is utilised still raise an eyebrow from time to time. “Faithless by Default” is a dynamic little tune with a handful of soft, keyboard-laden sections that would’ve greatly benefitted from some of Stanne’s crooning on top. However, he elects to growl in a way that is neither aggressive nor subdued, coming across as rather feeble as opposed to menacing.
Notwithstanding some grievances, Atoma’s
atmosphere is still quite palpable. The instrumentation coalesces in a way that is harmonically rich yet subtle in its presentation, compelling you to savour the fleeting moments in which glints of hope manage to overcome the ever-present sense of melancholia. The problem is that while Dark Tranquillity are supremely adept at conjuring this very specific setting, on Atoma
, they do little else. Variety between songs is sorely lacking, whether it be in terms of mood or structure. Of course, it would be a little short-sighted of me to lambaste the band for writing songs in a strict verse/chorus format with homogeneous run times, as they’ve been embracing pop-sensibilities for eons at this point. It’s simply that never before has their process felt so one-dimensional, which is especially ironic given that no song on this album is as immediate or magnetic as say, “State of Trust” from Construct
Despite the inherent accessibility and predictability of Atoma’s
material, songs tend to blend into one another as if they’re entirely cut from the same cloth. The production style that helps evoke such a tangible atmosphere also has the knock-on effect of sapping what character is left from many of the songs. Leads that could otherwise distinguish cuts like the title-track, “Forward Momentum”, “The Pitiless” and “Caves and Embers” are buried beneath a smorgasbord of synth lines, keyboards and stacked rhythm guitars. That said, peppered throughout Atoma
are little tokens of brilliance; “Our Proof of Life” has a delightful lick that leads into the song’s chorus, though it begs to be expanded upon despite being consigned to a mere transition. As one of the few tracks to somewhat deviate from the compositional norm, “Force of Hand” also helps lift the album the doldrums with a brief yet impactful solo to go with its comparatively mild riffage.
As arguably the album’s heaviest number, “Neutrality” reminds us that these Swedes still know their way around a riff, but I can’t help but get the impression that the reason it stands out is more due to the faintness of what surrounds it. Had it appeared on Damage Done
, it would have been put to shame by songs like “Monochromatic Stains” or “Icipher”, respectively. “Clearing Skies” is another example a song flattered by its company, containing an infectious, palm-muted, head-banging bridge that beckons for the arrival of something fierce. Unfortunately, when that “something” is just a cyclical reprise, it’s difficult not to be underwhelmed, but you end up subconsciously elevating the minor triumphs due to following material being no stronger.
still achieves everything it needs to, but my reservation comes from it barely striving for anything higher than par. This is most evident in its lack of “statement song”, for want of a better term – something that I can truly marvel at. Character
had “Lost to Apathy”, Fiction
had “Inside the Particle Storm”, We Are the Void
had “Iridium” and – hell – even Construct
had “None Becoming”. Atoma
might be competent, but it fails to inspire. Perhaps Mikael Stanne said it best in the lyrics to “Clearing Skies”.
“[Dark Tranquillity], you’re better than this, I know”.