Review Summary: Up near the top of the melodeath legends' catalogue.
Everyone has at least one: that special thing or person that introduced you to something you love. For many, it's the introduction to the love of their life. Others will remember why they started their favorite sport or hobby, or perhaps the most obvious one, where they were born. There are several personal examples: Kill Bill
introduced me to the [in my opinion] genius that is Quentin Tarantino, my cousin showed me the iPod, and roommates introduced me to Rock Band. If you haven't figured it out quite yet, Damage Done
was the first Dark Tranquillity album I ever bought, and that's not the real reason I find it to be one of their best.
After the return to form of Haven
(the latter of which is like OK Computer
in that it added electronics that came out of nowhere), Dark Tranquillity wasn't quite as heavy as they had been earlier in their career. Yes, they had gotten back to the melodic death metal of earlier (albeit with the electronics still there) but nothing on Haven
the fury or sheer heaviness of The Gallery
or The Mind's I
Well buckle up and hold on, because Damage Done
is an almost nonstop and ferocious return to Grade-A Dark Tranquillity melodic death metal. This is the sound of a band near the top of their form: they are quite good at what they do, and picked up a new trick (or two) along the way. The instrumental performances are more than solid: both guitarists pull out plenty of furious riffs AND nice clean and/or melodic parts (see intro to "The Enemy" or closing instrumental "Ex Nihilo"). There is also a great deal of harmonizing between the two, making the album sound even tighter than usual. The drumming and bass work aren't quite as good but are still more than adequate, providing a solid rhythmic backbone for the guitars and vocals to take center stage.
At this point in the band's career, electronics wizard Martin Brandstrom had been part of the lineup for three years, and he is certainly a bit more in sync with the other members. The keyboards aren't quite prominent as they are on either Character
- in fact, there's only a handful of places where they're easily heard (see intros to "Hours Passed in Exile" and "Single Part of Two"). Even then, they still work subtly with the harsher instrumentation, helping put the "melodic" in melodic death metal and giving it that "signature DT sound".
Anyone who's read my review of Fiction
(or even just read the soundoff I had for this) will know I believe Damage Done
is vocalist Mikael Stanne's best performance to date. Let's face it, the production on The Gallery
wasn't perfect, and assuming Stanne's voice was (somewhat) similar to this during that phase of his career, it could have sounded better in that aspect.
Here, however, Stanne more than earns a place among the best [harsh] metal vocalists of our time (perhaps all time). His huge, roaring growl sounds like it's coming from someone at least 8 feet tall, and helps drive the already raging music extremely well. On the choruses of songs like "Monochromatic Stains" and "The Treason Wall", his voice demands your attention, especially on the latter as he screams "I don't believe/I won't believe!!!
" Although not quite as important, his diction is also excellent in spots, making it all the more easy to sing (or rather, scream) along in places without having to look up the lyrics.
Are there problems with Damage Done
" Yes, but they're pretty minor in the long run. The first one is closing instrumental "Ex Nihilo", composed mainly of melodic, clean guitars that are never that interesting. It feels like the song is on autopilot: the song just never feels interesting, beautiful or impressive. Either cutting the track down to, say, 2 minutes or taking it out completely would keep the album from ending on a low point.
The other problem with Damage Done
is that it feels a bit lopsided (although certainly not as lopsided as an album like The Joshua Tree
). The first five songs are spectacular, and just might be the best 19 minutes of the band's entire discography. However, after "The Treason Wall" (easily one of, if not the
best song here), the album never quite
manages to match the quality or delight of the previous 5. This is, however, only a small complaint, since "Cathode Ray Sunshine", "Format C: For Cortex" and "White Noise/Black Silence" quickly follow the first half in terms of quality.
In more ways than one, Damage Done
could be compared to a 54 minute roller coaster ride. The first 16 seconds begin the first crest of the ride, slowly picking up speed as you approach the top. Then, the first great riff kicks in, and suddenly you're pressed into your seat as the ride shoots down from the top (where you just were). This same feeling of exhilaration and excitement continues for quite awhile, before the best part of the ride ("The Treason Wall") takes you almost by surprise. It then continues on, and while the best is behind you the ride is far from over. Then, it stops, and for the last 40 feet or so you're slowly making your way to the exit where you have to get off. By now the attraction has lost both its momentum and your attention, and you're just looking towards the end so you can get off (and probably get in line for another).
In the end, the album easily makes its way to the top of these legendary Swedes' discography, for several reasons. The production is better than anything done before Projector
. It's consistently better than both Haven
, and notable for what is (in my opinion of course) Mikael Stanne's best vocal performance to date. Although The Gallery
would be the obvious choice for a first purchase, you won't go wrong with getting Damage Done
instead, since it's one of this band's very best.
The Treason Wall
Cathode Ray Sunshine