Scandinavia has spawned a host of influential bands in the metal genre, especially those with leanings to the more extreme end of the genre’s diverse spectrum.
Pioneers and legends in their genre, Dark Tranquility (along with At The Gates and In Flames) are amongst the most influential and important bands in the melodic death metal subgenre, going so far to have their sound and style collectively reffered to as ‘The Gothenburg Sound’. For the uninformed, this revolves around a fundamental structure of a five piece band, with twin guitars being the main focus of the sound.
Vocally it’s raw and powerful all the way, with harsh death metal screams, shouts and growls forming the majority. There are some sinister sounding clean parts thrown in just to round it off (for an example of this, the works of all three bands from the mid-late 90s provide ample stock).
Guitar wise, well, this will take a bit of explaining.
It breaks down into three main components – the riffs, the melodic aspect and the leads. Riff wise, it tends to follow some themes from the NWOBHM style – galloping, but at the same time with some thrash and speed metal elements. Precise palm muting defines sound and adds heaviness. Along with that, blistering pace and pedal note patterns and sequences form the majority of the music. With most bands tending to favour tuning down 3 to 5 steps (C# standard to B), a defined low end heaviness underpins the blistering riffs, creating an unmistakable sound with some serious low end thunder.
Next is the melodic side. With two guitars, the bands can play harmony lines which can be likened to those of NWOBHM titans Iron Maiden. These melodies are hook laden and easily recognisable, and when combined with the riff wizzardry make for a truly spectacular sound. Even the riffs may be harmonized, adding another edge to the feel. Finally, the lead sound is often dictated by the feel and delivery of the track, from blisteringly fast and wild, to controlled and melodic and, in come cases, some great twin solo trade-off spots.
With At The Gates finally returning from a studio exile in 2014 six years after their reformation and In Flames sadly taking a more mainstream melodic metalcore approach since their multiple lineup reshuffles, Dark Tranquility have done what they always have – staying true to their musicial stylings and delivering solid release after solid release for nigh-on three decades. Atoma is just another album which shows how good they are at delivering the goods when called upon.
From the opening moments of “Encircled”, there is no mistaking who this is. The exemplary tight rhythm control, pedal tone riffing and terrific synth augmentation creates an atmosphere and backdrop for that familiar powerful growl. Business as usual for Dark Tranquillity. With that being said, each track on the album flows freely, and there is no holding back or compromising the intensity of their sound (compared to In Flames, who have forsaken their hugely respected and admired vocal delivery and fantastic riffs for the sake of appealing to more people and alienating a lot of their fanbase).
Titular track ‘Atoma’ has a variety of tones and sounds. Clean verses with ringing guitar and deep, full sounding bass give way to a monstrous chorus on the final line of each verse, going from cleanly sung to venomously growled. The monstrous sound and dynamic is a dark joy to listen to.
Rolling drums in the intro of ‘Forward Momentum’ (which lives up to its name) lead into a heavy hitting number with a guitar and bass onslaught and some sinister feels radiating from the synths as the vocals again effortlessly switch from clean to growls, helping give a well rounded and reactionary sound, going with the track rather than against it.
With such a strong opening hand in the first three tracks, you might worry Atoma could burn out or just come to a halt, but it doesn’t. The quality is present in every track across this album and whilst the musical delivery may be from the same styling, the tracks are all different.
“Neutrality” is a furiously paced headbanger call to arms whilst “Faithless By Default” is its polar opposite: slower paced, extremely moody and atmospheric. For those who like their bonus tracks and extras, the expanded edition of the release features a selection of tracks which focus more on the cleaner and expressive side of the band’s music, giving a more rounded experience to all.
As a whole, the album showcases the talent which lies within Dark Tranquility, from the electronic synth augmentation, to the guitar assault, to the tight and thunder, to the uncompromising and seemingly evergreen vocal quality. This really is a high class release. Whilst it may not quite live up to the mighty Damage Done and Character albums, nor one of the more recent offerings Fiction, it does have the unmistakable sound which Dark Tranquillity possess, and it does live up to the band’s name and reputation when it comes to substance.