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Sunday Old School: Dark Tranquillity

Photo of Dark Tranquillity

Band Photo: Dark Tranquillity (?)

Metal loves to trace the roots and popularity of a style back to specific bands. Thrash metal famously has its "big four," of Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax , black metal goes back to Venom, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, Mercyful Fate and Bulldozer and melodic death metal is often credited mostly to Carcass, In Flames, At The Gates and today’s featured band, Dark Tranquillity.

The band began life in 1989 after guitarists Niklas Sundin and Mikael Stanne put together a group named Septic Broiler, soon being joined in their endeavours by bassist Martin Henriksson, vocalist Anders Fridén and drummer, Anders Jivarp. Tney quickly recorded a demo, "Enfeebled Earth," before deciding to change their name to the now familiar moniker, Dark Tranquility. They soldiered on until they were snapped up by Spinefarm Records, through which they released their debut album, "Skydancer" in 1993, which was met with mostly positive reviews. It was quite different from later releases and many look back on it now as one of the dark horses of the Dark Tranquility catalogue.

Shortly after the release of the album, Fridén left the band to join fellow melodic death metal act, In Flames, after which, Stanne moved from guitar to vocals and a new guitarist, Fredrik Johansson, was brought in. Stanne’s first recording with the band as singer was a cover of the Metallica song, "My Friend of Misery," for a tribute album, before an EP, "Of Chaos and Eternal Night," was released in 1995. The first full length album with Stanne on vocals, "The Gallery" has gone on to become regarded as a classic of the "Gothenburg sound," and helped Sweden rival, and perhaps even overtake America, with their own brand of death metal.

They followed this acclaimed effort with another EP, "Enter Suicidal Angels," which featured some elements of electronic and techno on the song, "Archetype," before their third full length album, "The Mind’s I," was released in April 1997. It didn’t receive the same praise as "The Gallery" but was nevertheless still greeted warmly by fans and was succeeded by a landmark in the band’s history, "Projector." This album marked a significant shift in the band’s sound, still retaining the melodic death metal style but bringing in clean vocals, pianos and a move towards gothic metal, even earning the group comparisons to Depeche Mode. As expected, some longtime fans were unhappy with the direction but it was successful in bringing in many new listeners and in time, some of those disgruntled listeners have grown to like the record.

Following the recording of "Projector," but prior to its release, the band asked Fredrik Johansson to leave, feeling that his duties as a new father and his devotion to his day job were keeping him from focusing on the group. In a somewhat similar move to Stanne, Johansson was replaced from within by Martin Henriksson, leading the band to bring in a new bass player in the form of Michael Nicklasson, who made his recording debut with the band on their fifth album, "Haven." The record was released only year after "Projector" and more or less continued where its predecessor left off, bringing in keyboardist Martin Brändström as a permanent member to add to the electronic experimentation. It received some good reviews but many fans were unimpressed and Niklas Sundin himself as described it as his least favourite Dark Tranquillity record.

Two years later, the band released their sixth album, "Damage Done," which was designed to be a heavier effort than the last two releases, getting rid of the clean vocals and using a thicker guitar tone. This decision seemed to pay off as both fans and critics were mostly impressed by the album and more or less everyone agreeing it was better than "Haven." It contained the successful single, "Monochromatic Stains," for which a video was made that was highly inspired by the German silent horror movie, "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari." The album was deemed successful enough that the band recorded their first DVD afterwards and named it, "Live Damage," with their first compilation album, "Exposures – In Retrospect and Denial," coming out a year later.

To promote their next album, the band released a new EP, "Lost to Apathy," the title of which was a song that would appear on their new album, "Character," which was released two months after the EP. It continued their return to a heavier sound, featuring harder and faster songs and again garnered a positive reaction from fans and the press. This was followed two years later by "Fiction," which was something of a strange album in that it saw Dark Tranquillity bring back the sound they’d forged on "Projector" and "Haven," but mix it with the style of the last two albums. It was another risk that paid dividends, receiving strong feedback and the clean vocal styling seen as a necessary part of the music rather than an assumed act of trying to go mainstream. It was also the band’s last album with Nicklasson, who left on friendly terms in 2008 and was replaced by Dimension Zero guitarist, Daniel Antonsson.

Touring for "Fiction" proved quite extensive and saw another DVD release, "Where Death Is Most Alive," which featured music videos, rare live footage, a documentary and a full concert filmed in Milan before their ninth album, "We Are the Void" was released in 2010. It was received well, but some people had started to grow a little tired of their new approach, with this very website claiming that it, "felt like Dark Tranquillity had released the same album three times in a row." It sold decently though and saw the band reach out to a younger audience on tour by joining forces with Killswitch Engage, before they embarked on their own North American tour with Threat Signal amongst others.

Never ones to let themselves become stale, Dark Tranquillity seemed to take the constructive criticism some reviewers and fans had given and create one of their darkest albums to date, "Contruct," which hit the shelves in early 2013. It was praised by many reviewers for its diversity and ability to create a dark atmosphere. It also saw the band appear on the Billboard album charts, peaking at number 171, followed by extensive touring with a variety of bands, including Europe and Tristania, whose singer, Mariangela "Mary" Demurtas contributed the female vocal parts during the Dark Tranquillity performances. Since then, the band has released a few b-sides on vinyl but the time is surely drawing near for them to enter the studio and unleash another fascinating example of why these pioneers of melodic death metal are still considered one of the greats.

Dark Tranquillity - "A Bolt Of Blazing Gold"

Dark Tranquillity - "Punish My Heaven"

Dark Tranquillity - "Hedon"

Dark Tranquillity - "Therein"

Dark Tranquillity - "Monochromatic Stains"

Dark Tranquillity - "The New Build"

Dark Tranquillity - "Misery's Crown"

Dark Tranquillity - "Shadow In Our Blood"

Dark Tranquillity - "The Science Of Noise"

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.

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1 Comment on "Sunday Old School: Dark Tranquillity"

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1. americanpatriot1 writes:

Love this band. In Flames went to crap, and these guys keep getting better.

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