While the North American release of Dark Tranquillity‘s new EP, Zero Distance, may not be the most exciting or groundbreaking work the band has every put out — it’s a collection of b-sides from the We Are the Void sessions — I can at least say this about it, it has given me the chance to see the thrill of Dark Tranquillity’s back catalog once more. Which really should not have had to happen, because Dark Tranquillity are without a doubt in my mind, the most consistent band from the Gothenburg melodic death metal scene, and I don’t think it would be too far of a stretch to say they are the most consistent melo-death band of all time. With over twenty years of experience, and nine full length albums under their belt — all of which are spectacular, by the way — they are easily in the forefront of current metal bands. Even if they never reached the level of popularity that In Flames some how managed, DT have a respectable number of fans, and their audience is continually growing.
While I could heap praise on the band as a whole for an infinity, I want to take the time to talk about one album in particular; the first Dark Tranquillity album I ever had the pleasure of experiencing; 1999’s experimental masterpiece, Projector.
The first album you listen to by a band is always easy to develop a bias for, but there are many reasons why I love this album, and why I consider it Dark Tranquillity’s best. First and foremost being the vocals of Mikael Stanne. This album was quite a departure for the band for numerous reasons, but most telling of which are Stanne’s added cleans. While he had only sung on two previous albums with Dark Tranquillity, Stanne had already developed quite a signature approach to his vocals. Rich, nasally, and somber growls that were far more intelligible than most harsh vocalists even to this day. And while that style of performance was great, Stanne’s operatic baritone is what really sets this album apart. The mix between the two styles, especially in the song ‘Therein’ — a song that explores the nature of paradox — really capture the essence of the band. Dark Tranquillity. The dichotomy is right there in the name and with the mixture of vocal styles, the band’s ability to clash and harmonize the elements of beauty and darkness is brought to all new heights. And with this in mind it makes it that much more of a shame that we have only received a handful of songs with mixed vocals since the release of Projector.
Another aspect of this album that makes it such a standout is the heavy emphasis on piano and keyboard melodies. While these elements are now a staple for the band, Projector was the first album to introduce them to the band’s sound, and what a difference it made. Before this album the band relied almost entirely on the guitars to create the melodies for them, and while it worked in some instances, I don’t think the band really crafted their sound as the purveyors of excellent melo-death until they started to introduce the piano and keyboard into their mix. And with such a heavy emphasis on these elements in later songs — such as ‘Inside the Particle Storm’, ‘The Wonders at your Feet’ and ‘Iridium’ — it’s hard for me not to see Projector as the progenitor of the Dark Tranquillity sound that we are now able to enjoy.
I just love this album as a whole so damn much. It’s hard to really qualify why it means so much to me, but it was so important to me during my formative years as a metal fan, and I still love each and every song on it to death. I know it gets a lot of mixed reviews and feelings throughout the fan base, but this will always be Dark Tranquillity’s White album for me. The very best of the best. So if you haven’t heard it yet, go give it a spin. It’s crushing and brutal, and it is beyond beautiful. There are so many wonderful moments to be had with a record like this, and I hope that everyone listens to it at some point.