How does a band keep their sound consistent yet fresh after 20+ years of active releases? Especially when the sound is something relatively limited and simple. In Flames clearly don’t have the right answer. Their fellow town-mates, Dark Tranquillity, just might, however. Over the years, the Gothenburg outlet has remained relatively consistent in tone and even though they’ve gone through three distinct eras, they’ve managed to maintain a common thread through them all. While not every Dark Tranquillity album was an instant hit, especially a couple of their more recent ones, somehow with their 11th release Atoma they have rediscovered their spark. Both a return to form and a push forward, this album shows that this particular brand of Swedish melodeath still has more to offer.
Dark Tranquillity’s career can be divided into roughly three different eras. The early melodeath era, in which they released their first three albums, was before the band really found their unique sound. Regardless, they put out great old school melodeath along the veins of At the Gates. While they never returned to this sound fully, it did inform their later approach to an extent. The divisive Projector marks the beginning of their second era, introducing keyboards to their sound along with that cold, modern melancholy that came to be associated with the Gothenburg sound. Uniquely Swedish, this melodic and atmospheric approach let Dark Tranquillity carve their niche within the genre. This is when they reached their biggest audience, and each subsequent album got more grandiose and complex. Then, with their 2007 release Fiction, they changed their approach yet again. Focusing on minimalism, they reduced their sound to its essential elements. This change was well-received, and is at the root of the band’s approach to date.
Why the history lesson? It’s because Atoma is the first time in a while that Dark Tranquillity have really taken a look at themselves and re-evaluated their game plan. Featuring a large dose of elements from their middle era combined with the minimalism of their recent efforts, Atoma is a best-of-both-worlds approach that somehow combines existing ideas and makes them new. Just like it does so to many things, diversity is what makes Atoma great. We have tracks that lean on blast beats and old schoool melodeath riffs, the best clean singing ballad since “Misery’s Crown”, melancholic ambient songs and upbeat, Muse-like sections. This is the most varied album the band has put out since 2000’s Haven, and there’s a lot to appreciate about that.
We Are The Void felt fatiguing because it was intensely depressing most of the time, whereas the differing tones on Atoma help keep it interesting. The band experiment with riffs, trying new tricks on for size and mixing them in with classic, as-Dark-Tranquillity-as-it-gets sections. It’s rather surprising to see such an “old guard” band still trying to innovate. Well, that other aforementioned band from the same region is also trying new things with terrifying results, so maybe sheer innovation isn’t the answer. The true secret to Dark Tranquillity’s continued success is consistency. They manage to maintain a style of melody that is immediately identifiable as them that no other band really attempts to replicate. Sticking to the formula at all costs clearly can’t work either, so they balance having a stable core and moving the pieces around it, and it works oh so well.
In the end, Atoma is the best the band have sounded in almost 10 years, and could be considered a serious contender to the (rather large) list of their best albums. Combining variety with familiarity, they have managed to have a diverse album that still sounds like Dark Tranquillity. What does that mean? Memorable and heart-wrenching melodies, brilliant lyrics, and an overall great time. Hats off to these Swedes.
Dark Tranquillity’s Atoma will be released on November 4th, via Century Media. You can pre-order it right here.