Dark Tranquillity have arguably the best track-record of any melodic death metal band. As co-founders of the genre, they’ve helped challenge and define its boundaries for the better part of three decades and have rarely come up wanting. Nevertheless, the band’s output over the last ten-years has struggled to step out of the shadow of their 2007 record Fiction—a high point for the band and the melodic death metal genre as a whole. Unfortunately, the band’s twelfth record, Moment, continues the trend, being unable to establish its own identity and constituting one of the Swedish sovereigns’ weakest and most forgettable efforts to date.
Did you guys know Christopher Amott (Armageddon, ex-Arch Enemy) was in Dark Tranquillity now? Me neither, and you could hardly tell from his performance on Moment. Although he always played second fiddle to younger brother Michael in Arch Enemy, Amott’s work in Armageddon and as a solo artist proves he’s a proficient and often outstanding songwriter and technical player in his own right. On paper, Amott sounds like just the injection of younger blood Dark Tranquillity needed to regain their mojo (baby! Yeah!). How much Amott was involved in the album;s songwriting is unclear. Nevertheless, there’s none of his trademark flash on display here and, judging by the videos released so far, it’s fellow newcomer Johan Reinholdz (Nonexist, Andromeda) who brings what little shredding is present to the record.
Yet, Moment isn’t a letdown because it doesn’t sound like the love-child of Damage Done (2002) and Doomsday Machine (2005); it’s a letdown because it sounds like the amalgamation of Atoma (2016) and We are the Void (2010). Although neither are particularly “bad” or even below average records, the latter’s morose wallowing makes it the obvious low-point in an otherwise fairly flawless catalogue. Atoma, on the other hand, was greeted with widespread praise upon its release but failed to leave much of a lasting impact. Maybe I’m wrong, but it feels like Atoma has been largely forgotten in the years since its release (four years to be exact; has it really been that long?). The album carried a lot of immediate impact, but it lacked the individual identity even Dark Tranquillity’s weaker records possess. Moment, unfortunately, fails to make even an initial impression.
Nothing on Moment is memorable. Catchiness and memorability need not be the be-all and the end-all of a good record but, as pioneers – and arguably perfectors – of melodic death metal, you expect a certain degree of memorability from Dark Tranquillity. There are a few ear-catching moments along the way: the opening riff to “Phantom Days”, the chorus on “Identical to None”, the unexpected barrage of heaviness that opens “Ego Deception” and the sudden influx of energy that is “Failstate” – the only moment on the record when Amott and the rest of Dark Tranquillity ever recapture the vigor and vitality of their prior output. The rest is a serviceable yet entirely forgettable mush. Moment is overwhelming monotonous, if not entirely boring, but from a band as great as Dark Tranquillity, that’s just not good enough.
Another thing that feels out of step with Moment is its cover art. It’s absolutely gorgeous, vibrant and striking: everything that the album’s music itself is not. The stark, minimalist, grey-scale cover of Fiction would be a far more fitting representative of what Moment contains, while the variety and vibrancy of its own artwork would fit that record to a tee. Swapping it around with Atoma‘s more monotonous cover also feels more representative of each album’s contents. It’s a moot point, especially considering the artwork comes courtesy of ex-Dark Tranquillity guitarist Niklas Sundin, who was in a unique position to capture the vibe of each album. Still, it’s worth talking about, if only because its one of the most memorable parts of the record.
Moment and indeed much of Dark Tranquillity’s output over the last decade can be perhaps more accurately described as “melow-death” than “melo-death”. There’s certainly room for melancholy in metal – lord knows its better than the “forced fun” of modern In Flames – but, in attempting to bring the sadness, Dark Tranquillity find themselves severely outgunned by contemporaries like Insomnium, Swallow the Sun and especially Katatonia, whose most recent effort found a way to balance its desolation with memorable songwriting and kickass guitar licks.
Although not widely well-received at the time of its release, 2013’s Construct – an album I’ve always had a personal soft-spot for – has proven itself far and beyond the best of Dark Tranquillity’s post-Fiction output. There’s an argument to be made for Atoma, but Construct‘s distinct and largely unprecedented experiments with electronics and even post-punk stylings sets it apart while providing a way for the band to move forward into a more “mature” stage of their career. Unfortunately, everything that made that album stand out was promptly abandoned, leaving Dark Tranquillity to soldier on as a pale shadow of themselves and their competitors.
Moment is out November 20, through Century Media Records.