Dark Tranquillity’s first LP was released in 1993. That makes it a 20 years difference between then and the release of their newest album, Construct. This is a notable not just because that’s a long ass time to be in a band (especially a death metal band), but also because in that time not one of their albums has been a huge disappointment. They have been a remarkably consistent band, in more ways than one. Not only has the quality of their output been solid, but their sound has almost remained unchanged since their inception. I say “almost” because lately they have been a bit less aggressive than past endeavors, and are playing with a roomier, slower sound. That trend continues on Construct.
Starting with 2010’s We are the Void, Dark Tranquillity has been creating slightly more atmospheric, slightly slower metal, as opposed to the classic technicality of an early favorite like The Gallery or the nonstop intensity of albums like Damage Done or Character. The melodic, staccato riffage the band is known for pops up periodically, but it is far less prevalent than past efforts. The moments it does appear (like on “The Science of Noise” and “Apathetic”), you can’t help but wish that they shred more often, since Niklas Sundin’s melodic lines are still some of the best around. However, though the shredding is missed, the new ideas DT are incorporating into their sound are absolutely welcome. Strong tracks such as “What Only You Know” and “State of Trust” feature more clean vocals than standard DT songs, and are better for it. Mikael Stanne’s normal singing voice has never sounded as good as it does here, and it complements the new ideas much better than screaming would.
While I’m all for a more diverse listening experience, DT doesn’t always hit their mark. Lead single “Uniformity,” while boasting great vocals, has little else going for it, and the ending goes on for a minute more than it has to. Album closer “None Becoming” is also lackluster, despite some great playing by drummer Anders Jivarp. On that track, as well the opening song “For Broken Words”, it’s clear that DT doesn’t always know how to make their new fondness for space compelling, or at least as compelling as their speedy riffage that it replaced was. It’s odd then that left off the album (but included as a bonus track) is “Photon Dreams,” a short instrumental where DT is firing on all cylinders at once. Short tracks such as “Photon Dreams” would work perfectly as interludes in DT’s often packed albums, and while individual songs are incorporating space better than ever before, the albums themselves have always lacked stopping points where listeners can clear their head before diving back in, making their albums tough to get through in one sitting.
I've been thinking about this analogy that probably doesn't hold up under deep scrutiny, and will probably offend fans of the band, but whatever: Dark Tranquillity is melodic death metal's AC/DC. What I mean by that is this: both bands have worked for the better parts of the career developing a specific sound, and then spent the rest of their time refining and tweaking that sound for what seems like forever. However, what separates DT from AC/DC and from the fate of being labeled “has beens” is that DT decided at some point, around the time We Are the Void was recorded, that instead of playing the same sound over and over (as good at that sound as they may be), they would try new things and open up to different modes of playing. Construct shows that they got some more learning to do before they’re completely adept at their new sound, but they succeed more often than not. It’s not as addicting as earlier albums, but the future Dark Tranquillity promises here is more than enough to make this album worthwhile.
P.S. For those wondering, it’s totally legitimate to write the word “tranquillity” with two “l’s.” I had to look it up because it was bugging me. Apparently, you can write the word with one or two “l’s’. The more you know!