You know, I’d almost given up on Dark Tranquillity. There was a time – not so very long ago – that the original Gothenburg act would have featured on a very short list of my favourite bands. In my teenage years, they seemed like an exemplar of everything modern metal ought to aspire to, proving it possible over and over again to reconcile aggressive guitar work and harsh vocals with expertly sculpted melodies and a humane, touching sensibility. They were the lone bright spot in the Gothenburg melodic death metal scene in the 2000’s, retaining their integrity and dedication to craftsmanship long after their compatriots In Flames and Soilwork had descended into banality and irrelevancy. These days, I take a rather more moderate view of their discography. 1995’s The Gallery remains in my mind an untouchable masterpiece that flirts with perfection, but none of the band’s other eight studio records come anywhere near that pinnacle even as they generally vary from “good” to “very good” (except Projector. You can’t win ‘em all). 2010’s We are the Void” in particular sounded like a band ready to spend the rest of their days having faded into the background of Century Media’s roster, release samey albums of four-minute tracks every two or three years and generally treat music as one would a nine-to-five job. The passion seemed to have cooled on their part and correspondingly, it did on mine also.
Construct, then, comes as a genuine pleasure. It may not be the most startling reinvention on Dark Tranquillity’s part, but it contains songs with a pulse and a character that was wholly absent from the perfunctory-feeling We are the Void.” Rather than going through the motions and rehashing Damage Done yet again, the band seems to have taken a good, hard look at themselves and considered what they want their songs to convey and why. The result is their most varied and idiosyncratic record this side of Projector, albeit one executed with a great deal more discipline than that botched experiment.
The first two tracks, “For Broken Words” and “The Science of Noise,” make for a bit of a lacklustre first impression, falling neatly in line with the sort of sound DT have been peddling for the last decade. Niklas Sundin and Martin Henriksson’s guitars weave in and out of dual-harmonised leads, portentous and gloomy melodies creating a sense of dystopian unease and anxiety while Mikael Stanne growls over the top in his characteristic mid-range rasp. It’s not bad, but it’s also rather safe and by-the-numbers, reluctant to emerge from the chrysalis of structural simplicity and melodic accessibility. Where my ears perked up a bit was with the third track, “Uniformity,” a moody, seething mid-tempo piece driven by Martin Brändström’s synths, owing more to Depeche Mode than to Slaughter of the Soul. The track swells and crests quite organically, going back and forth between pulsating anger and tranquil melancholy, the transitions demarcated by Stanne’s alternation between growls and his clean baritone.
The rest of the songs on the album are crafted at a similar level of care. Dark Tranquillity could quite easily coast by on thoughtless recitations of verse/chorus structures in the melodic death metal template – we know this because they have done in the past — but Construct is not thoughtless at all, quite the opposite. Each track is written with an emotional tenor in mind and structured so as best to achieve it. “Apathetic” ranks among the heaviest songs the band has ever written, based around a series of fearsome quasi-thrash riffs, its violent, churning rhythms encapsulating a sense of modern-day frustration and alienation (kudos should also go here to Stanne as a lyricist. Lines like “sometimes I feel what silence best describes” demonstrate a command of language rare in metal, and doubly so in a non-native speaker). By contrast, “What Only you Know” and “State of Trust” are made with designs on the listener’s heartstrings, their swooning, autumnal synths and clean-sung choruses aching with yearning.
Construct is a definite success, and belongs comfortably in the upper echelons of the band’s discography as a whole. That’s not to say that Dark Tranquillity have suddenly transformed themselves into a font of daring creativity – they still err on the side of caution, doing little to alienate fans of their last few albums or of modern melodic metal in general. Still, their ability to marry mainstream appeal to artistry has frequently been one of their great strengths, and this the case here. Construct feels liberated where We are the Void” felt stifled, and it has me feeling enthusiastic about a band I never thought I’d feel that way about again.
01) For Broken Words
02) The Science of Noise
04) The Silence in Between
06) What Only you Know
07) Endtime Hearts
08) State of Trust
09) Weight of the End
10) None Becoming