Saturday, July 20, 2013

Dark Tranquillity: Construct

Dark Tranquillity's 2013 offering, Construct, is perhaps the most diverse album the band has released to date. The listening experience is akin to getting a little bit of their greatest work, a new facet of the group, and the general Dark Tranquillity "feel" all at once. And, before getting to a track-by-track analysis, I will dare to say that this album stands up to their undeniable masterpiece albums Character, Fiction, and Damage Done. The polished and heavy melodicism of those major three albums is present here as much as the goth-tinged clean vocals that graced Projector and parts of Fiction, as is the intensive percussion longtime fans will recognize from Skydancer and The Gallery. This album also showcases my favorite aspect of Dark Tranquillity's style par excellence, which is the ability to create the most ungodly heavy atmospheres without relying on all the metal conventions of their contemporaries--that is, they utilize the fact that they are a band, and not a group of musicians that use triple-rectified guitars as a crutch. I could go on and on about the general stuff that makes this a fantastic album, but let's take a look at specifics…

The Track-By-Track:

1. "For Broken Words"
The first track on the album is a decent opener, and gives the listener an immediate sense of the fantastic production of the album. Stanne's aggressive vocals come through with a richer texture than in previous releases, and do so without losing the harsh quality that give them their characteristic intensity. The song itself is middle-of-the-road in terms of what this band is capable of composing, and, though not what I would call "filler," it does little more than open the album adequately. 

2. "The Science of Noise"
Continuing in the tradition of using an awesome drum fill to kick off a song--as in "Cornered," "The Treason Wall," and "The New Build," to name a few--"The Science of Sound" gets going with a bang. In certain moments, parts of the overall harmonic movement and some of the vocal rhythms are a bit reminiscent of the song "Shadow in Our Blood" from 2010's We are the Void, but the song is a solid offering, and contains many of the hallmark Dark Tranquillity idiosyncrasies like pull-off guitar licks, drum grooves that are equally catchy and well composed, and screamed vocals that somehow exude melodic sensibility despite being atonal and all-out aggressive.

3. "Uniformity"
This is by far my favorite piece on the album. It showcases what a beautiful voice Mikael Stanne really has when he decides to include clean vocal technique. Although they are predictably used for the chorus, his non-aggressive vocals recall Projector, but have less of the harmonically rich cracked-voice quality Stanne used to glissando into notes. Both vocals styles work, but this style is more accessible, and because he is a better vocalist now, it also seems to just work better in general. At 5:31, "Uniformity" is the longest track on the album, and is an intense experience from beginning to end. I don't want to do a disservice to this track by comparing ti to others, but "Uniformity" captures an atmosphere akin to "Iridium" from We are the Void, and to a lesser degree "Inside the Particle Storm" from Fiction.

4. "The Silence in Between"  
The first time I heard this song, I thought that it should have been the track to start the album. It's intro is classic Dark Tranquility, and the energy is infectious to say the least. I don't know that anyone could resist shouting "what if we crumble/what if we fall?" right along with Stanne in the chorus. At 3:32, this track is almost too short, but I suppose it's always a good thing for a song when one wants to hit the "repeat" button over and over again. There are a few moments in the song where the vocal overdubbing, though subtle, is unnecessary, and the cut in dynamics at 2:18 is an abrupt change that could have perhaps been much smoother.

5. "Apathetic"
Track 5 is by far the weakest track on the album. While it sports impressive energy and strong performances from all of the band members, it is the weakest compositionally, and seems to be the most uninspired in terms of arrangement. The lyrics, too, seem like they would be something the band would pen in 1993--not that they had entirely bad lyrics back then (in fact, Dark Tranquillity has always employed a poeticism that I find endearing), it's just that these lyrics, and the song as a whole didn't get enough attention when it was being crafted. It pains me to say this for a group so dear to my heart, but "Apathetic" is the closest thing to filler on Construct. I almost want to delete that sentence, but I cannot deny the truth.

6. "What Only You Know"
Another song that creates an equally ominous and beautiful atmosphere is "What Only You Know." I love the way this track starts--you know the type; the kind of songs that begin with a climax that feels like an old emotion rushing back into memory after being all but forgotten. One of the aspects of the song that I love is the chord progression that borders on major tonality but doesn't quite get there. It brilliantly offers an ambiguous emotional experience, much like a bittersweet memory or the way some people don't allow themselves to be content.

7. "Endtime Hearts"
The heavy intro riff  of track 7 recalls the attitude of Dark Tranquillity's 2002 release Damage Done and offers dynamic counterpoint to the synth that floats gracefully on top. I  also felt the dynamic break at :58 was a bit in the vein of "Lost to Apathy" on 2005's Character, but despite being reminiscent of past Dark Tranquillity awesomeness, the song definitely holds its own, particularly with the tasteful and organic key change at 2:42, and, chiming in at 3:09, the variation of the dynamic break heard earlier in the tune is a welcome evolution in the composition.

8. "State of Trust"
Track 8 opens with Stanne's lush clean vocals, again showing what a talented vocalist he is. While the arrangement of the song is somewhat predictable, I love the tempo change during the bridge section, which makes for a really fresh change compared to the half time groove that would have been the default of most bands in the same context.   

9. "Weight of the End"
The theme riff at 0:20 is interesting in that, in a different context, it could be the sort of entirely blithe motif one hears all too often in heavy radio rock. However, here it serves as one of three feels in the song, making it a crucial part of the song's shifting character; and I love the when the riff becomes the bass line and the guitars evolve into more melodic parts on top of it. The extended coda will be a little long for some, but I enjoyed the extra jamming, as I tend to do when Dark Tranquillity goes atmospheric.

10. "None Becoming"
Sludgy intro with gothic keyboards on top is how Dark Tranquillity tells you the end (of the album) is nigh. This song puts you in a trance much in the way "Iridium" from We are the Void does.

I absolutely love the production on this album. The band has shown on Character, Fiction, We are the Void, and Construct that a clean, articulate sound is what they want, and each one of these albums has been a testament to that goal and to the undoubtedly massive amounts of work that their studio production teams have accomplished over the years.

Stand-Out Tracks:

"The Silence Between"
"What Only You Know"
"Endtime Hearts"
"State of Trust"
"Weight of the End"
"None Becoming"

Recommended?  YES!

Dark Tranquillity is:
Mikael Stanne - vocals
Martin Henriksson - guitar, bass
Niklas Sundin - guitar
Anders Jivarp - drums
Martin Brändström - keyboards, programming.

Dark Tranquillity website:

Other Notes:
The special edition of the album comes with two bonus tracks, "Immemorial" and "Photon Dreams." Both songs are excellent and continue the trend of Dark Tranquillity bonus tracks being equal (or better!) quality than their already amazing album offerings. If you're a diehard fan, spend the dough to get the bonus tracks. If it's out of your price range, check 'em out on YouTube. I am sure they're posted, and I'm sure you'll love them.