After a quarter of a century in existence, with 'Atoma', Swedish melo-death stalwarts and pioneers Dark Tranquillity have reached eleven. Album number eleven, that is. There's nothing vaguely Spinal Tap about this bunch of musicians. And remarkably, I'll say this from the off, it's yet another winner from the band who, alongside In Flames and At The Gates, forged the foundations, idioms and general aesthetic of the 'Gothenberg Sound' back in the day. However, it's not been a case of stagnant self-imitation, album after album, for Dark Tranquillity, as they've progressed along the way, while admirably adhering to the core sound they established all those years ago. 'Atoma' is no exception as they've developed their songwriting into wider expressive territory, while simultaneously maintaining the elements longtime fans love, respect, and expect from the band.
'Atoma' kicks off with 'Encircled' which acts almost like a segue between previous album 'Construct' and this new one. 'Construct' was emphatically darker in tone in the context of Dark Tranquillity's canon of work, and 'Encircled' perpetuates this mood, albeit in the most sonically invigorating and musically vehement of ways. However, while the energy and exhilarative impetus established on this opener is perpetuated throughout the album, it diverges from its dark mood into a wider expression of emotions. Melancholy, of which there has always been a predominance in their sound, colours many of the compositions, although songs are also loaded with light and dark contrasts; uplifting and downbeat moods; baleful feelings offset against optimism; and, at times, an ambiguous ambivalence where all these elements seem to fuse as one. In one sense, this could be considered as the archetypal Dark Tranquillity album as it has it all.... a tag it might very well attain in the future.
Quasi-complex structures characterise certain tracks with frantic rhythms and alternately palm-muted, picked staccato riffage, while other tracks are more euphonic outings with simpler chord structures and drum patterns. Listen no further than the first two tracks for such a contrast. Frontman Mikael Stanne exercises both his growled and clean voice throughout, with a bias on the former, although it's great to hear the low, warm tones of the latter, too, on a handful of the songs. His growls are ever-expressive and loaded with as much tone as they always have. He's at the top of his game here. In fact, all musicians deliver fine performances. Niklas Sundin's guitar work, layered with Martin Brändström keyboards, are both fantastic, once again. Sticksman Anders Jivarp and newcomer on bass, Tiamat's Anders Iwers, provide a tight and invigorating rhythm backbone to each and every track.
Gone, however, is bassist/guitarist/songwriter and founding member Martin Henriksson, although the band's overall sound hasn't suffered one little bit. Quite the contrary, this is the most energised and musically vibrant outing for Dark Tranquillity for quite some time (although, it must be said, I also loved the pervasive, menacing darkness of 'Construct' just as much). The title of the third track here seems to summarise the band's current mindset - 'Forward Momentum', and, based on the strength of 'Atoma', these Swedes look set to march successfully onwards for many more years to come.
Review by Mark Holmes
49:40 & 8:53
4th November 2016
CD 1: 1) Encircled; 2) Atoma; 3) Forward Momentum; 4) Neutrality; 5) Force of Hand; 6) Faithless by Default; 7) The Pitiless; 8) Our Proof of Life; 9) Clearing Skies; 10) When the World Screams; 11) Merciless Fate; 12) Cave and Embers
CD 2 [Media Book Bonus Tracks]: 1) The Absolute; 2) Time Our of Place
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...this could be considered as the archetypal Dark Tranquillity album.... a tag it might very well attain in the future."