2/22/2008 - Review by: Etiam
After surging back to the fore with 2002's 'Damage Done', Dark Tranquillity have ranked as one of metal's hardest working bands. Since that so-called 'return to form', the band have released a DVD, two EPs, two LPs, and toured the Western world multiple times. In the midst of it all, they have managed to present their most recent album, this year's 'Fiction'.
While it would be improper to call Dark Tranquillity a weathervane, the band has been known to align their style somewhat to that of their contemporaries. All throughout, though, they have maintained a unique, professional identity that is at least as integral to their longevity, and in this respect 'Fiction' is no different. Where the album does separate itself from past releases is in the details, and that much more distinctively than 'Character' did from 'Damage Done'.
For, although the past two albums were indeed stylistically modern, it is on 'Fiction' the band fully integrates (or reintegrates, in some cases) nearly all of the traits of today's melodic death scene. It is true that Dark Tranquillity's back catalogue includes all the diverse elements found on 'Fiction', but rarely have they been brought together all at once: keyboard accents, blastbeats, arcing harmonies, thick (dare I say "fat") bass tones, harsh and clean vocals, all prominently featured in turn from one song to the next.
Another distinction is in the songwriting itself, which without stepping outside of their established framework, is some of the band's most diverse in years. One of the most obvious is the frequent use of one-note chugging riffs that appear in the majority of the songs and often in a leading role. Fans may disagree as to their worth, but no one could accuse the band of relying solely on them to get along. Each passage of straight chugging is contrasted with Dark Tranquillity harmonized riffing, synth arpeggios, patent Jivarp blasting, and Stanne's inimitable voice. Long one of the genre's most recognizable vocalists, on 'Fiction' Stanne continues to imbue his effortless delivery with palpable emotion.
Also in keeping with Dark Tranquillity's post-millennium style is 'Fiction's admittedly formulaic approach. 'Fiction's tracks are well-separated by instrumentation, tempo, mood, etc., but they all do follow a fairly predictable, repetitive structure. Obviously this is a little disappointing, but the songwriting and lyrics nevertheless exude a poised maturity, with 'Inside the Particle Storm' and 'The Mundane and the Magic' ranking among the band's most intriguing compositions.
Reflecting, it is interesting to note that 'Fiction' is the 4th release of the millennium for the band as well as their 8th overall. As such, any old-school fans hoping for a total 'return to form' (i.e. 1993-style), might as well get over their hopes and just spin 'Skydancer' again. Dark Tranquillity may be proud of their past laurels, but they have never rested on them. While enduring fans may not find 'Fiction' to be the band's masterwork, it is an excellent introduction for new fans and a fine account of Dark Tranquillity's enduring passion for their music.
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