Dark Tranquillity – Atoma – Album Review

dark_tranquillity_2016_atoma_cover

Artist: Dark Tranquillity

Album Title: Atoma

Label: Century Media

Date Of Release: 4 November 2016

It seems fitting that I am releasing this review on the eighth anniversary of my late brother’s passing. It is a horrendously sad time of the year but it is made a little more comforting by being surrounded by an old friend in the form of Sweden’s Dark Tranquillity.

Dark Tranquillity are not just one of my favourite melodic death metal bands, they are one of my all-time favourite bands from any genre or subgenre of music. They were also a big favourite of my brother too. Ever since I first discovered them at University in the late 90s, they have been a constant companion, a band that has brought me joy and satisfaction with a consistency that is more than impressive. Be it on record or in the live arena, they never failed to delight my brother and me and we shared some great times down the years thanks to this band.

I have tried but I can’t think of a single album that I don’t like. Moreover, I can’t actually think of an album which is anything less than excellent, a standard that the Swedes constantly aim for with unerring accuracy.

Dark Tranquillity are rightly attributed with helping to form the genre within which they sit, the ‘New Wave of Swedish Death Metal’ or the ‘Gothenburg sound’ if you prefer. Much like other melodeath bands, they have tinkered with their sound over the years, dabbling with different ideas within their core framework. However, unlike some of their contemporaries and compatriots, they have never taken the experimentation too far. Whether their output has been more catchy or extreme, Dark Tranquillity have always had the knack of delivering the goods.

I’ve always thought about the reason for the success and longevity of Dark Tranquillity and in writing this review, I think I have hit upon an answer; their music always feels genuine, never contrived or forced. The blend of more extreme ingredients with strong, memorable melodies and powerful atmospheres is just about perfect. What’s more, despite plying their trade in the extreme metal world, Dark Tranquillity always manage to convey a high level of sincerity and a genuine warmth, led by the mercurial and enthusiastic Mikael Stanne, which then flows through the rest of the band.

It goes without saying that I have been looking forward to album number eleven for some time. And here we have it, in the form of ‘Atoma’, a release that didn’t have the easiest of births following the somewhat shock departure of guitarist and founding member Martin Henriksson, who realised that after a quarter of a century, he had had enough and didn’t have the drive or desire to carry on.

Nevertheless, the remaining members of vocalist Mikael Stanne, lead guitarist Niklas Sundin, drummer Anders Jivarp, keyboardist Martin Brändström and ‘new’ bassist Anders Iwers have continued, persevered and have delivered yet another truly wonderful chapter in the story of Dark Tranquillity. Lyrically and conceptually, ‘Atoma’ is an album that tackles the world’s current ills through a demonstrably human angle, deliberately steering clear of any political stance. And it’s a powerful and rather emotive narrative, crucially backed up by some of the strongest material of the band’s lengthy career.

Credit: Dirk Behlau

Credit: Dirk Behlau

In a nutshell, ‘Atoma’ is just about the perfect blend of the catchiness and immediacy of ‘Haven’ or ‘Character’, the more extreme elements found within ‘We Are The Void’ or ‘Construct’ and the more atmospheric and rich sounds of ‘Projector’, an album which remains a firm favourite to this day. Allow me to elaborate just a touch.

‘Atoma’ kicks off superbly with ‘Encircled’, a track that starts off slowly and deliberately with lashings of atmosphere before picking up pace in positive fashion. The beating heart of the song is very melodic with an instantly likeable chorus, reminding me of the ‘Haven’ era given the catchiness on display. The lead breaks from Sundin are great, whilst Stanne is as caustic as ever with his trademark growl that still maintains some warmth and enables the lyrics to be understood.

The title track begins with an electronic melody before bursting into life. ‘Oh mama, Stanne has brought back his clean vocals’ I exclaim with barely contained joy on a first spin, having sorely missed this ingredient in recent years. The chosen vocal delivery immediately provides a wonderful ‘Projector’ feel, one of my favourite albums from the strong discography. Vocals aside, I also love the contrast between the light and heavy sections, including a pronounced atmospheric minimalist section led by keyboardist Brändström before closing out the song full throttle. The drama is therefore increased at the death and this song just oozes quality from every pore.

I love the bass and drum combo courtesy of Jivarp and Iwers that opens up ‘Forward Momentum’, as well as the opening riff and the overall pace of the track. The keys come to the fore to create depth and dark atmosphere, whilst the clean vocals give me goose bumps. The track’s construction is wonderful as it becomes more intense during the chorus, which is memorable yet at the same time, not quite as obvious. With time though, the melodies sink in with devastating effect. The lead guitar solo from Sundin is gorgeous, full of feeling and eloquence. The dark undertones common to Dark Tranquillity are present but they give me a warm glow as I begin to realise that I’m in the presence of something potentially very special in ‘Atoma’.

‘Neutrality’ continues the theme with a quiet opening, before exploding with urgency and a fair ferocity. Indeed, there is more of a savage feel to this song which I like. The pace is quicker, the vocals more venomously spat and the vibe is more in keeping with the last couple of albums, being darker and more extreme. And yet, despite this, the slightly more subtle melodies are present throughout the song, as are the keys. The groove at the three-quarter mark is marvellous, counterpointed by the slightly uncomfortable-sounding off-kilter notes that are entirely deliberate.

A very dark, quiet and contemplative tone starts off ‘Force Of Hand’, complete with ominous, barely audible whispered vocals. This is a more mid-tempo, moody and cerebral composition with a seriously cool groove to it as well as a commanding ebb and flow. The heaviness eventually joins the fray but at a more measured tempo for the most part until the accelerator is pressed and the track suddenly gallops along, led by powerful near blast-beat drumming at times from Jivarp.

‘Faithless by Default’ doesn’t begin in the same quiet manner as many of its predecessors and yet it has the appearance of being a quieter track somehow. It is still heavy and dark when required but it comes across as being a little more refined overall with a sprawling chorus that works its magic after repeated listens. The stars of this particular show are drummer Jivarp and bassist Iwers who catch my ear every time I dive into this song.

Many of you will have already heard ‘The Pitiless’, given that it is also the lead single from the album, released a while back. It is arguably the most extreme track on the record, opening up at a fair lick and maintaining this urgency As such, ‘The Pitiless’ is much more in keeping with the last couple of records. It goes without saying that it displays some melody and indeed becomes more melodic the more time I spend with it. However, the melodic aspects are buried much deeper in the background as the key for the song, I believe, is to create something altogether more furious, dark and disturbing.

A seriously groovy rhythm straight off the bat introduces the listener to ‘Our Proof Of Life’, which is best described as a rich and powerful affair and is arguably my favourite song on the album. Stanne’s clean vocals return and I’m smiling again as a result – I can’t help it. And then, at the half-way mark, the composition turns into the most anthemic of songs, complete with rousing guitar solo and killer melodies. It also flirts astutely with quieter passages before returning to the opening melody for a muscular closure.

‘Clearing Skies’ which offers more huge melodies throughout but, despite the catchy chorus, the band then deftly reverts to something altogether more spiky and confrontational for the verse. The aforementioned chorus offers more in the way of keys and stop-start riffing, creating a more modern sheen in the process, almost vaguely djent albeit fleetingly. But regardless, this atmospheric composition is absurdly addictive.

The guitar tones and the rhythms applied within ‘When The World Screams’ remind me of the earlier days of Dark Tranquillity much more, whilst expertly blending them with accents of ‘Character’ with hugely impressive results.

Credit: Dirk Behlau

Credit: Dirk Behlau

I’m beginning to run out of positive adjectives by this point but the quality from the Swedish quintet shows no signs of abating. Penultimate track ‘Merciless Fate’ opens slowly and utilises a slower pace overall. Stanne snarls menacingly to begin with, but then the song opens up nicely as it develops. Led by more clean vocals, the melodies suddenly come to the fore almost shyly and make a huge impact within the context of the song. My hairs stand up on end and whether it is because there is seemingly no let-up in the brilliance of this album, I find myself getting emotional.

‘Atoma’ closes with ‘Caves and Embers’. The intro is strong and dramatic, acceding before long to an up-tempo rhythm overlaid with lashings of atmospheric keys from Brändström. The lead guitar flourishes are flamboyant and whether I’m dreaming it or not, there is a vague sense of hope and positivity within the song. The extended introspective and atmospherically substantial mid-section eventually gives way to an outpouring of power as the song, and indeed the album, drives forcefully to a conclusion.

Just when I thought 2016 couldn’t get any better, up pops Dark Tranquillity to send me into a spin of emotion and elation. As I said at the outset, Dark Tranquillity have always been very important to me. However, what ‘Atoma’ does so wonderfully, is draw all of their key ingredients together into one 12-track album to create a thrill-ride of expertly-crafted, engaging and elegant melodic death metal. My love for Dark Tranquillity has been well and truly cemented and right now, I can’t think of a better band within this particular genre. They helped to create it, they have helped to shape it and now, in 2016, Dark Tranquillity have proved that they are still, unquestionably, the masters of melodic death metal.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.75

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others via my reviews pages or by clicking the links right here:

Hammerfall – Built To Last
Testament – Brotherhood Of The Snake
Crippled Black Phoenix – Bronze
Riverside – Eye Of The Soundscape
Hanging Garden – Hereafter
Theocracy – Ghost Ship
Arkona – Lunaris
Oddland – Origin
Sonata Arctica – The Ninth Hour
Edensong – Years In The Garden of Years
Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep Of Reason
Alcest – Kodama
Opeth – Sorceress
Negura Bunget – ZI
Epica – The Holographic Principle
Amaranthe – Maximalism
Eye Of Solitude – Cenotaph
Seven Impale – Contrapasso
DGM – The Passage
Pressure Points – False Lights
In The Woods – Pure
Devin Townsend – Transcendence
The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
Evergrey – The Storm Within
Dream The Electric Sleep – Beneath The Dark Wide Sky
Periphery – ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’
Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

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4 thoughts on “Dark Tranquillity – Atoma – Album Review

  1. Marcin Lewandowski

    Man, we may be the same person. Not only is “Our Proof” my fav, the entire album basically perfect to me BUT I also lost my brother 8 years ago (6/2008). Small world. Anyway, great review and good job breaking the songs down

    Reply
    1. manofmuchmetal Post author

      Thanks for reading my review Marcin, & for the kind comments, it’s much appreciated. And I am sorry for your loss – it doesn’t get much easier does it? All the best, Matt

      Reply

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