Dark Tranquillity – Atoma (Century Media)Monday, 24th October 2016
It’s got to be tough being Dark Tranquillity sometimes. Compared to some of their other Swedish melodeath elder statesmen, they’ve been the truest of the bunch – regardless of their changes in sound over the years, they’ve held the melodic death metal flag up high. That being said, with each new album comes expectations that Dark Tranquillity will still reside somewhere in the aforementioned box, and each new trick (or revisited old one) is sure to draw new gripes from long-time fans – or the view that “it’s just another Dark Tranquillity album” if they don’t try something too different.
That’s why it may take a few listens to really get a true vision for what Atoma really is. Dark Tranquillity have not reinvented themselves, but once again gathered some of their strongest elements from over the ages and pieced them together in a way that fans both new and old can appreciate. This coming off of a few albums (We Are the Void, Construct) that were “solid” – fine additions to the catalog but just missed that “wow” moment to keep them from lining with some of the band’s best works. Combining the dark and emotive atmosphere of their past two releases, Atoma merges it with the stronger riffing of say Character or Damage Done, Haven’s more bombastic synths, and the more polarizing part – Stanne’s clean vocals. Ever since Projector, Stanne’s love ‘em or hate ‘em cleans have been relegated to a song or two, and Atoma marks their most prevalent use since then, but it’s notable how effective they are to tracks like “Our Proof of Life,” and “Forward Momentum.” It’s clear there’s been some time to effectively place them into the mix.
Clean vocals aside, Atoma balances the stronger use of atmosphere that Dark Tranquillity has flirted with on recent material, with heavier/thrashier tunes. “When the World Screams” gallops through it’s verse, but the more gentle keys and guitar melodies give it an even more memorable feel due to the contrast. The ominous crunch of “Encircled” squares off nicely with the more aggressive tone and starts the album in fine form – but the later, slower growls of Stanne provide even more emotive tones to soak in. Speaking of emotion, the chorus of “Clearing Skies” has one of the strongest key/melodies that the band has done in quite some time, and sure to be a highlight for many. So will the more upbeat and synth-heavy title track, which seems to channel the best moments of Haven.
It would have been easy for Dark Tranquillity to simply ride into the sunset, with a storied career and a few genre-classics at their back. But Atoma sees an energized DT return to craft one of the strongest album’s they’ve done in recent years. It’s also one that grows stronger with each successive listen, and may sneak its way onto a number of best-of lists for the year when things are said and done. Atoma recaptures the wonder and majesty of melodic death metal that few can rival Dark Tranquillity in.