Dark Tranquillity – Moments in TimeSunday, 8th November 2020
It’s been a few years since Dark Tranquillity released a new album. 2016’s Atoma was an absolute powerhouse of a melodic death metal journey, and saw the band really delivering a potent and poignant performance. Since then, the band had been on the road almost perpetually. But the band also lose their guitar section, replacing them with some high caliber players in Christopher Amott and Johan Reinholdz. With those changes also came some time for reflection and creativity. Something that makes upcoming release Moment really stand out in metallic glory. We caught up with vocalist Mikael Stanne to get his thoughts on the release and time between albums, as well as what has allowed the band to stay relevant, and a look back at Fiction.
Dead Rhetoric: It amazes me how you guys can be so consistently strong with these releases, especially with some of the changes to the band in more recent years.
Mikael Stanne: Thank you. Things have been different, and it’s a challenge to retain that feeling. Things are kind of what they used to be, but also very different and having new members adapt to our way of thinking and working. That’s been a challenge but a good one. It’s exciting to have someone else’s take on our way of thinking and writing, as well as being open to new interpretations of playing. We thought it would be more difficult than it actually proved to be [laughs]. At first, we were really worried and thinking it would be hard, but it turned out to be quite the opposite.
Dead Rhetoric: What was it like to write an album without Niklas [Sundin]?
Stanne: It was strange. There was an absence on Atoma as well, as that was when he began to focus on where he needed to be, and it was a struggle to get the album done because of that. So we had to take the reins more than usual already. So going into this album, knowing that we have Chris [Amott] and Johan [Reinholdz], we had to incorporate their talents and way of playing and thinking into it. But we also had a lot of songs ready. So we had a starting point, and knowing where things were going initially.
So having Johan and Chris interpret the songs, and not having a time schedule – we were not in a hurry or rush at all. We tried things out to see how they worked and went back and forth on a lot of stuff, to leave some things open to interpretation but also remain true to what is fundamentally Dark Tranquillity in sound. So it was strange and weird not having that comfort, but Martin Brändström has grown into this role even more with this album. He took on a lot more responsibility when it comes to making sure that everyone is on the same page, keeping the songs focused and strong. He made sure the songs kept to the rules and ideas that we are about. Credit goes to Martin so keeping it all together and keeping things focused.
Dead Rhetoric: The artwork is still from Niklas, what does the cover represent to you?
Stanne: He’s still a huge part of everything we do, visually and ideally as well. When I started thinking about covers for this album, and a title, I wanted something that signified a place and a time, and maybe not an epiphany but a revelation or change of ideas. Where you suddenly realize something, and maybe the world opens up in a different way or you see things in a different light. That was my initial pitch to him. He sent me some pictures that he thought represented what I was talking about, and then he sent me some sketches, and we worked from there. That’s what I love about working with Niklas.
I’ve known him since I was six years old. He understands exactly what I’m feeling and I know his style so well. We don’t have to communicate that much. He knows what I want to communicate, but it’s also about his interpretation of the album as well. It’s what I want to say visually – what goes through the album and the lyrics. I love the different style this time. It’s very different from what he normally does. It’s very much a handdrawn cover the whole way through. Color and style-wise, it’s very different from what he has done lately, and I couldn’t be happier with it. I can’t wait to hold it in my hands!
Dead Rhetoric: What do Johan and Chris bring to Dark Tranquillity?
Stanne: A kind of energy, but fresh perspective into writing the songs. They can be enthusiastic and as critical about anything as we are. It has served to make these songs different in the way that we would like them to be. Sometimes Johan would do something that we thought was fantastic but didn’t fit, or sometimes Chris would do something fantastic, but it wasn’t really D.T. – there’s this weird policing that goes along with it. But in a positive way, to retain what we are about. But having fresh ears and hands to tackle the material has really opened up new possibilities when it comes to writing and recording going forward, as well as playing these songs live.
Dead Rhetoric: Given that Dark Tranquillity has done some changes over the years, what does stick out to you as defining the sound of the band?
Stanne: I don’t know. Fundamentally, right now, it’s Anders [Jivarp], Martin, and me, just because we have been around the longest. But maybe it’s more a mentality or a point of view/feeling we like to capture. When we are writing the riffs or the melodies, it’s us capturing a certain feeling. Maybe we cannot put that into words, but we can feel it when we are together. We are at a point where much of what we write is done at Martin’s studio. There’s a feeling that you want to capture. A vibe that you make sure you deliver. If we can’t do that, then we are in the wrong and we go back and try something else to get the feeling in every song. I think that is the fundamental sound for Dark Tranquillity. To get that feeling that is most important in our music.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel defines Moment as a Dark Tranquillity album?
Stanne: It’s been three and a half years since Atoma – for me, the thing that stands out is having Chris and Johan interpreting the material and the way they do their leads and solos. That’s what makes me most excited. The other stuff, I already know [laughs]. We’ve done it a few times before. But that really excites me. I think there’s a consistency to these songs and this album that I think we did better this time. We did take way more to write this album, so we could really focus on the different fine details to get them right. There’s still two or three things I think about changing, but I feel we thought every single aspect through. That, to me, makes it special. We were allowed to do everything we wanted to do, without compromise. Taking the time that we needed – when we were done we started talking about the release schedule.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been working hard on the road the last few years, did the coronavirus give to time to relax at all? Did you work on any home brewing?
Stanne: Yeah [laughs], what else can I do? I’ve been drinking a lot, brewing a lot. I wouldn’t say it’s relaxed, as we have been keeping ourselves busy. But you can be much more relaxed when thinking about upcoming things. You don’t have to be worried or rush things. You don’t have to have that stress in your system, like finishing something before going on tour. Now we could just focus on the album and go from there. We didn’t need to plan the entire year going forward. I think that gave us a different vibe in the studio. Then halfway through, we realized that we didn’t need to release it when we initially thought. We could go another month. That afforded us more opportunities and things to do. We could relax, but I don’t want that. I want to have a tour plan from the day of the release of the album, so we can go out and travel and see people and perform. Do all that stuff.
But it’s been a very creative time for the band for sure. We spent so much more time writing, arranging, and producing that we normally wouldn’t do. So in that respect, it has been good. I’ve been more productive this year than I ever have [laughs]. In that way, I’m really glad that we have this kind of job, even if we rely on an audience and touring. Since we dedicated this year to recording an album anyway, not much changed. We did cancel like 65 shows, but hopefully when this blows over we can get them back and start again. It’s troubling and worrisome, and it makes you feel miserable, but I try to enjoy it for what it is right now. To get the most out of it, and say yes to things that I might normally would say no to. Things that I might not be able to do if I was busy with something else. I can do things that I have thought are interesting, cool, or challenging.
Dead Rhetoric: Anything you’ve learned or appreciated in being out on the road so much, particularly during the Atoma cycle?
Stanne: With every tour that we do, you kind of fine tune the whole experience according to your liking. The last couple of years we have put together a perfect crew, and a bunch of people that we are working with, so that touring is very satisfying. It’s tough, we travel a lot and play every day, but at the same time, I look forward to it. I hang out with all my friends, we get to see a lot of people, and we have time to enjoy the cities and traveling. So the last few years have been great.
It’s weird to have this long, crazy point now and not knowing what is going to happen is super frustrating. But there’s something about it too – you learn and get to know the right people. Our crew is just incredible. Going out on tour is more of a joy than a chore nowadays. It used to be something I dreaded a little bit but now it’s fun and important.
Dead Rhetoric: In our last few talks I’ve asked about some eras of the band so for this one, what do you recall with the times of Fiction?
Stanne: There were a few years where things just blurred together because it was such an intense period. We were touring, and then we’d go back into the studio and try to write something, and go right back out. I think Fiction was definitely in that time. We started writing on tour, trying to be ahead of the schedule, even though we were super busy. Trying to make sure that we had a new album so we could go back on tour again. It made sense for us, and it was something we looked forward to. It was starting to get comfortable in a good way.
But Fiction was the first time we did it in Martin’s studio. That was something new at the time. We stayed from Studio Fredman. We did something that was heavier, faster, more intense, but at the same time there are some songs that we still play live that are more accessible. But it was a different way of working because we had our own studio. That’s what I remember most about it. It opened up new possibilities for improvisation and some proper preproduction. It was the start of something that we are still fine-tuning to this day. We have come close to perfecting it with the new album.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel has allowed Dark Tranquillity to stay relevant?
Stanne: Maybe staying true to what we feel is important about our music. Not caving in to any other outside influence or expectations. We are very comfortable being who we are. The music we are about is something that we are very proud of. We want to change and do things new, but not too much. We don’t want to change for someone else. I think that gives us a lot of freedom in what we do. It seems our fans are still sticking with us because we haven’t changed for anyone else.
They expect something new and different, but they know it’s going to be familiar. That’s important for us as well. It’s not just being familiar because everybody will expect us to sound the same, but it’s something we feel strongly about. It’s what the band is about, fundamentally. It’s about a melancholy Scandinavian vibe that we have been fine-tuning for all these years. We don’t want to go anywhere else. We want to take it places, but that aspect has to be the biggest thing.
Dead Rhetoric: I think that melancholy really comes through with the new album. The way the clean vocals are in there too. There’s some nice Projector feelings at times.
Stanne: Cool, yeah maybe. This one is closer to Projector than any of our other previous albums, I don’t know. When we feel like we have the time or opportunity to dig into that [melancholy], it makes it so creatively interesting. We could do a pre-production of all the album and even more songs, and just try things out. We can play with it, change it, have Johan rewrite the song, and then do it all over again. The luxury of having five different versions of songs sometimes and picking the best parts and mixing/matching so we have the right kind of vibe and energy for each song. It really helped this time.
Dead Rhetoric: Any songs or albums that you feel got the short end of the stick?
Stanne: I’m at a point where I think that if a song didn’t connect with someone, then it just didn’t connect. But of course there are some songs where I’m like, “Oh man, I liked that one!” But there’s always one comment or something. There’s always someone who loves a particular song, so I don’t know if there are any that are really overlooked. We are lucky enough to have had a strong following throughout our career where people seem to appreciate the albums in different ways, but not be totally disappointed by anything we’ve done. I would love to surprise an audience by playing something that maybe people didn’t expect that maybe sounds better now with our crew, but I don’t know.
The way I work, as a fan of music, I love the underappreciated albums from my favorite bands. I love the albums that no one else digs – I’m that guy. I feel for the people who still scream from the back of the room that we haven’t played live, ever. I’m that guy [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: Do you have any touring plans next year?
Stanne: It’s impossible to even know. We can book shows, but who knows if they are going to happen. We have things in Europe, Russia, and other things coming up. Who knows if it is going to happen? Probably not? But we might as well be the first to book some venues, hoping that they are still around. At this point, I’m just happy that we can release an album and hopefully we can do some shows. I’m a bit broken down about this whole situation and don’t expect anything anymore. If it’s possible, fantastic. If not, we’ll do something else.
But I can’t wait to see people and play these songs. We are planning something for the release of the album, maybe a streaming concert. That’s our plan for now. At least get together and play music, and have a crowd, even if they are at home watching.