• Depressive gothic rock soundscapes rejuvenate the veteran band - A review of Dark Tranquillity's ''Atoma''

    Dark Tranquillity - Atoma (2016)

    I have listened to several Dark Tranquillity records and I have seen them in concert twice with other more interesting bands so far and my impression was that the band almost always sounds the same. The Gothenburg melodic death metal pioneers offer numerous mid-tempo or moderately up-tempo tracks songs around four minutes dominated by melancholic melodies and singer Mikael Stanne’s unusually hoarse and almost whispered growls with occasional brooding clean vocal parts. The only release I have listened to so far that was a little bit more ambitious, eclectic and intense was the band’s debut Skydancer twenty-three years ago with a certain Anders Fridén on vocals. It’s not a surprise that I have seen Dark Tranquillity playing in small metal pubs with a few hundred fans while In Flames still fills arenas with several thousands of supporters.

    While Dark Tranquillity sticks to its same old trademarks on the new output ‘’Atoma’’, this release is a definite improvement over the last few studio efforts and a true career highlight. Especially the longing clean vocals are executed very well and used more dominantly. They give several tracks a depressive alternative rock or even gothic rock touch that isn’t a far call from bands such as Katatonia or even Placebo. The clean vocals work quite well in contrast to the more desperate and sluggish growls in the numbing ‘’Atoma’’ or the melodic ‘’Forward Momentum’’ that evoke a depressive, longing and mysterious atmosphere that dominates the entire album.

    There are three tunes that manage to stick out a little bit on the regular version of this release. The opener ‘’Encircled’’ has more urgency in its angry and fast verses while the melodies in the chorus are epic and sluggish and almost recalling Amorphis. ‘’Force of Hand’’ is rather the opposite and has a rather slow, numbing and hypnotizing touch supported by carefully employed cold electronic influences. This track reminds me a little bit of what In Flames did twelve years earlier on their album Soundtrack to Your Escape. Another highlight is the emotional and melodic ‘’Clearing Skies’’ that sounds almost hopeful compared to the rest of the album despite the rather dark lyrics. The dreamy, mysterious and sluggish instrumental middle part fits perfectly.

    The biggest surprise comes along with the bonus tracks on a separate disc. These songs don’t feature any melodic death metal elements and offer haunting and profound depressive rock instead. These slow tracks are entirely dominated by airy electronic sounds and fragile clean vocals. This style reminds me of the more sluggish tunes of German gothic metal institution Crematory minus the growls. I can understand why the band put these tracks on a different disc because these tracks almost sound as if they had been recorded by a different group but I believe that these two tracks could have added some diversity to the album if they had been at different spots in between the twelve regular tracks. Melodic death metal purists will despise these two songs but those who have a weakness for depressive alternative or gothic rock will see these two tunes as highlights of the album. 

    In the end, Dark Tranquillity’s new record is much better than I would have expected. It has a more gripping atmosphere than the predecessors and it’s easier to distinguish several tracks on this output thanks to small but efficient differences. My personal highlights are the two bonus tracks ‘’The Absolute’’ and ‘’Time Out of Place’’ where the veterans offer something haunting, intense and original that some fans will adore while others might find it forgettable. If I had to buy another album besides the outstanding debut record Skydancer, I would definitely go for this one here.

    Final verdict: 80%

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