Album review: Dark Tranquillity “Construct” (2013)

Dark Tranquillity

”Construct” (2013)

Rating: 85%

There are very few artists with 20-plus year history who manage to maintain a consistent level of quality in their recorded output without becoming stale. As one of the innovators of the famed Gothenburg school of melodic death metal, Dark Tranquillity had seen the genre grow in popularity, transform into more radio-friendly format, and eventually give birth to music bearing little resemblance to the style’s benchmark releases of yesteryear. Through all of this, the Swedish band continued to soldier on, carried by a sequence of strong releases which married the right amounts of experimentation, aggression, and underground credibility.

 While the band’s early years were marked by changing their stylistic approach from black metal-influenced “Skydancer” to Iron Maiden-on-speed of genre classic “The Gallery” and thrash-influenced riff-fest of “The Mind’s I”, the mid-career experiments “Projector” and “Haven” were succeeded by a return to concise, heavy, and definitely aggressive style with “Damage Done” and beyond. Though Dark Tranquillity kept certain experimental touches such as sparse electronics, rare clean vocals, and smart utilization of keyboards, the band’s recorded output settled into a style which did not deviate from the same formula distilled on “Damage Done” – roughly 60% “The Mind’s I”, 30% from the heavier moments of “Haven”, and 10% derived from brilliant and underappreciated “Projector”. While not a bad formula in and of itself, it also produced a feeling of sameness in some of their more recent releases, leading to the band considerably tweaking its approach on 2013’s “Construct”.

I recall reading an interview with guitarist/founder/chief songwriter Niklas Sundin in which he stated that Dark Tranquillity had to do something different in order to find the motivation to do a new album, and “Construct” definitely lives up to the billing. It is hard to completely reinvent the wheel for melodic death metal at this stage in the genre’s maturity, but the style itself is so expansive that simple emphasis on more melodic and brooding elements altered the result enough to sound fresh. Therefore, “Construct” is not a radical departure for Dark Tranquillity and it does not change the basic ingredients; however, it alters the proportion of those ingredients just enough to create a very inspired record.

As with the several preceding records, “Construct” sounds like an amalgam of everything the band has done to date, however, this time around the melancholic existential angst and anguish takes the spotlight over outright emphasis on melodic guitar lines, speed, or catchy clean choruses of imitators and genre followers. This is not to say that “Construct” has somehow compromised Dark Tranquillity’s melodeath cred – it has its fair share of fast and aggressive tracks (“Apathetic”, “The Science of Noise”, “Endtime Hearts”), but it smartly spaces them out amongst slower-to-mid-paced songs where atmospheric songwriting takes to the fore.

When it works, the results are quite spectacular. “For Broken Words” sets the tone for the album in a way reminiscent of “Projector”-era glories, while “The Silence in Between”, “What Only You Know”, and “State of Trust” further “Projector” comparisons by combining newfound aggression with moody and melancholic parts incorporating heavy use of clean vocals and tempo changes, though it is the brooding and slow “Uniformity” that sounds the most like a “Projector” outtake. While there are a few parts with “heard-it-all-before” feeling, for the most part “Construct” is a powerful piece of work that harkens back to Dark Tranquillity’s mid-period experimentation, creating expansive sonic landscapes that feel truly inspired.

“Construct” is a welcome present for the fans like myself, who preferred the introspection of “Projector” to much of post-“Haven” stylings. Best of all, while many of the songs are naturally catchy and utilize accessible elements (occasional clean vocals, keyboard sections, and sometimes conventional song structures), it is hard to mistake it for more pop-driven In Flames or American-style metalcore derived from Gothenburg sound. This is the sound of a band still firmly rooted in the genre they helped establish, but not afraid to veer off the beaten path even when the end result remains less accessible for casual listeners looking for musical equivalent of fast food. Though not perfect by the virtue of aspiring to the band’s mid-career highs rather than pushing the envelope, “Construct” is an excellent addition to Dark Tranquillity’s back catalogue, and to the melodic death metal genre as a whole.

 

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