Dark Tranquility Transcends Genres on ‘Moment’

When death metal spearheads Dark Tranquility emerged in the Gothenburg scene in the nineties with their clash of clean vocals, screams and atmospheric keyboards, genre elitists criticized them for it. And they didn’t care.

The sound that alienated Dark Tranquility in the late ’90s is now what offered them a Grammy nomination for their album Atoma in 2016.  And that same inventiveness is even more apparent on their follow-up record, Moment.

“There’s been a kind of steady upward climb. It’s been a good trajectory to where everything is now,” vocalist Mikael Stanne told American Songwriter. “I never look back and think ‘oh man I wish things were like the old days.’ I think things are better now than they ever have been.”

Dark Tranquility’s decisive sound outlined by heavy synths, a healthy dynamic of clean vocals and screams, paired with melodic guitars dates back to their 1999 album Projector. The use of synths that has established their atmospheric sound was a mere idea before without the ability to find a keyboardist who also wanted to play metal.

Since the entrance of keyboard player Martin Brändström in 1998, and Projector the band has been able to build on that vision. And after refining it for over 20 years, they have increased the impact of their songs like Moment singles, “Phantom Days” and “Identical to None.”

“We wanted to incorporate all the intensity and the brutality of American death metal and Swedish death metal, but also the intensity, speed and melody of German speed and thrash, with the emotional impact, more reminiscent to bands that we grew up with like Depeche Mode,” Stanne said about the band’s sound. “We experimented early on with that and I remember when the first album came out people were like, ‘how is this death metal? What are you guys doing?’ There was this ballad on the first album that that people weren’t really prepared for. And we did it because we could.  And then in ’99, we did Projector. That that was a very important album where we really tried to differentiate ourselves from the other bands who were playing what was then called the Gothenburg death metal style.”

As the band wanted to garner more attention for their progressive approach in Gothenburg, Stanne started pushing boundaries more regularly with his vocals. And to ramp up the brutality factor, that critics agreed were missing as a death metal band, he took some of his biggest influence from bands in the Florida death metal scene like Obituary and Atheist. But he wouldn’t be using the deep growls and grindcore screams in the same way the Floridian metal community were.

“I started doing different things vocally, because we wanted to prove that we could be more than just the death metal,” Stanne said. “There were a lot of bands around that time that started switching back and forth between screams and clean vocals and stuff like that. And it became part of the genre. For me that wasn’t really that interesting. It felt like- ‘you’re doing the super heavy death metal stuff but then you also wanted it to be more commercially viable.”’

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“That kind of took away from the whole idea of doing death metal in the first place for me,” he continued. “I wanted to use it (clean vocals) as something that adds to the emotion of the song. And bring a different element to it instead of that being the main feature of a song.”

Stanne’s strategy of employing clean vocals and synths as texture and less as a primary component is evident on Moment’s lead single “Phantom Days.” The illustrious track was an immediate triumph for Dark Tranquility, harkening the vastness of weekend outdoor festivals like Wacken, where thousands of fans would spend weekends in the mud for the sake of metal. With such force and relatable lyrics that illustrate the discomfort of loss and the how the mind manipulates reality as a coping mechanism, there was never any conversation on any other song taking the lead on Moment

“It was one of the earlier tracks that was written, and it was about loss and how difficult it is to deal with,” Stanne said about ‘Phantom Days,’.  “It’s about the feeling of something always being there. It was something you just cannot imagine being without and how the mind kind of replaces it because you are not ready to let go. So you see your girlfriend or your parents or your child in the faces of strangers on the street, because it makes you feel comfortable. And it just it felt like a good starting point for the album. We didn’t even consider another track as the first single.”

“Phantom Days” is accompanied by other trailing songs “Identical to None” and “The Dark Unbroken,” along with nine additional songs that contribute to Dark Tranquility’s atmospheric heavy sound. Which they were able to make even large this year with all the added down time to experiment with new gear and instrumentation to perfect the record.

“We didn’t really have a deadline when we started out,” Stanne said. “And that made a more engaging process. We could focus on the little things and stuff that inspired us to play a certain way or sing. So, it kind of afforded us this time to really experiment in a way that we haven’t done before. We’ve learned a lot of new things just because we had to deal with things that normally we’d let someone else take care of, like the record company or managers. But now we were able to do everything ourselves and make sure everything was perfect.”

The addition of new members, Christopher Amott and Johan Reinholdz, offered even more opportunity to polish the sound. Both had been touring with Dark Tranquility since 2017, but were offered permanent spots after members Matt Henrikson and Nathan shifted into alternate roles after Atoma.  Reinholdz joined the residency after his time with NonExist and Amott after years in Arch Enemy. With an impressive catalog, Stanne welcomed them as writing co-equals and has already begun on some new material with them. 

Coming to terms with the looming list of cancelled shows, Stanne says “we might as well start (writing), what else are we going to do?’ But first they are focusing on ironing out the details of an upcoming livestream to be aired the day after Moment’s official release on November 20.

“Playing in an empty room is going to be weird but it’s the closest we can get to an audience. We will treat it as such and make it very special,” he said.

Order Moment here today and catch “Phantom Days” below on American Songwriter.  Details for the album release livestream on November 21 can be found here.

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