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Sunday, April 11, 2010

CD Review: Dark Tranquillity - We Are the Void

Dark Tranquillity - We Are the Void
2010 Century Media Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Who's the gothiest of these bands: Opeth, Katatonia, Type O Negative, My Dying Bride or Dark Tranquillity?

Most bets will land on Opeth, but the dark horse runner (pun intended) of these well-established artisans of atmospheric metal has to be Dark Tranquillity. Perhaps their international fanbase has taken a little longer to corral than their contemporaries, but Dark Tranquillity has lurked, sculpted, thrashed and woven a sometimes-overlooked legacy hailing back to 1989. Thus are they equal to their Goth metal brethren or should they even be held accountable?

Opeth, In Flames and Soilwork may be the most prominent Swedes on the metal scene right now but Dark Tranquillity has reserved a loyal following of their own and it is their fans who hold them accountable.

We Are the Void is Dark Tranquillity's ninth studio album, holding true to the adage of quality over quantity in a career surpassing two decades. Initial feedback to the We Are the Void's debut single "Shadow in Our Blood" was dicey. By now most of Dark Tranquillity's legion have had the opportunity to get their ears wrapped about this disc, which insiders say is the connector piece to the band's previous album Fiction.

Hopefully the fans found merit in We Are the Void, because Dark Tranquillity--minus a couple of dragged-out tunes--cascade their work on this album. The closing track "Iridium" might be one of the most textured and opulent tunes Dark Tranquillity has ever penned. Ditto for the titanic din of "Arkhangelsk," not far in mindframe from Enslaved's Isa album. What worked for their Norwegian kindred ought to pay out for Dark Tranquillity as "Arkhangelsk" writhes on hypnotic skeins of bleakness. Martin Hendrikson and Niklas Sundin's solos on "Arkhangelsk" are on par with Ivar Bjornson on Enslaved's brilliant "Neogenesis."

"Shadow in Our Blood" shows a Dark Tranquillity ready to command a wider, longer-coming audience as it opens We Are the Void similar to Arch Enemy's more recent output. Hell, put Mikael Stanne next to Angela Gossow on this tune and you might have to second-guess who's who. "Shadow in Our Blood" comes to play with its speed and hooks. "The Fatalist" also takes a shot at a mainstream catch, but the main piano melody from Martin Brandstrom is engaging and beautifully sets up the thrash parts with surreptitious linchpins.

Those concerned about Dark Tranquillity slackening the fierceness they've established on their past few albums (Damage Done, Character and Fiction) will have nothing to worry about on We Are the Void. The title track is a bottlerocket of thrash even with a sparkling scaleback and detailed breakdowns. Parts of "Surface the Infinite" usher the fastest outlay on We Are the Void, even with melodic drops on the choruses. "The Grandest Accusation" grinds on occasion against it's dominating slow weaves and gorgeous aggression.

It's the tempered "Dream Oblivion" and "At the Point of Ignition" where Dark Tranquillity overthink themselves. Both songs have strong synth supplements from Martin Brandstrom and "At the Point of Ignition" does rage in spurts. However, there's something cautious to these songs which slows the album's momentum in their respective places. Subsequently, "Her Silent Language" might've fallen on its head as a Type O Negative rip if not for its slick harmony and effortless tempo.

When this album is on (which is most of the ride), it's the mark of a veteran metal act who know all the rules of their art, many of which they helped established--even if At the Gates gets most of the credit. We Are the Void tries too hard in a couple spots to branch the likeability of this band, which is unnecessary. When your main identity is a Goth-death-thrash act, it takes more than wherewithal to change things up, and here is where some of their hardcore are flagging them.

Nevertheless, We Are the Void is as smart and entertaining as any metal record you'll get with this year.

Rating: ****

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