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Album Review: Dark Tranquillity – Atoma

Eleven albums deep into their storied, 27-year career, Swedish metal legends Dark Tranquillity are set to release their latest offering, Atoma, this week. After the darker, more melancholic shift in tone found on the band’s previous album, Construct, fans have been anxious to find out whether that style will prevail throughout the band’s future releases, or if the unbridled aggression of standout works like 2007’s Fiction, 2002’s Damage Done, or possibly even the band’s seminal album, The Gallery from 1995, will make another return. Or will the recent departure of founding member Martin Henriksson spell the beginning of an entirely new era for the band? In such a time of uncertainty, it takes a special type of band to deliver quality consistent with such an impressive resume. The type of band that built a genre…

To answer the initial question regarding the tone of the latest effort – fans of Dark Tranquillity’s past few releases will be most satisfied by Atoma. The album is closest in sound to 2010’s We Are the Void, with buzzsaw guitars leading headbanger after headbanger into driving choruses. There are plenty of classic DT-style thrashers in the vein of hardened hits like “Final Resistance” and “Lost to Apathy” to mosh to here. Atoma opens with one such ripper, “Encircled”, bringing the melodeath speed and power in such time-honored fashion that, on first listen, one almost expects to hear a verse punctuated with the line “the face of all your fears”. The first single of the album, “The Pitiless”, also takes after its forebears with its pounding rhythm and slicing riffage, and “When the World Screams” kicks right out of the gate with a punishing tempo and ethereal lead guitar. Other tracks carry plenty of weight without the breakneck speed – “Faithless By Default” is deliberate in its verses but crushing in its chorus, and “Our Proof of Life” is intensely personal, in the same manner as We are the Void’s “In My Absence”.

Almost unquestionably, however, the album’s strongest offering is its title track. “Atoma”, though a much more straightforward song by Dark Tranquillity standards, is an instant live show staple. Reminiscent of Fiction’s “Misery’s Crown” with its clean verse / harsh chorus vocal pattern, as well as Damage Done’s “Monochromatic Stains” with its bounding rhythms and simpler guitar work, the second track of the album is boosted by an immediately infectious electronic lead which pervades its entirety and adds an unusually catchy layer to the fierceness of the vocals.

Speaking of which, it is worth mentioning that vocalist Mikael Stanne’s work on Atoma is as strong as always. With Stanne’s primary technique being such a throat-shredding growl, it is always a possibility that his voice may begin to degrade from overwork, however on the latest release the harsh vocals are as visceral and compelling as ever. Stanne’s clean baritone is also employed with about the same frequency as on Construct, giving special notice and poignancy to select passages.

The only weakness from which Atoma may suffer, especially over time, is a lack of diversity. As powerful as each headbanger is, they do have a tendency to blend together. While Dark Tranquillity is far from a progressive metal genre-bending act, past albums had always featured a song or two with a different feel to help break up the punishment and provide the dynamism which is a hallmark of any great album. Atoma, however, is metal front to back, albeit at different paces. Those who prefer the standard DT formula will have no shortage of things to love this time around, but those who appreciate the band’s forays into experimental territory will find Atoma lacking in staying power.

Any gripes about this album, though, are minor at worst. Atoma is another shining entry into a legacy built on quality. It places its bets on riding upon the ever-compelling Dark Tranquillity sound, and comes out ahead because of it. Established fans of the band will undoubtedly have already ordered the album, but for any newcomers – if there are any by now – Atoma is as good a place as any to dive into a catalog that offers plenty to love.

Visit Dark Tranquillity and order Atoma at their website here.

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About Matthew Scott

Norse god of metal.

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