Gothenburg metal pioneers Dark Tranquillity are bringing the Swedish fire across the pond for a headlining tour of North America in support of their much-praised eleventh album, Atoma. Tagging along are American metallers Starkill, speed metal revivalists Enforcer, and beloved death/doom heroes Swallow the Sun – all but guaranteeing an evening packed with glorious headbanging. This review will cover the November 21st show at the Aftershock live music venue in Kansas City.
Chicago’s Starkill took the stage after the local opener, immediately stirring the audience from their lackadaisical barside lounging to standing in the pit and pumping their fists. The band’s combination of thick growls and blazing riffage mixed with melodic, clean-vocal choruses swiftly evoked images of other American metal giants like Trivium and Shadows Fall. Exercising smooth, tight vocal harmonies and a cinematic backing track with songs like “Shadow Sleep”, Starkill displayed songwriting and performance prowess unexpected from a group whose debut album was released in 2013. The only domestic band on the bill, Starkill provided a refreshing realization that melodic metal still has strong roots in North America.
After a brief set-up, Sweden’s Enforcer arrived, bearing many of the traditional symbols which herald a classic metal onslaught: tight leather pants, angular guitars, and the time-honored “vest over bare chest” look. Sure enough, the opening song “Destroyer” carried all of the hallmarks of the genre, with Halford-esque vocals soaring over absolutely ripping guitar work. Chant-along lyrics and shred solo after shred solo abounded throughout the band’s set, turning the energy in the room up to eleven. Had there been a more sizeable crowd, the venue surely would have enjoyed a mosh pit to remember, but unfortunately, Enforcer was still an opening band on a Monday night, so those in attendance at the time had to settle for cheerfully singing along to the band’s tongue-in-cheek satanic imagery.
Swallow the Sun
Finland’s perennial death/doom favorites Swallow the Sun were up next, slated to provide direct support to Dark Tranquillity. Though an entirely different breed of metal than the high-voltage acts that had previously graced the stage, Swallow the Sun proved to be no less heavy. Crushing downtempo riffs preceded intricate, atmospheric passages – with vocalist Mikko Kotamäki providing a low roar or somber croon as needed. The audience evidently welcomed the change of pace, as heads rocked back and forth harder than ever to the deliberate march. Most notable was the band’s poise on stage – straight-faced and few for words – giving a very immersive character to the already emotional music.
As the final set-up commenced, the lights dimmed and a projected movie began to play on the back of the stage. “DT” crawled forward from the center, bringing the anticipation in the room to an absolute maximum. Dark Tranquillity finally appeared on stage and launched into “Force of Hand”, a demolishing track from Atoma.
Though obviously rife with positive energy in person, something was worryingly amiss with the sound from the get-go. Sure enough, about halfway through the song, most of the instruments began to cut in and out, with vocalist Mikael Stanne’s microphone seeming to suffer the worst of the maladies – though the band powered through the troubles like true professionals. Surely, through over two decades of touring, such technical mishaps are nothing new to the seasoned Swedish veterans. As the issues were addressed by the crew, Stanne smiled and toasted beers with audience members, giving the audience an unexpected but welcome sense of warmth and camaraderie with those on the other side of the barricade.
In addition, during the brief break, a glance around the venue allowed a stark realization to set in – there were surprisingly few people in attendance. Though hardly in an amount expected of, say, a local band’s show, the audience appeared to number in the 100-150 person range. This is astounding when one considers the legacy and longevity of Dark Tranquillity’s storied and influential career, and their regularly packed shows overseas. For the band, this had to be a bit disconcerting, but to a fan, however, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. A chance to get up close and personal with the co-founders of melodic death metal themselves – and once the equipment fired back up, that is precisely what happened.
The third song in the band’s set – the bounding and anthemic title track from Atoma – elevated the show to new heights as spirited fans began to jump and mosh. Stanne’s visceral growls and melancholic croons alike were clear as day now, piercing through the thick layers of guitars and keys. “The Treason Wall” elicited howls from fans who sang along to the tune’s main melody, and the pummeling rhythms of “The Science of Noise” were the perfect catalyst to many a neck-breaking headbang. During cleaner passages of songs such as “ThereIn” from 1999’s Projector or “State of Trust” from 2013’s Construct, fans could be heard joyfully singing along, aided by the immersive lyric video displayed behind the band.
Throughout each song, though the instrumentalists generally had their hands full with complex riffage, Stanne moved about the stage and happily caroused with any fan within arm’s reach – a distinct and coveted advantage of the more intimate metal show. After closing with the well-known sing-along, “Misery’s Crown” from 2007’s Fiction, he graciously thanked the fans as the whole band shook hands and said goodbye to a thoroughly exhausted audience – one which would be sure to remember such a unique experience. Of the myriad emotions experienced throughout the night, one overwhelmingly heartwarming feeling rose to the top – that barriers such as meager attendance, technical frustrations, and even years of success could never stop the gods of melodic death metal from sharing a smile and a scream with fans from even the smallest corners of the world.