Every year, more and more quality bands who I thought I could count on to craft quality material begin to succumb to age, success, complacency, or some combination of the three. Fortunately, Dark Tranquillity has never been one of them. A band that needs little introduction as the progenitors of the Gothenburg style of death metal, Dark Tranquillity has been largely consistent in terms of craftsmanship throughout their nearly two-decade career.
Though the band would switch modes from a traditional melodic death metal sound to a more melancholy, synth-driven sound at the end of the nineties, and then again to a modern hybrid of both at the turn of the century, the band has always done its experimentation with style and aplomb. Since 2002s Damage Done, the band has largely been following and refining the archetype that has become their current sound, culminating in what I believe to be the logical conclusion of this musical stage in the release of their previous record, Fiction.
We Are the Void follows the same style laid down by its most recent predecessors, and does so amicably. However, whereas the three releases prior to this were a process of evolution, with each one being a progression of style and quality, Dark Tranquillitys latest offering stalls out. Thats not to say it is poor in craftsmanship, but rather, feels derivative. As I said earlier, I feel the bands current style had already reached its apex previously. The songs here, while well done, do not feel as inspired or emotion-evoking as their work has previously, and largely conform to the established formula.
In addition to being cut from the same mold as recent works, there are elements of almost all of their previous albums. Mikael Stannes vocals are in top form as usual, being mostly darkly aggressive, but seeing moments of cleanly sung, emotive passages ala Projector. The complexity of the riffs occasionally elicits comparisons to the glory days of the The Gallery and the heavy use of keyboards and synthesizer effects is reminiscent of Haven. In fact, it the usage of this effects-laden production that is to the albums detriment. In the past, the melodic keyboard breaks or piano-backing would bring a welcome contrast to the frenetic riffs, but the effect is lost when used in every song as it is here.
Ive always praised Dark Tranquillity for sticking to their guns and putting out records that maintained the integrity and heaviness of their seminal works, even if there was some experimentation going on. To this day, the band is one of a dying breed still playing high-caliber melodic death metal, which is more than I can say for many of their contemporaries, who have since left the style for greener pastures. However, I feel that they have reached a point where to continue in this phase of their sonic evolution would mean becoming static and predictable, even if competently done. In terms of always knowing what to expect from them, and with no disrespect intended, it would be a shame to see a dynamic band like Dark Tranquillity become the Iron Maiden or Motörhead of melodic death metal.