A new release from Dark Tranquility is a big fucking deal in the Steel Druhm household. As one of the longest running and best of the bands that pioneered the “Gothenburg style” of melodic death metal, they’ve also been the most consistent and the only one still releasing worthwhile music (somewhere out there, a playground is still fading). With over twenty years in the melo-death biz, the Tranquill ones are a known quantity and each album sees them slightly refining their tried-and-true style. While 2010s We Are the Void wasn’t their best release, it had some typically killer songs. Oddly enough, it was the bonus cuts I gravitated to the most, and this Zero Distance EP is essentially just those tunes wrapped up in a nice, cash grabby package.
Right from go, the title track is awash with that classic dichotomy between crunching, heavy (and at times, quasi-industrial) riffing and sweetly melodic keys. Mikael Stanne’s exceptional death vox are as good as ever and only add to the fun. The chorus is simple as hell but instantly memorable and the whole construct screams classic Dark Tranquility! The interesting use of synths throughout the song adds great texture and mood and everything clicks perfectly. Things drops back a notch tempo-wise for “Out of Gravity” and the pacing gives the synths even more room to breath and expand to duel the heavy guitars. The melodic sensibilities in the writing shine bright, as beautiful, technical riffing and solos play off the trilling keys. This lends the song a real feeling of class and dignity and throughout, Stanne’s deadly delivery keeps things heavy and grounded.
“Star of Nothingness” is a short, rather dull interlude that leads into “To Where Fires Cannot Feed,” which amps up the heaviness, taking on a blackened edge, but never loses that slick, melodic verve. The chorus is quite good and Stanne’s vocals are excellently rendered. The guitar work here is particularly impressive and eye-opening. Heavy and melodic rarely blend as well as this. Things close out in fine form with “The Bow and the Arrow,” which takes a simple, traditional metal framework and adorns it with oodles of tasty keyboard flourishes and an undercurrent of bruising riffs as Stanne snarls himself silly. Its melancholy, emotional and heavy enough to satisfy the average death fiend.
In my mind, Mikael Stanne is one of the best death metal vocalists ever. He doesn’t go for maximum brutally, but his acidic sneer leverages the best elements of black and death metal and he always remains very intelligible (Chris Barnes, learn something from this man for fuck’s sake!). He’s in top form on all the songs here and his subtle tricks and vocal choices elevate the material in ways death metal vox rarely do. The guitars are huge here and every track is rife with enormous playing by Niklas Sundin and Martin Henriksson. “Out of Gravity” brings to mind the salad days of In Flames, but they also know when to dial back and underplay for mood and effect. Often projecting a coldly sterile vibe, they inject warmth and empathy during the solos and via the many little flourishes. They have such a keen understanding of the style, you get the sense they could write quality melo-death in their sleep.
These guys are grizzled vets of the melo-death scene and their mastery of the style is not seriously in despite. As they experiment with the nuances of their core sound, some interesting material results. This EP can be viewed as a promise of things to com, and it does serve to whet my appetite for the next full length. If you don’t love Dark Tranquility, you simply don’t love melo-death. Nuff said.