Every once in a while the metal scene collectively pisses on a band or record and someone needs to step up and defend why they like it. We normally don’t spend a lot of time defending shitty records, but sometimes genuinely interesting or good records get lampooned by an overly conservative heavy metal scene and that calls for a professional contrarian to defend it! If ever there were professional contrarians, it would be the staff of AMG. So here we are to re-hash a record from our past that (some of us) love that everyone else seems to have soured on (or never liked in the first place).
I know it’s hard to believe, but once upon a time, it was tough to get an album by Gothenburg legends Dark Tranquillity at a record store here in America. In the early 90’s, they were making waves in Europe with their trademark twin-guitar melodies, counterpointed basslines, and amazingly shrill screams by one Mikael Stanne. The problem was back then, they were signed to the relatively-tiny Osmose Productions, so in order to hear their work, you had to either buy it off of eBay, or pay import prices to acquire their albums. Since I was a huge At The Gates/In Flames fanatic then, I was dying to check out what I was missing. So when word got out that Dark Tranquillity signed with Century Media, I was ecstatic to check them out. I was able to procure a second-hand copy of their previous album, 1996’s underrated The Mind’s I, from a good friend of mine, and was floored by how great they sounded: urgent, melodic, and hungry.
When Projector was released in 1999, that same friend came to me and told me that they had “sold out.” In his words, gone were the twin melodies, the aggression, the hunger, the passion, and GOD FORBID, MIKAEL STANNE IS SINGING. And my friend was not alone, as many magazines went on to paint Projector as the Load or Cold Lake of its time, and wondering how the same city that produced In Flames and At The Gates could possibly create something as horribly benign as Projector. So I checked it out on a whim… and instantly fell in love with it. And you know what? It’s aged quite nicely.
Yes, it’s true that there was no “Dreamlore Degenerate” or “Punish My Heaven” on here, but this was a band on a new label, looking for new sounds, and utilizing them efficiently and memorably. “FreeCard” and “ThereIn” were (and still are) an effective one-two punch to open up an album, the former introducing synthesizers into their trademark sound, and the latter is now a staple in their live set. Both songs use twin guitars as a garnish rather than the meal itself, and instead of creating an air of majesty, there’s a fog of melancholy in their deployment, which would mirror the despondency generated on their bleak album cover. “The Sun Fired Blanks” and closer “On Your Time” brought out the much-needed aggression as another shade of color on Projector‘s creative palette.
And Mikael’s singing voice? The man’s got some impressive pipes as both a screamer and a singer. With the possible exception of “Day to End” (and even then, I loved it), his voice isn’t overwrought with melodrama, but puts a rainy layer on an already miserable (in a good way) experience. In fact, “Auctioned” to this very day, remains as one of my all-time favorite DT tracks, and it’s because of the simple piano melody, beautiful acoustic guitar, Martin Henriksson’s phenomenal bass work, and Mikael’s heart-wrenching vocals and lyrics. By the way, guys, if you’re reading this, why is this not in your live set?
As many of you know, Dark Tranquillity would “bounce back” with 2000’s Haven (meh), and go on to release a trio of unfuckwithable slabs of melodeath (Damage Done, Character and Fiction) before dipping their toes into moodier waters yet again. Last year’s Construct has been labeled by many as their “new Projector,” claiming their new sound is as multi-layered and tough to crack open. Time will tell on that note, but Projector, to me at least, was a uniquely beautiful, awkward experience that was ahead of its time. It’s just now that many detractors are finally catching up to that fact.