Genre-defining albums don’t come along every day – or every year – so when they do pop up, it’s important to take note of them for future generations like me. When The Gallery saw release in 1995, so many moons ago, I was not really prepared to appreciate its artistry due to a preoccupation with jaundice. Thankfully the historians had me covered. It’s not just an incredibly significant album, it’s also just plain good; unlike some other Gothenburg metal of the same era, the LP has aged quite well, and the band themselves are still putting out respectable and creative material, setting them apart from In Flames‘ halfhearted radio metal and the backwards-glancing trepidity of At the Gates‘ latest. Dark Tranquillity were the band that introduced me to death metal with Character and the ensuing Fiction and We are the Void, and I’m indebted to those friends, critics, and connoisseurs that turned me on to their music and recognized its excellence so that it could be best preserved. I like to think that I now play that role here at Angry Metal Guy. We don’t try to be trendsetters here (except for those pesky NeO fans) but rather archivists, trying to keep track of metal’s history as it happens rather than set its path ourselves [Call us The Archivists! – Steel Archivist]. And so it is with humility that I write this ultimately superfluous re-review of a metal classic, hoping that somewhere down the line it will lead someone to a small piece of the trailblazing art that influenced so much of the music we know and love today.
The Gallery marks Mikael Stanne’s debut as Dark Tranquillity‘s frontman, and his swap out with Anders Friden was unambiguously the best decision the band ever made. For those who don’t know, this album marks a solidification of both the Gothenburg sound and the lineup of one of its first and greatest practitioners. After Friden’s work on Skydancer and Mikael’s role as session vocalist on In Flames‘ Lunar Strain, Dark Tranquillity opted to jettison Friden and replace him with Stanne, thus relieving him of his rhythm guitar duties and creating space for Fredrik Johansson. Both Anders and In Flames reeled for a bit, resulting in the confused credits of the Subterranean EP, but that’s a different story, as is the oft-maligned history of that group.
Now, why Stanne wasn’t the band’s vocalist in the first place is still something of a mystery, because this LP demonstrates (and I’m sorry, Anders) that he was twice the singer that Friden was at the time. His ability to emote was unparalleled in the scene – and keep in mind, this was even before we were introduced to his intensely soulful baritone singing – and even this early in the game his delivery was very creative, relying on his acidic mid-range growls to do the heavy lifting, but experimenting with spoken word in the classic “Lethe” and making use of light processing and studio effects on other tracks.
It’s not just Stanne who perfects this album, though; the entire band is responsible for the genre-defining writing and performance. The ending supersong of “Mine is the Grandeur…” “… of Melancholy Burning” (on a side note, I’d love to know who first used that ellipse trick to end an album, for reasons that pertain to Plebeian Grandstand) is especially a high point for the band’s rhythm section. Anders Jivarp’s proves himself to be an unsung hero of ’90s death metal drumming here as well, with a brilliant array of mid-paced grooves and beats that fit snugly into the song’s framework. Meanwhile, Martin Henriksson’s brilliant basslines are the true melodic backbone of the composition and Niklas Sundin seems to realize this, giving him plenty of room by reigning in the guitar parts.
Sundin himself makes an outsized contribution to the album’s quality, pulling some of the best melodeath riffs ever out of nowhere. The odd-timed harmonies in “The Dividing Line” and the frequently unorthodox metric subdivisions and shifts on the title track, and throughout the album as a whole, provide more rhythmic roughage than a dozen modern djent bands. Jivarp plays along with a knack for subtlety, never stealing the show but throwing in oddball-rhythms, like the offbeat shuffles in “The One Brooding Warning” in places where you’d least expect. While Sundin’s most memorable and heart-wrenching work was still on the horizon at this point in the band’s career, the dual leads and acoustic passages in The Gallery remain incredibly effective; the aforementioned “Lethe” defines a certain type of pseudo-ballad that the band has made use of frequently throughout their career, though I believe they perfected it with “Insanity’s Crescendo” – but more on that in two years, eh?
Despite the metal world’s general panning of Construct, I’m still excited about Dark Tranquillity‘s future, and that’s largely due to the huge success of their past. Depending on who you ask, around eight of the band’s ten albums are excellent listening material and each release has its own personality and handful or bushel of good or great songs, which is again incredible especially alongside their contemporaries. The Gallery is without doubt one of the best, if not the best, of the foundational Dark Tranquillity albums and a must hear for anyone who considers themselves a fan of Melodeath, and a required album for the death metal connoisseur that wants to pass the gifts of brutality on to the young and impressionable. They’ll turn out all right, I’m sure.