I’ve been waiting for this one for some time. As a big Dark Tranquillity fan, I’ve weathered their style shifts and experiments with more commercial and more “modern” sounds. While 2010s We Are the Void was respectable with a few killer cuts, I ended up really liking the extended extras that were included on the limited edition release (which eventually became the Zero Distance EP). That group of songs encapsulated what modern-day DT does best: create melodic, but cold, sterile, modern death metal. I really wanted them to continue in that direction on Construct, but they thought otherwise. What we get is a type of career retrospective where they try to reconcile and merge the diverse sounds they’ve toyed with over the years. For long time fans, the best way to describe this is Projector mixed with We Are the Void. It’s easily the most restrained, melodic album since Projector and the dramatic clean vocals are back in force once again. It’s also their most diverse release, with thrashy tracks alongside new age-y stuff and a few poppy choruses. It’s instantly familiar, but alien all at once. Is this their Sounds of a Playground Fading? I’m sure some will see it that way, but it’s not anywhere near as bad. It’s very listenable and there’s good stuff here and while it keeps the band’s core sound, I don’t see this being hailed as a glorious new beginning for these respectable vets.
First up are the songs that sound like vintage Dark Tranquillity, like “For Broken Words,” “Science of Noise” and “The Silence In Between.” These employ the tried-and-true formula of Gothenburg death with fluid guitar work, melody and deathy roars. These chaps were always able to make their material memorable and hooky and though Mikael Stanne has a true death rasp, he’s always been excellent at enunciation and making his vocals seem somewhat melodic. These chestnuts will hit home with any fans of the style, though they aren’t the heaviest songs they’ve ever penned.
Then there are the Projector-esque songs, like “Uniformity” (which sounds like mid-period Paradise Lost mixed with “Freecard”); “What Only You Know” which plays like an awkward love song with dodgy transitions between deathy and clean vox; and “State of Trust” which uses the cleans in a very poppy, but oddly effective way. Though I was never a fan of cleans in DT’s music, they only fall flat on “What Only You Know,” which is an iffy song to begin with.
Then there are the wildcard numbers, like “Endtime Hearts” which sounds like goth rockers H.I.M. or To Die For with death vox added in. Also a bit offbeat is the slow, hypnotic trill of “None Becoming,” which is emotional, moody and almost doomy.
While they succeed at changing things up quite a bit, the album as a whole has some flaws. Some songs just aren’t very compelling (“Apathetic” and “Immemorial”) and the overall energy level is a bit low low. Some songs only qualify as death metal because of Stanne’s vocals, as the backing music is so restrained and sleepy. The album also feels about two songs too long.
In the win column are Stanne’s vocals. Though he never goes as brutal as some in the field, his delivery is always dead-on and he injects nuances into his rasps that others can’t. He still has a noticeable Depeche Mode vibe when he sings, and it works here in the same odd way it did on Projector. Martin Henriksson and Niklas Sundin are fine as always, crafting interesting moods and feelings with their riffs as they back away from the modern, almost metalcore riffing they flirted with in recent years. Though they flash some technical chops when called for, they never go for the over-the-top fret-board heroics In Flames were known for and they always keep things restrained and in check. While I would have liked more venom and vigor to offset the melodic nature (like Omnium Gatherum does), that’s not what Construct is all about.
All things considered, I would call Construct a partial success. Despite some glitches, they managed to be quite diverse without completely “selling out” and losing themselves (though they’re going to get some guff for the overall mellowness, that’s for shit sure). I doubt I will come back to this as much as their classic albums, but it has a certain charm and it does grow on you. My concern is where they go from here now that they’ve done this historical salute to the varied eras of Dark Tranquillity. I can’t see them getting lighter than this and remaining relevant, so where do they go? Steel Druhm just doesn’t know.