Dark Tranquillity – Moment Review

I’ve always thought Dark Tranquillity was the band that best represented the Gothenburg sound that took hold of metaldom in the early 90s. It’s indisputable that they’re the act that’s aged the most gracefully in the quarter century since the style took hold, as fellow countrymen In Flames and Arch Enemy wandered off into career oblivion. That’s not to say there haven’t been ups and downs in the Dark Tranquillity catalog. Their experiments with gothy moods on albums like Projector and Haven were divisive, and the We Are the Void / Construct era felt like the output of a band past their prime. 2016s Atoma sounded like a band reenergized, ready to embark on the second stage of their career with fire in the belly. Four long years have passed since then, and major lineup changes beset the band. Founding guitarist Niklas Sundin departed, and in his place are two new axemen, including Christopher Amott (ex-Arch Enemy). That brings us to Moment, their 12th platter of moody melodeath.

In pre-release interviews the band suggested Moment had elements of Projector, and while that may be true, I tend to hear more of Haven. That was the second album to feature a more goth-centric style and clean vocals, and for many, it was a rather flat, uninspired outing. Moment is in some ways, Haven 2.0. There are times the material skews toward the We Are the Void era, but more than anything, I hear Haven in these new compositions. Opening single “Phantom Days” is classic, stereotypical Dark Tranquillity in every way. The urgent riffs are paired with glossy keys and over the top of it all flies the excellent death rasps of Mikael Stanne. It pushes no envelopes, but fans of the band can’t help but buy in. Sadly, the high water mark arrives with the opener, and from there Moment meanders through familiar territories that won’t do a lot to excite many listeners. That’s not say there aren’t good moments to be found on Moment. “Transient” is a rousing, up-tempo, and quite heavy cut that delivers all the things I want from the band, including that icy, isolated vibe they’ve perfected over the years. It’s a playlist-worthy cut with an interesting melodic solo break.

Another good tune is the familiar-sounding, vaguely blackened thrash of “Identical to None,” which could have been a bonus track on We Are the Void. Mikael’s clean singing doesn’t appear until fourth track “The Dark Unbroken,” and it works as usual when placed in a decent ditty, which this is. Both “Remain in the Dark” and “Standstill” bear a very strong Katatonia influence, grinding up against melodic mope-rock territory. These are enjoyable cuts as well, with the latter being especially catchy, but this may not be what some want from DT. Unfortunately, by the mid-point of Moment things start to become much less memorable. Tracks like “Ego Deception” don’t resonate with me and feel like generic filler. The same can be said for most of the tracks that run to the album’s end. It just feels like band runs out of steam quickly, which on a lean 41 minute platter is somewhat of an indictment, especially after 4 years of writing time.

From a performance standpoint the band is as tight and professional as ever. Mikael Stanne remains one of the best death metal vocalists of all time and his clean singing conveys all the sadboi sullen mopery one could want. The newfangled guitar tandem of Christopher Amott and Johan Reinholdz do an impressive job of fitting into the well-established Dark Tranquillity soundscape. That said, there aren’t a lot of really piecing, ear-hooking riffs present, though what you do get sounds like classic DT. Martin Brändström delivers the usual, gothy, sparkling keys and at times they may get a tad cheesy (“Standstill”), but they do what they’ve always done for the sound.

Moment isn’t a bad album and individual mileage may vary depending on what era of the band you love most. For my part, I doubt I’ll be returning to this much, though I’ll certainly poach the best cuts for a playlist. After the utter slobberknocking Atoma gave me, this feels like a pretty epic drop off, but even at their worst (which this isn’t), the band still delivers high quality moments. I just expected more of those moments on Moment.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: N/A | Format Reviewed: Stream
Label: Century Media
Websites: darktranquillity.com | facebook.com/dtofficial
Releases Worldwide: November 20th, 2020

Written By: Grymm

Whenever a key member of an established act decides to withdraw to pursue new experiences, I always get nervous about the follow-up. Especially when the band is one of my all-time favorite metal acts. Gothenburg legends Dark Tranquillity, over the course of twelve albums throughout their storied almost-thirty-year existence, blazed a trail teeming with incredible melodies, catchy riff work, and fiery ambition with a hint of melancholy. That said, everything following 2007’s all-encapsulating Fiction, started to go pear-shaped musically for the sextet, and with both founding guitarists Martin Henriksson and Niklas Sundin bowing out (in 2016 and 2020, respectively), to say I’m a bit worried about any new music from a band that was a surefire go-to a decade ago would be understating things. But with Andromeda‘s Johan Reinholdz and former Armageddon and Arch Enemy guitarist Christopher Amott in the fold, things should be looking up, right?

You might want to sit down. I hope you enjoyed lead-off single “Phantom Days,” because that’s the closest the band comes to even getting a whiff of their old energy from their much-loved mid-period. Here, Mikael Stanne’s lyrics and rasps are in fine form. Drummer Anders Jivarp, once again, lays down a phenomenal rhythm, further exemplifying that he’s one of metal’s most underrated drummers out there, and Anders Iwers continues to meld right in with his understated bass playing. The problem here lies in the fact that, even with a great chorus and interesting electronic sounds by keyboardist Martin Brändström, it doesn’t grab like previous openers like “The New Build” or “Punish My Heaven.” Upon my first listen, I thought it was an alright song, with the hopes that maybe, just maybe, they’re warming up.

But no. Things never heat up, cool down, or otherwise do anything of note. Sure, you have a somewhat catchy chorus in “Transient,” and the leads throughout Moment are… well, they’re not bad. They’re fine, really. Also, the fake-out ending to “Ego Deception” is one of the best utilizations of a well-worn trope in a long time. But it’s all so lethargic. It doesn’t help that after “Identical to None,” you’re hit with one slow song after another slow song after another slow song, and “Identical to None” is only the third track on Moment. And very precious little of it sticks. I’ve spent days listening to Moment, hoping it would click someway, somehow, but it never does. By the time “Failstate” desperately wraps things up in a much-needed boost of adrenaline, my attention span has long since tapped out.

Which leads me to wonder just how much input either Reinholdz or Amott had with the songwriting.1 Here, you have two incredible guitarists who can more-or-less go toe-to-toe with the Henriksson/Sundin tandem, and yet here, they’re greatly subdued. Now, I’m not asking either to emulate Henriksson’s atmosphere or Sundin’s quirky soundscapes. I’d much rather see what they can bring to the overall sound of Dark Tranquillity, seeing as they’ve been their live guitarists since 2017. If anything, I would have given them free reign to see what they can bring into the Dark Tranquillity template, because on here, it feels hollow and tepid.

And that’s something I’d never thought I’d say about Dark Tranquillity over a decade ago. In a recent interview with Dead Rhetoric, Stanne states that Moment is “closer to Projector than any of our previous albums.” Except Projector was a brave and daring dark horse from a band that was aiming to do something different in order to keep going, and it resulted in being one of my all-time favorite DT albums because of it. Moment, in stark comparison, fits in well with their post-We Are the Void sound, but that album’s where my love for their music started to go south. Every release since then somehow drifted by without grabbing me much, and sadly, Moment keeps up that streak. This is one Moment I have a hell of a time remembering, and that’s worrying.

Rating: 2.0/5.0

Show 1 footnote

  1. This is further exacerbated by the fact that we weren’t supplied a one-sheet to see who wrote what.
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