To those in the metallic know, Dark Tranquillity craft some of the most provocative and emotional sounds around. However, last year’s decidedly softer Projector, while still a bold piece of art, found the band’s generally somber mood getting the best of them. But if any doubts currently linger as to whether the Gothenburg, Sweden band can still tap the poignancy of their magnum opus, 1995’s The Gallery, their latest Haven should lay those doubts to rest — or, more appropriately, absolutely bury them — for the album stands as this year’s frontrunner for metal album of the year.
Exploding open the album with a cannon blast of chunky power-chords and a throaty “well, alright!” from frontman Mikael Stanne, what becomes readily apparent on Haven is the average song-length: around three minutes. At such a length, the sextet harnesses every swell of sweat and volume with the utmost economy and efficiency — no filler, no dross, just complete compactness of design; every riff, hook, lead, and sonic accouterment is sharpened to such a point, the body and psyche stand defenseless as the onslaught henceforth ensues. Yet, for as much of an onslaught as Haven is, what makes it thus is not mere velocity (as on the band’s mid-’90s work), but rather a wise(ned) decision to mostly stick to fist-pumpin’, thoroughly headbangin’ mid-tempos, most of which lend a uniquely rock ‘n roll flair, however dark a variety, to the proceedings.
And though the entrance of new keyboardist Martin Brandström might cause some to worry — point being that the inclusion of electronics have ruined (i.e., softened) many a great metal band — his contributions are never overly obtrusive/intrusive and actually are quite integral to each song’s construct. Instead of adding only atmosphere or disposable ornamentation, Brandström’s lines play off of classy ‘n classic-metal-inspired guitarists Niklas Sundin and Martin Henriksson’s immediately memorable melodies, expounding them to unforgettable effect (particularly on the cathartic closer “At Loss For Words”), and he often lays down starkly simple melodies that rival those of both men (best examples: “Fabric” and “Indifferent Suns”).
But the man who really steals the show is Stanne, who, like In Flames’ Anders Friden, has quietly developed into a death-metal singer, a full-fledged frontman capable of commanding a mighty crew. Although Stanne’s semi-raspy bellow isn’t immediately more unique than his peers, he now possesses a keen awareness of what dynamic is required for an individual song, his impassioned inflections and tasteful decipherability compounding this elan by more than a few degrees. Truly, Stanne makes Haven just as emotional and emotionally cleansing, if not more so, than his bandmates: a performance of this kind rivaled only by Friden’s recent work and Kreator’s Mille Petrozza on last year’s stellar Endorama.
To elaborate any further on Haven would take away from the album’s immediacy and cathartic qualities; let’s just say that every element is near perfect and deserves every accolade offered. Granted, such a value judgment is encroaching upon hyperbole, but that’s what happens with records of such resounding excellence. Absolutely essential for everyone with an ear for bruised and bruising art forms.
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