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Album review: Dark Tranquillity – Atoma


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2016 has been a bizarrely great year for seeing some of metal’s beloved veterans totally reinvent and revitalise themselves.

Dark Tranquillity – Atoma

Classic metallers like Testament, Death Angel, Anthrax and Dream Theater have delivered nothing short of A* records this year, with some of their new releases even threatening to out-do their beloved, long-untouchable albums of the past.

And this elite club of reenergised rock n roll elders can now add Dark Tranquillity to its ranks, as the Swedish melodic death metal quintet is set to blow all away with their brand new album, Atoma.

With ten albums and almost three decades of existence under their collective belt, the idea of Dark Tranquillity creating something this vital and awe-inspiring should be an impossibility. Yet, not only does Atoma prove that that is a fallacy, it is an album that is destined to make anyone that ever believed that fallacy slap themselves in the face.

21 years after laying down the blueprints for melodic death metal with their seminal magnum opus The Gallery (1995), Dark Tranquillity are continuing to expand upon the possibilities of the genre that they helped to invent.

Rather than being an exercise in brutality and abrasiveness, Atoma takes a musical style as harsh as melo-death and somehow makes it beautiful and artistic. Unlike contemporaries such as Carcass – a band which specialises in making melodic death metal a destructive and evil-sounding sub-genre – Dark Tranquillity makes extreme music a positive, emotionally complex affair.

Atoma is not afraid to go to cleaner musical territory when it needs to. For example, the record may open with the fast, heavy, blast-beat-laden ‘Encircled’, but it leads into the beautiful, expansive title track, which mostly utilises clean singing from vocalist Mikael Stanne (except for the choruses) and a great emphasis on the keyboards of Martin Brändström.

After ‘Atoma’ comes to a close, calmer moments continue to occasionally sneak themselves into the fold, specifically in the verses of ‘Forward Momentum’, the opening of ‘Our Proof of Life’ and the bridge of ‘Merciless Fate’. Sections like these may be rare, but their impact is immeasurable.

However, make no mistake, the predominant heaviness of this record is also stunning, with the perfect mix of harmony and anarchy that melo-death has been renowned for rearing its head once more. While Atoma may be artistic and emotive, it can still get heads banging and fists pumping worldwide, with the blast beats of Anders Jivarp and mind-bending guitar-work of Niklas Sundin continuing to make this album undoubtedly one that still embraces the most basic philosophy of metal; that being “shut up, get on your feet and mosh the night away.”

While Dark Tranquillity goes out of its way to find clean, solemn ground on this album, that definitely does not come with the sacrifice of its fair share of powerful instrumentation and pulse-pounding screams from Stanne.

As a result, Atoma is an endlessly fluid experience, one that balances the clean and harsh effortlessly, where on other metal records the calmer sections would probably stick out like a sore thumb. This album does not feel like a staggered collection of songs; it’s a continued, flowing ride that never violently twists or jerks and, thus, something that needs to be experienced in its entirety if you wish to get the most pleasure out of it.

Combine this with perfect mixing and production so clear that it feels like Dark Tranquillity is literally performing in front of you and you have a melo-death masterwork on your hands. Truly, Atoma feels more than worthy of being mentioned within the same breath as classics like In FlamesThe Jester Race (1996), Carcass’ Heartwork (1993) and yes, even Dark Tranquillity’s own The Gallery.

This record takes the inherently exciting nature of melodic death metal and makes it applicable for the thinking metalhead. It can be enjoyed equally by those hunting for artistic, subtle music which can be loved from the confines of the home and those that just want some heavy guitar riffs and pounding rhythms that they can head-bang and break things to.

When it comes time for people to decide the best heavy albums to come out of 2016, Atoma will doubtlessly be a first ballot nominee.

Atoma will be available physically and digitally via Century Media Records on 4th November.

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