For the past 14 years, Dark Tranquillity have been at the forefront of Gothenburg, Sweden's melodic-death-metal scene. But as bands there began copping the style, it became harder for the pioneers to remain ahead of the pack.
On past efforts, such as 2002's Damage Done and 2005's Character, Dark Tranquillity trumped their peers by making their songs as multifaceted as possible. Guitar riffs were stacked to the sky, synth breaks abounded and melody splashed through the bludgeoning constructions like hot fudge through a banana split. But for their upcoming album Fiction, which comes out April 24, the band has taken a different approach.
"We wanted to take a step back and not focus on making things as involved or complicated as they could be," singer Mikael Stanne said. "We thought, 'Let's experiment more with each song instead of trying to make each song chock-full of things.' "
The technique worked. Fiction is eclectic, immediate and enticing. It's still musically accomplished, with finely honed riffs and well-crafted arrangements that veer from sweeping classic metal to pummeling black metal, but the constructions on songs like "Nothing to No One," "Terminus" and "Icipher" remain coherent, no matter how many pinch harmonics or goth keyboards swim through the mix.
"We really didn't want to do the same thing over and over again," Stanne said. "Rather, we wanted to focus on what felt important in each song and to focus on each individual emotion and feeling. So, when we started making a really heavy song, we put all our effort into making it as heavy as possible instead of mixing it up with all the fast stuff and technical stuff. It was fun and it was actually very liberating to work that way."
In addition to embracing a different music-writing technique, Stanne approached his lyrics differently as well. Instead of addressing the frustrations in his own life, as he had in the past, he wrote about imaginary scenarios — hence the album title.
"I came up with fictional characters and put all my feelings and problems on these individuals," he explained. "And I was actually able to be more personal and honest than ever before because I could get everything out without getting too close."
While Dark Tranquillity had the skeletons of four songs together early last year, they switched into serious writing mode in April 2006 and spent the ensuing five months writing and fine-tuning. "We wanted to make sure everything was perfect before we entered the studio in October," Stanne said.
Once the songs were written, the bandmembers entered keyboardist/ electronics manipulator Martin Brändström's studio to record. Since there were no studio expenses and the bandmembers handled the initial production work, they could spend as much time as they wanted on the songs. "We really deconstructed and reconstructed the songs over and over so we could explore them from all angles," Stanne said.
By the end of 2006, Dark Tranquillity were happy with all 10 songs on Fiction, but when they listened back to the recordings, they couldn't believe what they heard. The songs that sounded so good while they were jamming didn't translate, and for a while, they wondered if they were going to have to redo the entire album.
"It was so depressing," Stanne said. "The songs had no effects and no compression and were totally flat-sounding. And we were like, 'This is horrible.' It sounded like crap. So we were really nervous when we gave the files to our producer, Tue Madsen."
There's a saying that everything can be fixed in the mix. Usually that's not true — as many bands will attest — but in Dark Tranquillity's case, the axiom was proven correct: Once Madsen finished tinkering and tweaking, Fiction sounded as epic and resounding as any of the band's releases.
"When we got the actual mix, we were so happy it was ridiculous," Stanne said. "Tue Madsen is definitely the star player on this one."
The rest of the week's metal news:
Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler, along with former members Ronnie James Dio and drummer Vinny Appice — the four musicians who comprise the new band Heaven and Hell — will sign copies of the new Black Sabbath collection The Dio Years April 3 at the Best Buy on 44th at Fifth Avenue in New York. The signing will take place between 6 and 7 p.m., so get there early, folks. ... After months of writing, Meshuggah have finally begun recording their forthcoming album, which, they assure, "will rock your flea-ridden socks off." The band is hoping to have the disc finished in time for a September release. ... Soil, Seemless and Ligion will hit the road together this May for the True Rock Tour, a 17-date trek that kicks off May 1 in Cudahy, Wisconsin. Dates are scheduled through May 27 in Evansville, Wisconsin. ...
Dates for Bury Your Dead's upcoming spring run with Suicide Silence, Since the Flood and Stick to Your Guns have been announced. The trek will launch April 20 in Rochester, New York, and run through June 2 in Asbury Park, New Jersey. ... South Carolina's Through the Eyes of the Dead need a frontman. While the departure of singer Anthony Gunnells remains something of a mystery, the band — which is currently working on its next album, Malice, with producer Erik Rutan (Goatwhore, Cannibal Corpse) — is in desperate need of a "professional, dedicated vocalist willing to tour the world and able to relocate immediately." Sound like you? Contact the band through its MySpace page for more information on how to audition. ... Season of Mist Records has signed German black-metallers Naer Mataron. In a statement, the bandmembers said they've "composed the harshest and most extreme music [we] ever had for our new album. We are more strong and enthusiastic than ever before and feel that we are also supported henceforth in the same spirit. To this point, we wish to extend our salute to the hordes that supported our black-metal war machine throughout the last 13 years." There's no title or release date for the album yet. ...
Clutch will load up the van this spring to tour in support of their forthcoming From Beale Street to Oblivion. The road trip will commence May 11 in Washington, D.C., and crisscross the U.S. before winding down May 26 in San Diego. ... Black-metal maelstroms Angelcorpse have finished recording their fourth studio LP, Of Lucifer and Lightning. Look for the effort to feature "Antichrist Vanguard," "Machinery of the Cleansing" and "Saints of Blasphemy" when it hits stores in the coming months — a firm release date has not been revealed yet. In the meantime, East Coast fans can catch the 'Corpse in May on tour with Watain and Nachtmystium. ... Norwegian extreme-metallers Manngard have begun tracking their yet-untitled sophomore album. According to the band, this next one "promises to be even more massive, twisted and evil than the debut," last year's Circling Buzzards. ...
Overkill frontman Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth and Hades axeman Dan Lorenzo have teamed up to form a new band, the Cursed. The band's inaugural offering, Room Full of Sinners, will land in stores May 22. Look for the set to feature "Evil, in the Bag," "Serpentine Slither" and "Leven Als God in Frankrijk." ... Thrash dudes Thine Eyes Bleed have started working on their next album. "We are now a few days into the drums and they sound amazing," the band said in a statement. "The tracking room is nice and spacious with high ceilings and pine walls creating great acoustics. [Drummer] Darryl [Stephens] has been shredding his drum tracks so far, letting us know this is gonna be some brutal sh--. As for the rest of us, 'Guitar Hero' has been the main focus so far, enhancing our hand-eye coordination." No word yet on when the LP might see the light of day, but we'll keep you posted. ... Vital Remains, Light This City and With Passion will join forces for a spate of spring North American gigs. The tour is tentatively set to kick off May 23 and conclude June 24, but exact cities and dates will be announced soon. Vital Remains will issue their next one, Icons of Evil, April 24. ...
Drummer Tom Hunting has returned to Exodus. According to a band statement, "it was always understood that when and if Tom was ever ready to resume his drumming duties for the band, his seat would be waiting." Hunting left Exodus in 2005 and was replaced by legendary drummer Paul Bostaph — who, incidentally, had recently left Slayer when Dave Lombardo rejoined that fold. "Paul always knew this and was the first to say it upon joining the band. Paul and Tom have always been good friends and we, as a band, cannot thank Paul enough for his services on [2005's] Shovel Headed Kill Machine and all the subsequent tours he did to support that album. We had a great time and kicked many asses along the way. Paul has given this reunion his whole-hearted endorsement with no mixed blessings and is happy to see Tom back in the fold." Exodus are "hard at work on new songs, and this sh-- is the best and heaviest music we've ever written." The boys plan to begin tracking in May. ... Norwegian black-metallers Mayhem will tour the States this summer. So far just six dates have been confirmed for the run: July 17 (Santa Ana, California); July 18 (West Hollywood, California); July 20 (Seattle); July 22 (Chicago); July 23 (New York); and July 24 (Springfield, Virginia). More shows are expected to be announced soon. On April 24, Mayhem's new album Ordo Ab Chao will be in stores. The LP features eight songs, including "A Wise Birthgiver," "Psychic Horns" and "Anti."