The emotive, progressive melodic death metal of Dark Tranquillity feels timeless, both modern and classic with each new record. But the Gothenburg, Sweden-based six-piece have been around since 1989, and their riveting new album Moment marks the band’s 12th studio release. So when we asked frontman Mikael Stanne to sit down and rank the entire Dark Tranquillity discography, even we weren’t entirely prepared for the experience. And yet Mikael embraced the undertaking admirably, looking at each of Dark Tranquillity’s past releases through both a personal and professional lens.
“It is hard to separate them, but I can still listen objectively, I think,” says Mikael via Skype. “Whenever I listen to [these albums], which is rare, I do sometimes think, Ah, we were young. But not in a bad way! In a fun way. Because yeah, that’s what we were — we were young, and full of ourselves, and had an idea to make the most amazing music that you could ever hear. As you are, in your early 20s. You think, There’s no obstacles at all. Everything is just possibilities. It’s just open. And that’s something that I guess you always hope you can find again — that feeling of invincibility. Everything we do is fucking awesome. There’s no way we can do it any better than that. Fuck it, let’s go. It’s impossible, but at least you can feel the sense of groundbreaking something new. If you can somehow recapture a tiny little aspect of that enthusiasm you felt back then.”
Here’s how Mikael broke down the Dark Tranquillity catalog…
12. Haven (2000)
“The album that maybe I was a little bit disappointed in, and where I felt like, Ah, we had something, and then maybe we lost it a little bit, was Haven. We had just come off of [1999’s] Projector, and Martin Brändström had just joined on keys, and all of a sudden we were a six-piece band and it felt fantastic. We had a lot of songs, and then Martin added some cool stuff to that, and we thought, All right, this is really interesting. We wrote some really cool, mellow, emotional songs, and I loved it.
“And then we did two tours. And when we finished tour, we had all these demos, and we were like, Man, really? Is this what we want to do? Are these songs going to work when we go out and tour for this album? And we thought that we needed something faster. So we kind of quickly redid a lot of those songs and took out some of the mellow parts. So even though I dig the album — some of those songs are fantastic — there was something there that I missed, that I wish I could hear again. I still think about that when I hear it nowadays, how I imagined the songs originally and how they didn’t end up that way. That’s usually for the better, but in my mind there were some songs that were better before we changed things. That doesn’t mean it’s true.”
11. The Mind’s I (1997)
“That’s only because of the production, I think. It’s tough for me to listen to it. I love the playing on it — it’s super intense, I love some of those songs, and it was at a critically interesting records that did wonders for us as a band. It got us out touring way more than the second album.
“But there’s something about the sound. And I think that’s the only thing that keeps me from listening to it, even though some of the songs have been live staples for years and years and years. For a lot of time, we played a lot of songs from that album. But there’s something empty and missing in the mix that annoys me. If we got the chance, I would love to do a remix, go back to Studio Fredman and try it again.”
10. We Are the Void (2010)
“It’s pretty recent, but it was just an album that was difficult to write. It was frustrating, and we were all having different ideas of what to do, and it shows, but sometimes in a fantastic way. You can tell — or I can, at least — with certain parts, Oh, this is an idea someone had, and then someone else changed it. That song is Daniel [Antonsson, bass]s song, that song is Niklas [Sundin, guitar]’s song.
“And I think that’s cool — some of the songs are super heavy and cool. It’s just not as coherent as maybe I want it. But I still dig the songs, and we play a shitload of songs from that album — there’s just something there that just doesn’t reach all the way for me. I remember liking it at the time. I liked the diversity of the album. But maybe if we had an overall theme or worked on it on the production side, it’d be more cohesive. The songs would have a bigger connection. That’s the only thing that irks me a little bit.”
9. Skydancer (1993)
“Our first attempt at doing something in a studio. We’d recorded two demos and an EP before that, so we had minimal studio experience. Then all of a sudden we got some money from Spinefarm Records in Finland, and they told us, Record a full length album. We had two weeks in a studio that we heard was great, and they had never recorded death metal before, just regular metal, and we thought, Wow, now we’re going to sound like a million bucks, and it’s going to be super cool because we’re in a professional studio and everything like that.
“There were many, many lessons learned the hard way in those two weeks. Because we knew nothing, we just had some ideas that things were going to get solved somehow. It’s gonna sound great no matter how you play. We’d been rehearsing like crazy, and still didn’t know what we were doing. It was really interesting, but really stressful and weird. And it really shows how insanely, over-the-top ambitious we were. We wanted to do everything on that album. It was like, Who knows if this is going to work or not? Might as well have everything on this album in case we don’t get to do another one!”
8. & 7. Character (2005) and Fiction (2007)
“These were two albums where we realized, Okay, now we’re recording in our own studio. Martin built his studio that we’re still recording in. We were touring like crazy at the time, and it was really intense. So in a way, when I look back on it, those albums almost seem like continuations of each other — they’re not, but in my memory they are. Because we recorded in a similar way: record the album, prepare a thing, go touring, come home, write an album, same studio from the one before.
“It was as close to this old way of thinking, where you just tour and then immediately go back to the studio to do something again. So they have similarity, but in a very good way. They’re very solid, and some of the songs from those two albums are a huge part of our setlist, of course. But I don’t think I can choose between them, so maybe they share this spot.”
6. Atoma (2016)
“Just because that was our previous record, and it’s been such a constant for the last four years. We’ve toured more for this album than any of our previous ones, so I’m looking forward to playing some new songs. We’ve played all of these to death.
“In general, it was a difficult album to do. Niklas couldn’t be a full, engaged part of the recording. At the same time, it meant that Martin and Anders [Iwers, bass] had to take on bigger roles, and that really helped shape where they are now and how Moment ended up being. So it was like a big learning experience, but also for us, finding new ways of working. And I think that really helped. Opened up for a full three-and-a-half years of touring. It was insane.”
5. Construct (2013)
“I think this one of our best-sounding albums. I love how that one came out. We really kind of wanted to make the most out of it, and changed a lot of things in the writing process, and also in the studio. It’s heavier, and also really powerful. Martin experimented a lot of with keyboards, and it’s the first album where Jens Bogren mixed us. I think he really, really got it, and made it sound just incredible.
“It’s probably the album that I listen tot he most if I go back to an album, just because of how it sounds and how it makes me feel. It’s such a diverse record, and I think because of how that turned out, it opened up a lot of possibilities and confidence when doing different things for Atoma and now for Moment as well. It was very crucial and important for us.”
4. Damage Done (2002)
“We just felt like after Haven that it was time to do something intense and heavy, and we were on tour a LOT, and we wanted it to be even better. We just wanted songs that felt great onstage, that we could just play forever. And I think there was a lot of difficulty recording — we were recording at Studio Fredman at the time, and it was a bit of struggle for us, but at the same time that just meant that we wanted to stay up all night and just get everything done. We wanted it to be finished.
“That friction that we felt between us and Fredrik [Nordström] who produced it fueled us wanting to do more things on our own. So we said, You don’t need to be here, we can do this ourselves. And that kind of made us into what we are now, which is kind of self-sufficient. We like to do everything ourselves, except for mixing. But that album came out furious, and intense, and angry, and I think very powerful. I love those songs. That was the album that got us to America, and we finally felt we could tour there. And we’ve been doing it ever since! For that alone, it’s a very, very important album for us.”
3. Projector (1999)
“A very important album for us. We were frustrated with the moniker of Gothenburg death metal. We were on Osmose Records in France who mainly did black metal. And we just felt a little bit out of place there. Also, in terms of hearing about us being just another Gothenburg death metal band, who just sounds like At The Gates and In Flames and all the other bands from around there — no. That’s the last thing we wanted. All the other bands felt the same way. We just wanted to show that that’s not what we were. The only reason we started playing music was to get out of the genre definitions and be something else. And all of a sudden, someone stamped us with this moniker. It felt insulting at the time.
“So we wanted to prove that we could be something else. So we wrote Projector, and decided to experiment a lot more, do things that we only talked about before or had done in the rehearsal room. That was really interesting, and turned out to be great album. Frederik [Johansson, guitar]’s playing on that album is amazing, and the production was great. Everybody pushed themselves to do things they didn’t know they could. And that was to Fredrik [Nordström]’s credit — he heard what we could do and said, ‘Maybe it could be better.’ And of course, that album forced us to reinvent ourselves, and I think we did. Even though we want back to the heavy stuff with Damage Done. All those options were open. We were more there in 1999 than we were perhaps in 2005.”
2. The Gallery (1995)
“My favorite, and our most important album, is The Gallery, from back when we were just kids. But after the line-up changed so much, and I started singing, Fredrik joined on guitar, and all of a sudden the level was raised. Everybody started to practice hard, and realized what they could do with their instruments. We also started listening to more ‘musicians’ music,’ if you will — progressive rock and folk metal and stuff like that. That became interesting, to see how we could push ourselves and try out things that maybe was too difficult but that you could do anyway. I think that sparked a lot of creativity and cool ideas.
“We had originally been in my parents’ garage for all these years, and suddenly we were in a rehearsal room and a studio where we could do whatever we wanted. We were suddenly on a professional level compared to what we’d done before. And that really made us want to be better. It was the first time we’d recorded with Fredrik [Nordström], and he was really, really excited to make this the best possible recording. It still holds up, and it sounds great, and the songs are all over the place but in a good way. It’s just unbridled creativity and youthful energy, as it should be. It’s just us, believing in what we’re working on. You can hear us standing on our toes, because we’re reaching so far and trying so hard. That’s what a lot of great albums are — you’re not doubting yourself yet, you’re just feeling it. We got tours, we were selling albums and T-shirts — we felt real for the first time. “
1. Moment (2020)
“It’s hard, because no one has heard it yet, but of course it’s the best one! Otherwise, what’s the point? So it’s number one. I think it’s definitely, as with all our albums, it’s where we are right now. Thirty years later, this is what we’ve come up with. And it feels great — we’re a stronger band right now than we’ve been in many, many, many years. We have pulled off things on this album hat we only thought of our dreamed of before. And I think it shows — it’s a combination of all those things, and something new in there as well. It’s a refinement, of all the things we like about our music.”
Dark Tranquillity’s Moment comes out Friday, November 20th, and is available for preorder. Make sure to check out the band’s livestream album release show on November 21st, for which tickets are currently available.
Words by Chris Krovatin