Dark Tranquillity - Atoma
Century Media
Melodic Death Metal
12 songs (49'33")
Release year: 2016
Dark Tranquillity, Century Media
Reviewed by Alex
Major event

So I'm going to have to write a review for a Dark Tranquillity album. With so few writers contributing someone has to, I just need to keep suppressing the inner fanboy while doing it. Atoma deserves to be covered and I'm going to remain impartial about it, fingers crossed.

In an unusual twist I first got to experience Atoma (or multiple songs from it anyway) live. Such was the timing of this year's Dark Tranquillity tour that they were here in the US immediately on the heels of the Atoma release. My last coming out for any live experience is probably a couple of years old now, so this being Dark Tranquillity I just couldn't stay away.

As much as it is true that I'm bringing up the average age of the audience now, Dark Tranquillity guys are not getting any younger either. You can sense the feeling of grizzly veteranship though, especially with the lineup change. Both guitarists were young guys, hired for the tour or permanent members, I don't know, but the two players I knew in Dark Tranquillity personally, and always made a point to talk to, were not there. Martin Henriksson left the band, probably not being able to survive Construct experience, and Niklas Sundin had to stay home to take care of a newborn girl (congratulations to him). Against the younger guys backdrop old/new mountain of a man bass player Anders Iwers looks like a grandpa. All of the older guys are now sporting beards, and added a few wrinkles to their faces and a few pounds to their bodies. Vocalist Mikael Stanne's formerly slim frame is probably the most evident in this regard, but he is still very active on stage, just no longer bending in half. I have not seen him so happy and radiant though, Mikael smiling throughout and interacting with the audience non-stop. A good showman to begin with he has truly learned to love the experience of playing live.

The setlist included a lot of songs from Atoma, at least six or seven of them, as the guys are proud of what they have recently created. Without hearing the album much before the show, I admit, it was difficult for me to become engrossed in the Atoma pieces the way I was joyed when hearing the old staples like The Treason Wall, Wonders at Your Feet, Monochromatic Stains, etc. Yet whatever of Atoma I heard at the show made me put it on repeat for the next five days, and I have come to appreciate it now.

I was not put off by Construct as so many other fans have been, but We Are the Void leaves me unmoved to this day, so you can say I needed Dark Tranquillity to make an impact for almost a decade now. With Construct I felt the band went for a Projector moody experience, yet delivered through the eyes of grown men, not anxious youth. Atoma then attempted to keep the brooding attitude (witness the intro to the title track) with definitive synth moments, but tried to reinject the energy not witnessed since Character. For some this shift alone makes Atoma better than Construct, but Dark Tranquillity for a while now has emphasized mood over harshness or guitar ornate twistiness. There are songs on Atoma where energy bursts are evident. After angry dissonant beginning Encircled probably does it best, even if the riffs come from the stock used before. The epic chorus provides the release, with synth being that extra layer which now seems so common for many to have in melodic death metal, but years ago it was a revolutionary risk Dark Tranquillity took. Neutrality does the same, just like The Pitiless and When the World Screams. The latter two songs attempt to bottle similar spirit, only Encircled and Neutrality seem to do it in more complete one-breath fashion. The whole first half of the album continues with one strong delivery after another, including Forward Momentum. Stanne's clean croon is fantastic and I sure did not expect this song to be interpreted the way the video clip did, about the younger generation choices whether to leave our planet behind in the face of a global catastrophe.

There are songs on the album which stop, make pregnant pauses, make you think (Our Proof of Life) or push forward with a dark wall full of blips and unusual percussion patterns (Force of Hand), i.e. being closer to Construct. The mid-tempo cuts deliver just as much emotion as faster, more aggressive, songs do. Clearing Skies is almost strangely optimistic and uplifting, in the face of sad lyrics, while Merciless Fate is absolutely desperate and crushing, with lyrics just as devastating. And to whoever thought Stanne's is the best, most philosophical wordsmith in metal Faithless by Default serves as reinforcement ( just tell me this verse does not describe what has just happened here in the US and has been happening in Europe as of late too)

To ends unknown by means unworthy

To answer wishes, long dead and gone

Old empty promises, a just reward for the blind

Belief makes work for idle minds, we lost our way

We lost our way

Sticking to their winning formula, reinventing little, but refurbishing lots, Dark Tranquillity managed to move their ship forward once again. Yes, they are a professional band, but they are still playing to boutique selected audiences, even if those crowds are not swelling with many new fans. Anders Jivarp, being an accomplished soccer player, will probably appreciate my closing analogy. Dark Tranquillity today is a lot like my soccer game. Gone forever (probably) is sheer abandonment of youth and the ability to make plays out of nowhere on pure willpower. The mind may be telling where my body needs to be, but the limbs just don't move fast enough. So I read the game, anticipate, think more and act less. And then at time I surprise myself with moves of sheer brilliance. Dark Tranquillity is that aging soccer player, not covering a lot of ground, yet crafty and smart, consistent throughout, always in position and once in a while showing flashes of past glory. In a sign of maturity two bonus atmospheric rock Katatonic songs were left to the bonus disc, not to break the Atoma flow.

Killing Songs :
Encircled, Forward Momentum, Neutrality, Faithless by Default, Clearing Skies, Merciless Fate
Alex quoted 88 / 100
Other albums by Dark Tranquillity that we have reviewed:
Dark Tranquillity - Construct reviewed by Jared and quoted 65 / 100
Dark Tranquillity - Zero Distance EP reviewed by Chris and quoted No quote
Dark Tranquillity - The Mind's I reviewed by Goat and quoted 77 / 100
Dark Tranquillity - We Are The Void reviewed by Goat and quoted 86 / 100
Dark Tranquillity - Where Death Is Most Alive (DVD) reviewed by Alex and quoted no quote
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