DARK TRANQUILLITY: Slayer and Satan

Born during the beginnings of the famed Gothenburg scene, DARK TRANQUILLITY helped pioneer the Swedish melodic death metal sound. They have helped influence a whole generation of bands. While contemporaries IN FLAMES are venturing into mainstream territories, DARK TRANQUILLITY continue on their uncompromising path. Their focus has always been on creating the highest quality music possible. Each of their releases are testaments to the band’s creativity. With their sixth full-length album, Damage Done, DARK TRANQUILLITY are showing that they are still a force to be reckoned with. Gain insight into the world of the band with our interview with guitarist, Niklas Sundin and our review of their discography.

Dark Tranquillity
APESHIT: Each DARK TRANQUILLITY album is always progressing and moving into new territory. This is the seventh album in your career. That is quite a lot for an underground metal band. What drives you guys to keep going? And how do you manage to keep such a high level of songwriting?

NIKLAS: Damage Done is actually our sixth full length album, but I guess it’s still quite a lot for a band like us. The main drive is without any doubt the will and the desire to create music. In order not to grow tired of the band, we have to try to cover new territory with every release.

APESHIT: What were the goals set for Damage Done?

NIKLAS: We usually don’t set any specific goals for an album, but I guess that we all wanted to bring back some of the more technical and aggressive elements present in our older songs. Haven was very streamlined and catchy, and most of our albums have been some sort of reaction against the previous one, so it felt natural to write some faster and more intense material again.

APESHIT: One thing that the band got so much negative criticism for, was Mikael Stanne’s clean vocals on Projector. For the apeshit.org staff, these clean vocals were one of the aspects that made the album such a masterpiece. Haven only featured only one song that ended up with clean vocals. Damage Done has no clean vocals. What was the reason for this? Was this a conscious decision?

NIKLAS: Not really. We usually try lots of different alternatives out when it comes to writing the songs, and some earlier versions of the Damage Done tracks contained some clear vocals, but we all came to the conclusion that they weren’t needed, so we decided to go for screaming vocals only. Same thing with Haven, on which most of the songs actually started out a lot more mellow and with only clear vocals. As time went by, the music got harsher and heavier, which called for the screaming to begin again. We know that lots of people would like to hear more clean singing from Mikael again, but it’d be a total sellout to throw them in just to please the fans.

APESHIT: The album cover is the most intense and in your face artwork to date. Can you please give us a little insight into the conception, creation, and meaning of the artwork for the new album?

NIKLAS: I don’t want to reveal too much since I think that it’s up to the viewer to interpret it in a way he/she feels comfortable with. Basically, I wanted to reflect the fact that the musical and lyrical content had grown more intense, and this is also the reason for choosing Damage Done as a title. The cover looks like an abstract shape at first, but when given closer examination it reveals something totally different.

APESHIT: You guys play some of the most technical and tightly played music in the genre. Each record always has a production that is always up front and crystal clear, like you have nothing to hide with your performance. How often do you guys rehearse?

NIKLAS: It depends a lot. When rehearsing for a tour or album recording, we try to get something done every day. If being in a dry period, so to speak, we might not rehearse at all for a month or so. I’m not sure if I agree that our music is among the most technical in the genre, though. There are lots of band whose guitar parts are way more tricky and technical then ours.

APESHIT: What musical and non-musical entities inspire and influence the band?

NIKLAS: SLAYER and Satan.

APESHIT: DARK TRANQUILLITY were one of the first (Swedish) bands to play this style of melodic death metal. Now it seems that there are hundreds of bands trying to emulate this style. DARK TRANQUILLITY has undoubtedly been an influence. How do you feel about this?

NIKLAS: It’s very flattering that bands cite us as an influence. I haven’t actually listened to many of the bands you refer to, so I can’t say much regarding the quality of them, but the general opinion seems to be that the amount of second rate clone bands is pretty high. I personally feel very jaded about metal these days and it takes something out of the ordinary to catch my interest, which doesn’t happen too often. When I listen to metal, I want it to be as far from DARK TRANQUILLITY as possible since I get more then enough of our own music at rehearsals and so on.

APESHIT: It seems that the influence of Swedish melodic death metal is also spreading into other genres of extreme music. There are tons of US hardcore bands that are incorporating Swedish style melodic riffs. What do you think about this?

NIKLAS: I got this question in another interview some days ago and got very surprised. I’m not at all oriented in the US hardcore scene, so I haven’t heard any of the bands that were mentioned, but I think it’s great that our trademark sound (or whatever one can call it) is making its way to other styles. I’m all for mixing and overlapping different genres since it avoids stagnation.

APESHIT: IN FLAMES and DARK TRANQUILLITY started out at roughly the same time, both bands playing a melodic style of extreme metal. IN FLAMES are now reaching an all-time high in terms of popularity and recognition in the US. DARK TRANQUILLITY are still waiting in the wings, so to speak. How do you feel about the success that IN FLAMES have enjoyed? What steps are DARK TRANQUILLITY taking to achieve world domination?

NIKLAS: World domination and mass appeal was never a goal for us. If one wants to be really successful in this style of metal (I’m defining success in terms of album sales here), one has to do lots and lots of touring. IN FLAMES are on the road for more than 6 months per year, which is a lot and way more than what I’m interested in doing. Personally, I’m very satisfied with the level we’re currently at. We can do some touring, but not too much, and we can have lives outside of the band. I also think that being able to make a living out of the music is a trap since you always have to think about having to sell X units of the album in order to be able to pay the bills. We’re not dependant on the band in that sense, so we’re free to do whatever we want with our music.

APESHIT: I know that you and Anders Friden (IN FLAMES vocalist) had a side-project called, DEAD MAN’S BANQUET. What is the status of it? Do you or any of the other members of the band currently have any side-projects?

NIKLAS: Whoa – that was truly ages ago. Nothing really came out of it, which is a shame since the one song we did record had lots of potential. What basically happened was that Anders became a co-owner of Studio Fredman and I started studying multimedia and web design, so there wasn’t any time to work on the project and it died out.

APESHIT: Do you have any words for your US fans?

NIKLAS: Thanks for reading this! Hope to finally tour the US as soon as possible.

APESHIT DISCOGRAPHY REVIEW

Skydancer (1993)
The highly energetic and raw debut. The band’s talent for writing complex songs is already apparent here. DARK TRANQUILLITY were one of the first band’s in 90’s extreme metal to incorporate female vocals in their albums. One of the albums that marked the birth of the trademark Gothenburg sound.

Of Chaos and Eternal Night (1995)
DARK TRANQUILLITY demonstrate their greatly improved songwriting skills here. The production on this EP is much improved in comparison to Skydancer. The charismatic, Mikael Stanne takes over vocal duties. Frederik Johansson takes over on guitars for him. This EP was just a precursor of the sheer greatness that was to come.

The Gallery (1995)
Once you hear the first drumbeats and then the guitars come in, you know this is gonna be good. This is the album that put Swedish melodic death metal and DARK TRANQUILLITY on the map. The Gallery is sheer perfection. They took IRON MAIDEN‘s sense of melody and brought it to a whole new level. This is mandatory.

Enter Suicidal Angels (1996)
This EP was a teaser for the next progression of DARK TRANQUILLITY, improving on songwriting and execution. The songs are more focused, balancing hooks and Swedish metal riffing. Included is an electronic-styled remix track, “Archetype,” which the band received a lot of criticism for.

The Mind’s I (1997)
Here, the band takes on a more aggressive, thrash metal approach as previewed by Enter Suicidal Angels. The songs are shorter and more concentrated yet no less adventurous. A truly awesome and complete album that furthered proved that DARK TRANQUILLITY are the best at what they do.

Projector (1999)
Projector was a sideways shift from their typical in-your-face attack characterized by Stanne‘s exceptional clean vocal performance (a raspy yet near soulful croon) as well as the addition of Martin Brandstrom‘s piano. Sparse yet complete, this is a true gem for those who appreciate spontaneous brilliance.

Haven (2000)
The next progression sees keyboards taking on an integral role. The songs are more compact and aggressive in comparison to Projector. Mikael Stanne mostly utilizes his screaming vocals while utilizing clean vocals on only one song. Haven marks the first release without long time guitarist, Frederik Johansson.

Damage Done (2002)Damage Done is very much an extension of DARK TRANQUILLITY‘s previous album, Haven. This time around however, their songwriting is a lot more adventurous and far more aggressive, utilizing more varied song structures (like the breakbeat-like exercise in the middle of “Monochromatic Stains“). But don’t expect a return… » Read our full review here

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