Originally written by Justin Bean.
As with many younger American metal enthusiasts, my love of metal has its origins in the punk and hardcore genres. Noticing my chosen path of ‘weakness’, a friend’s older brother lent me three albums that have forever changed the course of my musical explorations—In Flames’ The Jester Race, At The Gates’ Slaughter of the Soul, and, last but not least, Dark Tranquility’s The Gallery. Presently In Flames is working furiously to make nu-metal ‘cool’ and At The Gates has broken up with its members failing, for the most part, to scratch the surface of their prior greatness. This has left Dark Tranquillity, among a dwindling handful of other genre mates, to wield the torch of Gothenburg melodic death metal. The question that must be asked is whether or not, after six full length releases and a number of EPs, they are up to the task of carrying and continuing this rich legacy. The answer is yes, absolutely.
Staying attune with the strong opening heard on Damage Done (which I will refer to throughout the review, since Character and Damage Done have many similarities) that foregoes any synthesized instrumental track, Character opens with an extended drum fill followed by, surprisingly enough, blast beats, the trademark death metal percussive maneuver that DT generally seemed to shy away from. As the immediately recognizable dual guitar harmonies kick into some quality melodic thrash, you know Dark Tranquillity is back and kickin’ it, not necessarily ‘old skool’ style (the mandatory second part of any phrase ending with ‘kickin in’), but with their trademark combination of decidedly soothing, cool melodies buttressed by pure death metal aggression. That said, with an opening as powerful and convincing as “The New Build” I was worried, upon reflecting how often a great opening can easily give way to many a weaker track, that my optimism would be ill founded. I was wrong indeed.
Anyone familiar with Damage Done will notice the evident continuation of the sound developed on said album. At times the keyboard-backed harmonies on Character come dangerously close to blurring the line between it and Damage Done, but early on I could see that the song writing has been greatly improved upon for this release, adding to the disc’s overall cohesion. When I think of the many bands trying in one form or another to emulate the sound pioneered in part by Dark Tranquillity (As I Lay Dying, Unearth, Enforsaken, etc.), one of the key dividers between the ‘true’ genre-definers and the imitators is the amount of skill displayed in song writing. On Character, DT has, to a higher degree than was heard on any previous releases (except perhaps on The Mind’s I, which I thought was superbly focused as far as song writing goes), truly honed their writing capabilities.
This is not to say that Character is without its flaws (it didn’t get a triple six, now did it?). After three tracks of nothing but solid melodic death metal eliciting nary a complaint, speed gives way to a more unhurried pace on “The Endless Feed”, a keyboard driven track that just doesn’t match up to the preceding songs in catchiness or creativity. But not to worry; the intensity is given a swift shove back in the proper direction and “Lost To Apathy”, while still displaying prominent keyboard work, rekindles any interest lost during the prior track. This sort of ebb and flow makes an appearance every so often, but its negative effect is minimal. Lesson learned: Keep on thrashin’.
The production is excellent and offers a clear presentation of DT’s delicate balance of beauty and brutality. If I had to nitpick any one part of the recording, I would say that the recording could benefit from a bit more bass overall, but the levels are well mixed, especially between the keyboard and guitars, which can indeed make or break an album.
Dark Tranquillity has shown that while times and styles change, there is an approach to this inevitable evolution that keeps intact the integrity of the genre and its diverse styles and forms. Any fan of their later work, from Projector to Damage Done, I have no doubt will enjoy Character. While the days of The Gallery and The Mind’s I are clearly gone, Character provides good reason to be pleased with Dark Tranquillity’s development as musicians.