MIKAEL STANNE - Vocalist of Dark
Interview by Lord of The Wasteland
Live pics courtesy of Diana van
Dark Tranquillity—legends of the melodic death metal sound that
came out of Sweden in the early-to-mid 1990s. The band has
influenced countless others with their twin guitar sounds,
melodic harmonies and harsh vocals. After seven full length CDs
and two EP’s, Dark Tranquillity has finally given its fans a two
CD “grab-bag” called EXPOSURES: IN RETROSPECT AND DENIAL that
combines all of their hard-to-find songs with their original
demo from 1991 and follow-up E.P., 1992’s A MOONCLAD REFLECTION.
As a bonus, Century Media has packaged an audio version of the
band’s new DVD, LIVE DAMAGE, as a second disc to sweeten the
deal. I had the chance to speak with Dark Tranquillity vocalist
Mikael Stanne about the busy year that the band has with the
release of a DVD, EXPOSURES, a new CD in the fall as well as
reissues of their first two albums, THE GALLERY and THE MIND’S
You have a new CD out called EXPOSURES: IN RETROSPECT AND
DENIAL. Being that this is a look back at tracks from the band
over the years, I understand the “retrospect” part of the title,
but what is the significance of “denial?”
there are songs that we recorded during the sessions for the
last three albums and we felt that some of them didn’t fit
within the context of that particular record. Others we just
didn’t think were good enough and that was the “denial” part of
it. We hid them away at the time and then we looked at them
after and realized that it’s actually pretty good stuff! They
didn’t work for those albums, but they work as separate songs on
this album. We thought we might as well get it out there because
people are constantly bugging us about the material that they’d
heard rumors about. We thought we would release everything and
get rid of all the secrets.
It’s hard to imagine these songs not being up to snuff. I
think “Cornered” is one of the catchiest songs the band has ever
written, “Static” has some great vocals and the blend of clean
and death vocals on “No One”…these are some damn good songs!
Yeah, I really like them. Some friends of ours heard them
over the years and said, “You should release it!” We finally got
around to it and it was years in the making. We wondered how we
would get this stuff out there, whether it would be bonus tracks
on various releases or what. We had quite a bit of material,
too. This is something like 77 minutes of music?
Are there any more songs in the Dark Tranquillity
(Laughs) No, no. This is it! Every original song that we ever
recorded is out there now and all the covers as well. It feels
pretty good (laughs)! We can start anew and not have to worry
How much involvement did the band have in putting the
We did everything. We tracked down the master tapes for the
original demos and we did the mastering right here in
Gothenburg. I had to see if there was any quality material that
we could work with and make it sound good. We wanted it to be in
backwards chronological order and Niklas [Sundin, guitar] did
the actual layout, then we sent it down to Century Media and
they were like, “Cool! Let’s release it!” The only thing they
wanted was to release the live CD separately but we said we
didn’t want to do that. We wanted to include it with this to
make it a cool package and not a rip-off. We’ve been talking
about it for years but we had to do it someday and now seemed
like a good time.
What kind of shape were the early demo master tapes in
when you heard them?
It’s never been on CD before and I’d never heard it through
professional mastering studio quality and all the flaws came
out. It was hard but the mastering guy [Goran Finnberg] did a
great job. It sounds better than it ever has.
It does sound surprisingly good, especially since, as you
said, it had never been on CD before!
Yeah it was fun! Good nostalgia to go through those old
recordings, but then it’s hard for me to imagine I played
guitar. It’s hard to get into that mindset that we were at the
time. Where these ideas came from, we have no idea (laughs)!
You were only kids then, too…what were you seventeen years
(Laughs) Yeah…it was a long time ago!
Who played the keyboards on the early tracks? There are
some keyboard parts on the “Midwinter” intro and “Void of
I think Anders [Jivarp, drums] played some parts and our old
singer [Anders Friden, now with In Flames] played some parts as
well. Someone in the studio probably hit a few notes as well. I
don’t remember. We didn’t have a keyboard player or anything
Do you remember how long it actually took you to record
The first demo, I think, was a weekend and the first E.P. was
something like that as well. Maybe five or six days.
Those were the days (laughs)!
Yeah, not knowing anything about studio recording. We had
tons of ideas and how things were going to sound and then
suddenly you find out the reality of things and you’re like,
There was some delay in getting EXPOSURES in stores. Was
it a label decision or were there some problems elsewhere?
The label wanted to time it right, but there were some
problems with the packaging, as well. Century Media wanted to
release it before the summer, though.
I don’t know if you know this or not but there is a
tracklisting error for the first CD on the back cover. Tracks
three and four are backwards and tracks six and seven are
backwards. It seems to be fine in the booklet but the back panel
where the songs are listed is incorrect. Did you know this?
Actually a guy on the forum on our webpage alerted it to us.
I really haven’t found out what happened, but it’s just
stupidity, I guess. There are no excuses.
Inside the booklet, there is a really interesting essay
written by a guy named Chris Dick. How did he get involved with
We’ve known him for years. He’s been to Sweden a number of
times over the years and the first time we met him was, like,
ten years ago or something. He’s always been very interested in
the whole Swedish scene, especially right here in Gothenburg. He
knows the back story of all the bands here even better than I do
sometimes (laughs). He’s a good friend, so we asked him if he
wanted to do something and he was really excited about it. He
did a great job. It’s a really great essay and it’s very
entertaining. I love it.
Absolutely! There is also a page in the booklet with fans
that have Dark Tranquillity-themed tattoos. What do you think
when you see people with the logo and such on their bodies?
I’m amazed! I don’t get it! I drew the symbol ten years ago
and now somebody has it on their arm forever. It’s really,
really weird, but it’s such a great compliment. I’ve even seen
more tattoos after we compiled this little collection of photos.
There’s three times as many tattoos out there. We actually saw
some this weekend in Germany where we were playing the Rock Hard
Festival and people came up to us and said, “I could have been
in your booklet!”
As you briefly mentioned earlier, Dark Tranquillity has a
new DVD out, as well, called LIVE DAMAGE. I reviewed it last
month and it really is a superb DVD. There is a ton of stuff on
there! The whole concert, the bootleg stuff, the interview you
did and a bunch of other stuff. In my review of it, I believe I
said that Dark Tranquillity have raised the bar for what other
bands must do to meet fans expectations.
I love the format of DVDs and since we had the chance, we
thought we might as well go all the way. Initially, it was just
supposed to be the show and the interview and that was it. Then
we convinced them to go to that bigger standard of DVD. We dug
up some old stuff and put it on there. There’s always the
problem with rights and we have literally hundreds of cassettes
and cool recordings. Some of them are great and some of them are
just interesting, so we wanted to put that out, but it’s always
hard because we don’t know who recorded things. You need a
signature somewhere or a release form, so hopefully we’ll get
that done in time for the next DVD and make it even bigger and
What made you choose to record the main show in Poland
rather than in Sweden?
this production company in Poland called Metal Mind and they are
in good company with our label, Century Media Records. They
really want bands to come down there and record. There have
been, like, ten DVDs out that were all recorded in the same
place by the same company. They asked if we wanted to come down
and we had never been to Poland, so we thought it would be a
great first show. But nobody knew about it! They just invited
special people that they wanted. It was very weird being in this
TV studio because we felt like we were on display rather than on
stage with a crowd.
Was it strange recording in front of so many cameras? Did
you get any extra stage fright or anything?
(Laughs) Oh, absolutely! It felt very different because you
don’t get that nice connection with the audience because the
cameras are always in the way or something wherever you go.
Perhaps we will get used to it, but not yet (laughs)
Well that particular crowd couldn’t have helped! They
seemed like they didn’t even know who Dark Tranquillity were or
This is the biggest TV studio in Poland, in Krakow, and they
didn’t want thousands of fans there, so they said, “We only need
150 people or so” and they brought in some local metal guys and
that was it. It was weird because we were hoping to finally meet
people there and we had heard great things about shows in
As a band, did you find it harder to really get into the
show when you looked out and saw a half empty theatre of
catatonic people just standing there staring at you (laughs)?
Oh yeah. It was the middle of the day, too, so it was hard to
get into it. That’s why we put some of the bootlegs in that are
more like what happens at one of our shows.
How long did it take you to compile all of the bootlegs
and other stuff?
Actually Century Media and the guys from Metal Mind were
really good with that. We just gathered all the material that we
really wanted to put on there and Niklas did all the artwork and
some of the graphics for the menus.
I love that first menu that comes up!
Yeah, it’s great! It was Niklas’ first time working on a DVD,
so he was really excited about it. We just sent everything down
there and asked them to put it together in a cool way. They sent
us several drafts and some of the ideas. It worked out really
well, I think.
You have a new CD coming out in the fall of this year, as
well. Have you finished recording already?
We’re finished. It’s all wrapped up about two months ago, so
it’s kind of frustrating. I just want it out there right now
(laughs). It’s an excellent recording and we finished ahead of
Did you record at Studio Fredman again?
Did Fredrik Nordstrom produce, as well?
No, we produced it and he mixed it. That’s how we have worked
the last couple of albums.
What direction are the new songs? Are they heavier like
DAMAGE DONE or more experimental like PROJECTOR and HAVEN?
They are heavier than DAMAGE DONE but they are also more
experimental than anything we’ve done. It’s very complex and
progressive in a way…more twisted. We really wanted an album of
songs that would have a longer life than our usual songs. We
didn’t want to be too obvious or take an easy way out. They’re
complex but definitely fast and aggressive. I think we outdid
ourselves. Sometimes it’s nice to go a little nuts (laughs)!
Is there a more exact date that you can tell me when the
new CD will be out? Century Media has just said tentatively in
the fall of 2004.
That’s how much I know (laughs). We’ve been working on
negotiating record deals and all that boring stuff.
Can you give me any song titles or maybe even an album
title if you’ve decided on one yet?
There’s nothing final, but there is one song called “One
Thought” that we just played this weekend for the first time.
There’s a song called “My Negation.” We’re probably going to
change some of the titles, so it’s still too early to really
Do you have any pressure sales-wise from the label since
DAMAGE DONE was such a big breakthrough album in North America?
Not sales-wise. We put pressure on ourselves to make better
songs and a better album each time, but the label has never
pressured us at all. They have been really supportive. Some of
the people there, especially in the European office, have
already heard the album and they can’t wait to release it. I
would never want them to pressure us because I put enough
pressure on myself.
Will the band be doing a larger-scale tour of North
America for the new CD?
We’re working on it and that’s definitely the plan. It
depends when the album is coming out obviously, but it will
definitely be a longer tour. We’re looking forward to it and we
already discussed it this past weekend actually.
We’d love to see you up in Canada!
We’d love to come there, too! We had a guy from Canada travel
to Germany to see these two shows we did this past weekend in
Germany. He had tickets to the two cancelled shows we had
scheduled in Canada but then we didn’t make it, so he got
frustrated and came over here (laughs)!
How was the Rock Hard Festival this past weekend?
was great, amazing. We had a blast. They put together a really
great package and it’s a really cool festival.
Who else was on the bill?
Machine Head, Gamma Ray, Stratovarius, Rage, Into Eternity.
It was a great two-day festival. Crazy as hell. I’m still
(Laughs) You did a couple of dates in Japan with Soilwork
at the beginning of May, as well. How did they go?
It was awesome! You can’t go wrong when you're there. We did
a couple of new songs there, too, to tease them a little bit. I
can’t wait to get back there.
How has the response been to the new songs?
Really, really good. There’s probably already bootlegs out
I’ll look for them on eBay (laughs)!
Century Media is also releasing the first two Dark
Tranquillity albums—THE GALLERY and THE MIND’S I—with bonus
tracks this fall. Did the band get involved with putting these
together or was it handled exclusively by the label?
Yeah, I think Niklas did. They asked us what we wanted on
there. Most of it is the stuff that came out on the limited
editions at the time. Stuff like the cover songs…
Are those the Metallica songs you did?
Yeah, there’s a Metallica song, an Iron Maiden song, a Sacred
Reich song and a Kreator track, I think. There’s also the ENTER
SUICIDAL ANGELS mini-CD on THE MIND’S I, videos and stuff like
that. What Niklas did was finish the artwork because I think
it’s being redone with some new stuff in there like pictures and
liner notes. From what I hear, it’s almost impossible to find in
North America, so we can finally get it out there.
I actually got my copies from a store in Russia.
(Laughs) Oh, there you go!
They are the actual Osmose Productions releases, but they
have a small note on the front cover that reads, “NOT FOR SALE
OUTSIDE OF THE CIS STATES” or something. They are out there…you
just have to know where to look. (laughs) They even have all the
proper artwork, lyrics and everything!
Wow! Weird. They are either very good bootlegs or Osmose
pulled through and released them there. That’s one for the
collector’s, I guess (laughs)?
I have a few historical questions about the band. Dark
Tranquillity was originally called Septic Boiler. Who came up
with that name?
I think me and Niklas came up with it one stupid day
(laughs). We were just writing down funny songs that we thought
were hilarious. We thought that if we weren’t going to play
serious music, we might as well not write serious songs either.
We had a blast for a few months writing really silly music and
then when we finally realized that we could play an entire song
without fucking it up, we changed that name and started writing
Will we ever see the CD, “The Septic Boiler Sessions,” or
is that stuff gone for good (laughs)?
You can actually find it on eBay! We recorded a little
three-song demo and it’s out there!
Is it scary stuff (laughs)?
(Laughs) Yeah! It’s pretty serious on some of the parts,
actually, but we try not to talk about it too much (laughs).
people know that you didn’t sing on the first Dark Tranquillity
release, 1993’s SKYDANCER. It was current In Flames vocalist
Anders Friden who was the singer in the band at the time and you
were still playing guitar. Since you were a guitar player then,
do you still contribute to the writing of the music or do you
focus solely on the lyrics?
I stick with the lyrics. I play mainly acoustic guitar. I
contributed two songs that appear on EXPOSURES—“Misery In Me”
and “In Sight.” I wrote the guitar chords and the vocals for
both of them. They were never really intended for the band and
were basically just written for myself for fun. Then I played it
and we started rearranging the songs and passing them through
our usual filters, so to speak. Those are the only ones that I
contributed the music for. I don’t dare play guitar because I’m
really, really crappy (laughs).
(Laughs) It sounds good on the first record?
(Laughs) I’m amazed, too. It must be some really clever
I found something out yesterday, too, that I didn’t know.
You were the original vocalist for Hammerfall!
I know you weren’t on any of their albums, but did you
ever record anything with them?
Nope. It was just an idea that Oscar [Dronjak, Hammerfall
guitarist] and Jesper [Stromblad, ex-Hammerfall drummer/current
In Flames’ guitarist] had. They wanted to form a heavy metal
band and they asked me to join. I think we did three shows for a
rock contest here in Gothenburg. We really wanted it to be
all-out metal with leather and chains and all that stuff, which
is kind of hilarious for us. We ended up in the semi-finals one
year and then I went on tour, so they needed another vocalist.
The rest is history. I was like, “Oh cool! Now I don’t have to
wear leather and chains anymore!” (laughs)
(Laughs) What vocal style were you using with Hammerfall?
Your current style doesn’t really seem to fit the band whereas
Joacim Cans seems like he is better suited for them.
It was nothing like they are using now. I think it was a
combination of Judas Priest and Danzig, or something (laughs)?
(Laughs) Now that’s an interesting mix!
(Laughs) It worked though!
There are a lot of American bands that are taking elements
of the “Gothenburg sound” and mixing it with hardcore. What do
you think of these bands when you hear how they have taken and
twisted the sound together?
I really enjoy it actually! I did an interview with an
American magazine a couple of years ago and he asked the same
thing and I was like, “What?! Really?!” I thought that was a
really weird idea and I couldn’t even picture myself listening
to it, but I think it really works. Some of the stuff that I’ve
heard is amazing! I mean, why not? It’s a great compliment that
bands are influenced by our kind of music, so I think it’s all
Some bands that I have spoken with hold At The Gates, In
Flames and Dark Tranquillity in the same regard as bands like
Iron Maiden and Judas Priest—“metal gods” for lack of a better
(Laughs) That’s just weird! I don’t get that at all. I can’t
even take that to heart because I just don’t believe it. Of
course it’s great and it’s really flattering but it’s just
incredible to me to even think like that.
I interviewed an American band called Enforsaken a couple
of months ago and Niklas actually did the cover art for their
Oh yeah! I know of them, too.
I spoke to the guitarist, Steve Stell, who is also kind of
the founder of the band and he said that Dark Tranquillity is
such a big influence on them.
(Laughs) That’s amazing and it’s really cool. The first time
we went over to America, we found out that people are really
passionate about us. It was hard because it was our first time
there and we didn’t know how people would react or what to
expect. We were overwhelmed by how cool and supportive the
What is your favorite Dark Tranquillity song and CD?
(Laughs) The next one!
(Laughs) Okay, besides the next one, what is your
I think DAMAGE DONE is the best album we’ve made. Two of the
songs that really work well in a live situation are “Punish My
Heaven” and “Zodijackyl Light.” I really enjoy singing them
That’s a great version of “Punish My Heaven” on the DVD!
Yeah, that worked really well. It’s always fun to play. It
always works and it doesn’t get old to me. That has to mean
something, I guess.
Have you always been a singer or did you grow up playing
I consider myself a singer because me and Niklas wrote the
lyrics and I did all the vocal parts and arrangements but I
played guitar, as well. Whenever Anders wasn’t there for
rehearsals, I would stand in, so I always felt more interested
in singing than in playing guitar. When we started the band,
Niklas and I decided we would play guitar, you play drums and
you play bass. That’s how it was!
Has your vocal range changed at all over the years? Are
there notes you can’t hit anymore or songs that you can’t sing
because of it?
My voice has definitely changed between THE GALLERY and
DAMAGE DONE, for instance. It’s like nine years, so it’s
definitely different. I’m actually recovering from a really bad
throat condition that I caught when we recorded PROJECTOR. It
was pretty bad for a couple of years and I’m still recovering
from it now, but I feel better than ever actually.
Was this something that required surgery or not that
No. What I needed was time, actually. Time to heal and shut
up for a bit (laughs). I worked a lot on technique and that sort
of stuff, so now it feels better than ever.
Which style do you find easier to sing: the clean vocals
or the harsher ones?
The screamiest songs are the easiest and the most fun. The
more energy the better, you know? Some of the clean parts I
really enjoy but it’s hard to switch. We don’t play that many
songs like that live. We tend to lean more towards the
Are there any clean vocals on the new record at all?
No, it’s more screaming than ever (laughs). It was more like
how we felt with DAMAGE DONE. There is no room for it really. We
wanted it all to be just loud with tons of melodies and complex
The band received a lot of backlash from the fans for
using so many clean vocals on PROJECTOR and HAVEN, as well.
Why do you think people reacted so strongly to those
I’d feel like that, too, if I liked a band and they put out a
new album that was very different from what I like. I would be
upset, too, I guess. For us, it was so necessary to do it. We
really needed to confirm to ourselves that we weren’t just
another death metal band from Gothenburg and that there was
something else to it. It was vital to the band and I don’t think
we would have continued otherwise. It seems like a lot of the
people who were screaming the loudest at the time are now
If people had gone the opposite way and really loved the
pairing of clean vocals with the Dark Tranquillity sound, do you
think you would have abandoned the harsher vocals altogether?
I don’t think anything would have changed. We probably would
have done the next album the same way we did. I guess the most
hardcore fans were kind of annoyed or disappointed, but I think
all of our albums are pretty different and we needed to prove to
ourselves and to others that we can do something else, as well.
We cannot do another THE GALLERY even if people wanted us to.
Metallica kind of faces the same problem. People are
waiting for them to pick up where MASTER OF PUPPETS left off in
1986 and it’s not going to happen! In Flames is getting the same
reaction because people want them to keep on doing THE JESTER
RACE and WHORACLE.
If that’s the music they say they want to do, then people
should respect that. There are some bands that I hate their new
albums but I love their first two, which is fine with me.
What do you think of In Flames now and how they have
evolved? When I heard the original Dark Tranquillity demos on
the EXPOSURES CD and then heard Anders’ voice on the new In
Flames record, it’s hard to believe it is the same guy (laughs)!
(Laughs) Yeah, it’s different but I really enjoy it. The old
ones are really good and the new stuff is great, too. They have
gone on to do music that is more widely accepted and that’s
great. It has done wonders for them.
They still put on a killer live show, too! They were here
about two weeks ago and just blew everyone away who was there.
Now that Dark Tranquillity has been around almost fifteen
years, is there anything left that you would like to achieve as
a band before calling it a day?
Yeah, we can always make the perfect album (laughs)! As long
as it’s still interesting and exciting to make music, then we
will continue, and it still is. Playing metal has been a great
experience for us since the first demo. There are still tons of
places that we need to go, Canada being one of them! We need to
see a lot more people and play our music, so there is tons of
stuff to do.
With the new CD out this fall, are you or the label taking
any extra measures to keep it from being leaked early on to the
Internet? You had that problem with DAMAGE DONE and to a lesser
extent HAVEN, so what is Century Media planning to do to stop
that from happening again?
Nothing that I know of. Talking to Century Media, they know
that it’s not going to be stopped. They could do all sorts of
things like put out a teaser album or something, but that
affects you guys! You need the full CD to review and it’s best
if the review is out before the CD is. That’s how it works. We
cannot all be like Metallica and lock it away in a vault and
have listening sessions all over the world. Once the promo CD is
out there, which is usually a month before it gets released,
then there’s no way to stop it, but hopefully it won’t be as
early as it was with DAMAGE DONE, which was like two or three
months before. Usually I don’t mind stuff like that but it kind
of spoils the surprise. We were so proud of the album and we
wanted everybody to react to it at the same time, not having
someone hear two songs there and then getting the whole album a
week later. It kind of spoils the whole thing of having a
Do you think that having promo CDs sent out to reviewers
like myself, especially if that reviewer doesn’t like the CD,
does that have a really profound effect on how the record sells?
If you have an album that comes out and everybody hates it
and all the reviews are bad, then obviously that will affect
sales, but it hasn’t really happened to us yet. Obviously we
have received some bad reviews, but I think it SHOULD be like
that! People should voice their opinions and it should be
subject to review. If you make an album, you’d better be ready
to get it reviewed and hear people’s opinions about it.
My last question concerns what bands or CDs you’re
listening to right now. Is there anything special or outstanding
that you’ve heard recently?
I actually have been listening to the new Slipknot a lot over
the last week! The new Morrissey album…
I’ve heard that it’s really, really good! He’s getting
some incredible reviews for it!
It’s frighteningly good! It’s really emotional and really
beautiful. His voice is better than ever. It sounds like he’s
still 19 and with The Smiths again.
Alright, Mikael. Thanks very much for taking so much time
to speak with me today. Good luck with EXPOSURES and hopefully
we can speak again when the new CD is out and the tour begins in
Thank you. I hope to see you in Canada soon.
Thanks to Heather at
Media for setting up this interview.