Released: 2016, Century Media Records
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com UK Team
For a band that arguably may have reached their highpoint almost a decade ago (2007s Fiction), Dark Tranquillity’s new album Atoma is a pleasant surprise following the rather clumsy and uninspired Construct from 2013. Offering all the essential elements that made the band a leading pioneer of the Gothenburg melodic death metal movement alongside fellow countrymen In Flames and At The Gates, this album delivers a solid, yet predictable outcome. At this point in their career, it might be too late to expect any monumental change in either sound or stylistic approach from a band that has essentially sounded pretty much the same for years, but the final product is impressive nonetheless.
Atoma retains the emotional appeal of previous releases, both in its atmospheric creation and lyrical themes, but it also holds a firm grasp around the sinister and somewhat depressing atmosphere that has become a trademark of their music. Deeply rooting and centering their music around the very humanistic and personal themes of death, grief, sorrow, and the like, Atoma seems very much a natural addition in Dark Tranquillity’s discography, now consisting of 11 studio albums. Although it can at times sound repetitive and slightly ponderous, it’s not a stretch to say that this is probably the best album the band has put out since the above-mentioned Fiction.
“Encircled” opens the album in a strong manner, with the title track following, instantly proclaiming the quality of the content ahead. The album possesses a good pacing throughout, and although at times suffering a little from the given fact that a lot of Dark Tranquillity’s material differs very little from each other, it does not fail to entertain and is in no way boring. The production is as usual spotless, and the different layers of instrumentation is clearly distinguishable and adds nice depth to the sound.
Frontman Mikael Stanne demonstrates again the undoubtedly complete progression towards his maturity as a vocalist, in comparison to say The Gallery (1995) or The Mind’s I (1997). Whether it’s through his powerful and filling growls, or deeper and more emotive clean singing, the man is clearly a driving force behind the distinction of the band’s sound, and his vocal abilities are a pleasure to behold throughout this record.
“Neutrality” comes as the clear highlight of the album for me, with its fast-paced, aggressive, and inherently melodic approach, representing very much an embodiment of all that I love about Dark Tranquillity. “The Pitiless” serves also as an epitome of the Gothenburg melodeath riffing style, and the slightly more upbeat “Clearing Skies” comes as a nice surprise, actually invoking happiness rather than self-reflection and ominous thoughts, with its lively guitar harmonies and melodic structure.
Overall, Atoma shows a Dark Tranquillity maturely embracing their true sound and musical approach, reiterating all the highlighted elements of their career, and producing what can very much be considered a defining album. A thrill ride full of emotions and memorable moments throughout, this is a strong and worthy addition to the Swedes discography, ultimately showing that they’re still going strong after 27 years.
Review by Torbjørn 'Toby' Jørstad