Released: 2004, Century Media
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
The Gothenburg scene is gone. The original bands that made up the scene have either burned out (At The Gates) or faded away (In Flames). But one band is still going strong and staying true to their metal roots: Dark Tranquillity. It has been nearly fifteen years since their original demo, TRAIL OF LIFE DECAYED, circulated among the underground tape traders and got the buzz going. That demo, along with 1992’s A MOONCLAD REFLECTION E.P., has been highly sought after by the collectors who paid top dollar to get their hands on these early songs. Finally, those who choose not to part with a hundred dollars have EXPOSURES: IN RETROSPECT AND DENIAL. Century Media has put together a sprawling two-disc set that combines the two demos along with b-sides and unreleased tracks on one disc, while the second is an audio recording of the Krakow, Poland show that was recorded for the LIVE DAMAGE DVD.
The unreleased material and b-sides on the first disc are by no means filler. From the DAMAGE DONE sessions are “Static” and “The Poison Well,” which feature their heavy crunch of Niklas Sundin’s guitar coupled with Martin Brandstrom’s lush keyboards. Mikael Stanne’s roaring vocals are perfectly gruff and these songs could easily have been left on DAMAGE DONE. “In Sight” is one of the slower, clean vocal experiments from 2000’s HAVEN sessions that seems to be a universally-agreed misstep. Also from those sessions is “Misery In Me,” which allows Stanne’s harsh voice to be all it can be. Also from the HAVEN sessions is “Cornered,” one of the most infectious and melodic songs that Dark Tranquillity has ever done. The riff that drifts through the song is unforgettable and Brandstrom’s keyboards only accentuate it. “No One” and “Exposure” are PROJECTOR-era tracks that see the band beginning to experiment with their sound. “No One” has a good mix of clean and death vocals, while “Exposure” is an extremely heavy track with another excellent riff that blends speedy fretwork with melodic groove. Stanne’s vocals overall, but specifically his roar at the 1:30 mark, shows why he is one of the best in the business. The demo tracks may be the meat-and-potatoes of this disc. Stanne was still the rhythm guitarist at this point and current In Flames vocalist Anders Friden was behind the mike. It really is hard to believe that this is the voice of the same guy who now whines over his band’s songs, but the members of Dark Tranquillity were only 17 years old at the time. Friden’s growls are harsh and raw, while the demos aren’t much better. Despite being remastered from the original tapes for this collection, these tracks showcase a band on a limited budget laying down some brutally heavy music without the assistance of studio gadgetry and polish. Sundin’s sharp riffs and the haunting acoustic outro of “Yesterworld” and the keyboard/acoustic intro of “Midwinter” and outro of “Void of Tranquillity” show a band well beyond their age. The songs are long with seemingly endless lyrics that are almost poetic. While Dark Tranquillity’s lyrics still retain a certain beautiful ugliness to them, it is interesting to hear how much this band has gotten stronger having tracks spanning 11 years all on one CD.
The second CD is the same show that was the bulk of this year’s LIVE DAMAGE DVD. Recorded live in Krakow, Poland’s Krzemionski Television Studio on their DAMAGE DONE tour, Dark Tranquillity brings out a longer set that covers each of their CDs with the exception of 1993’s SKYDANCER and their two E.P.s.. The chosen DAMAGE DONE tracks are the best of the bunch from that disc and “The Treason Wall,” “Hours Passed In Exile” and “Final Resistance” are absolutely brilliant. “The Wonders At Your Feet” is the best cut from 2000’s HAVEN and is thankfully included here, too. With Martin Brandstorm on keyboards, he perfectly captures the band’s experimentation with keyboards on that album and adds some fresh touches to the older tracks, as well. Going WAAAAAY back to 1995’s THE GALLERY sees the band unleash “Punish My Heaven” with its killer opening riff and “Lethe” complete with the stunning intro and outro classical guitar. “Therein” from the PROJECTOR CD gets the surprisingly quiet and docile crowd fired up with its meaty rhythms and surprisingly good clean vocal from Stanne. They sound pretty sweet on record, but he has the goods live, as well. Of course it is Stanne’s growls and menacing death vocals that are the trademark of Dark Tranquillity and he impresses most on “Punish My Heaven.” Niklas Sundin and Martin Henriksson are all that and more live, capturing the studio magic of the songs we all know. As noted earlier, Brandstorm’s keyboards are a perfect fit to the live setting and Anders Jivarp’s drumming is nothing short of godly, as he pummels through the tracks, yet has a natural flow and presence without dominating the sound.
The 20-page booklet is filled with an interesting and informative essay that chronicles the history of the band from when they were still known as Septic Boiler right up to the present. Also included are the lyrics to all of the songs, information about the recording of each track, as well as a slew of photographs taken throughout the band’s career and a collection of fan tattoos. Also of note, the tracklist of the first CD on the back of the CD insert is incorrect, however the lyrics are properly listed inside the booklet.
Usually these b-sides/unreleased packages are label cash grabs filled with half-assed liner notes and crappy songs. EXPOSURES: IN RETROSPECT AND DENIAL is none of that and perfectly encompasses an influential and innovative band’s career. This collection is a must-own for any metal fan.
KILLER KUTS: “Static,” “The Poison Well,” “Misery In Me,” “Cornered,” “Exposure,” “Yesterworld”