Latest release: Construct (Century Media/EMI)
After more than 20 years as a band and with nine albums under their belt, it appeared to some that Swedish melodic death metal pioneers Dark Tranquillity had perhaps finally driven themselves out of ideas. First among the doubters was the band itself, as vocalist Mikael Stanne doesn’t hesitate to admit.
“I think we second-guess ourselves so much. We doubt ourselves endlessly,” he says, pleasantly. “It takes forever to write. It’s torture at times just to come up with something. It can be frustrating. Going into this album, we asked ourselves, ‘How do we do it? Where do we even start?’ We had no idea. Just the reality of having to do an album… We didn’t have it in us for a very long time.”
In the end, the band – currently down to five members following the departure of bassist Daniel Antonsson last year – made a decision that, for them, was quite drastic.
“For this album, we decided to write in the studio instead. We could be objective about the sound of songs and we could focus on things that we hadn’t focused on before,” Stanne says. “It became clinical and satisfying and interesting. And that’s what you always look for: ‘Oh shit, this is fun again!’ After twenty years, you have to make sure you do something that makes you still feel passionate about what you do. You have to feel great about it. So that’s what it’s all about, hard work and frustration and it’s exciting and anger and truthfulness and all those things.”
The loss of Antonsson had no impact on Dark Tranquillity’s preparation. He had already made the decision to leave the band to pursue other musical avenues prior to the start of the song writing process and wasn’t involved in the recording. For Construct, bass tracks were laid down by guitarist Martin Henriksson, who was the group’s bass player on their first four albums.
“It’s sad, because he’s a really good guy but it was better for him to go on his own and do something and for us to get a focus on being us,” the singer says of Antonsson. “It didn’t change anything about what the album sounded like. Which was kinda cool. All of a sudden we were there without a bass player and we were like, ‘Well, who plays bass?’ And then, well Martin’s the old bass player! He hasn’t done it since ‘99, but he just went ‘Fuck yeah!’ And I’m really happy he did it because I love his playing and it was really cool to hear him play bass again.”
Typically the main song writer and arranger, Henriksson stepped back from that process a little this time, leaving much of it in the hands of the band’s other musicians, guitarist Niklas Sundin, drummer Anders Jivarp and keyboard/sampler Martin Brändström, to work together on compositions. Sundin again provided the stark, understated artwork while Stanne reprised his usual role as lyricist. Unsurprisingly, he took his inspiration from Dark Tranquillity’s creative struggles to explore themes of self-determination and truth-seeking.
“It’s pretty dark, pretty bleak. It’s examining things that have gone on with us human beings over the last few years,” he says. “The base of it is all about atheism and trusting in yourself and finding out about the true core of things. And not believing in everything you see and hear. The other part is on a more personal level, which is about relationships and trust, and how we should question everything.”
Or, to put it more bluntly, “Getting rid of all the bullshit and getting down to the absolute facts.”
Summer in Europe brings the seemingly ever-growing list of metal festivals across the continent, and Dark Tranquillity will be using them to introduce Construct to their fans. Festivals are so numerous now that many bands rarely need to tour at all during the summer months, and they give everyone the chance to catch up and hang out that they wouldn’t otherwise get.
“You don’t tour over summer at all. That doesn’t happen. It’s all about the festivals,” Stanne says. “The festival circuit is huge. Some of them are tiny and small and intricate and weird, which is awesome as well, and then you have the big ones like Summer Breeze and Wacken, which is beyond huge and the biggest metal festival in the world. I love it and we always look forward to it. You get to meet a lot of people, see a lot of awesome bands and reconnect with friends. I see them more at festivals than I see them at home on the street. It’s ridiculous, because everybody’s touring all the time.”