Monday, May 21, 2012

Dark Tranquility - Zero Distance (EP) (2012)

How is it possible to miss out on a band whose career has spanned 23 years, a longer period than the age of half of their fan base? Somehow, the name Dark Tranquility never quite made its way into our collections, despite having 18 titles in their melodic death catalog. But even in this new age of business, these veterans are making smart choices, for themselves and their fans. Enter their new EP, "Zero Distance," a collection of five songs that were tacked on to the tour edition of "We Are The Void." Rather than forcing their followers to repurchase an album for the new material, they release it as a digital EP, one that is worthy of a title all it's own.

The title track, "Zero Distance," a standard type track in the band's repertoire, gives a different spin on what melodic death is, with the melody coming from the instrumentation rather than the vocals. Lead singer Mikael Stanne pours through the mix with his gritty, almost devilish growls. This isn't a black metal screech, though, as the clarity is astonishing at times. The electronic element is a nice tough to the heavy, low end barrage of guitars and bass. The balance between distorted riffs and and endless sea of drums and cymbals is delicate, but well executed. There is a great tone to the music itself on "Out Of Gravity," with some pieces carrying the melody, while others give the mix an edge. Stanne commands the army, but the main assault comes from the guitar duo of Niklas Sundin and Martin Henriksson, with fractured, distorted harmonies taking precedent over overwhelming heaviness. While one carries the load of the rhythm, the other lays down a brilliant solo, complete with wailing harmonics. Hesitating to call this "folk metal," it certainly has an energetic foundation.
A short, two minute instrumental, titled "Star Of Nothingness," cleanses your pallet, while also giving rise to some more intricate guitar work.

Playing off of that sound, the intro to "To Where Fires Cannot Feed" builds from light guitars, into a full on rampage of percussion and distortion. Classifying Stanne's vocals as sonically abusive might be an exaggeration, but not by a large margin. He screams and growls his way through verse and chorus, with a depth and clarity that seems too good to be true in the death sect. Once again, melodic guitar parts intertwine with massive riffs, this time sharing the spotlight with a simple but effective piano piece. But the guitars remain the star, be it in the form of a ripping solo, or more atmospheric picking. With a finale like "The Bow And The Arrow," you find yourself coming full circle, musically. An electronic backing vein runs throughout, sitting just underneath the waves of guitar and drums, and a steady bass input. The way the mix is pieced together makes all the difference here, with slight differences in tone and volume bringing out the strength of each component. Thunderous double kicks come in and out, but they don't overwhelm the surging guitars, or Stanne's harsh vocal lines.

Over the course of so many years, bands have a tendency to phone it in, becoming more of a derivative of their former glory. Somehow, after 23 glorious years, Dark Tranquility haven't lost that razor sharp edge that has allowed them to be successful for so long. There aren't any throwaways here, no egotistical filler. What you get is five tracks of melodic death metal, pure and straightforward. No bullshit, no gadgets, no magical production tricks. If you are a fan, this is well worth the price of admission. If you have yet to discover this band, "Zero Distance" might just be the perfect opportunity to get acquainted.


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