Twenty years since Dark Tranquillity burst onto the metal scene with ”Skydancer”, the Gothenburg quintet prepares to release studio album number ten. ”Construct” is the sound of perseverance. It’s also proof of the band’s ability to reinvent itself and stay relevant. This record is quintessential Dark Tranquillity while giving a fresh spin to the trademark sound.
After four albums – ”Damage done” (2002), ”Character” (2005), ”Fiction” (2007) and ”We are the void” (2010) – that have walked a similar path, ”Construct” marks the beginning of a new era for the band. It was recorded at Rogue Music, owned by keyboardist Martin Brändström, and was given more time to take shape than previous Dark Tranquillity records. Extra fat was trimmed – songs were sharpened. The ten compositions that make up ”Construct” are the the most well-crafted and striking collection of songs the band has ever produced.
The writing process has changed, as has the musical approach. These tunes offer an urgency that comes from melody and emotional depth rather than intricate riffing – while still conjuring up killer guitar work.Then there’s the addition of acclaimed producer Jens Bogren (Opeth, Katatonia, Kreator etc), whose mixing skills bring out the very best in the material. Bass duties were handled by guitarist Martin Henriksson following the departure of Daniel Antonsson.
Dark Tranquillity have been around for more than two decades. The new album shows that the death metal pioneers are more vital than ever and continues to push the boundaries of the genre. Vocalist/lyricist Mikael Stanne and guitar player/songwriter Niklas Sundin sits down to discuss the vital aspects of ”Construct”.
For this record, Dark Tranquillity chose a new way of composing.
Niklas: Typically, our albums have been written in the rehearsal room. Everyone would chip in ideas, we’d try them out and turn them into songs. It’s a very democratic way of working but also very time consuming. When we started writing this record, things just didn’t seem to happen. We had some false starts and realized that a new approach was needed. ”Construct” was basically written in studio. Anders Jivarp, Martin Brändström and I went there every day for a few weeks. We brought some old ideas – the Dark Tranquillity ”riff archive” is pretty extensive – but most of the songs were written from scratch ”Construct” is more straightforward than what we’ve come to expect. Niklas: It’s not as riffy as previous records. We wanted to really focus on the songs. The most important thing was not to repeat ourselves.
Mikael: I love ”headphones” albums, but this one’s more direct. Anders put it in a good way: we want all the songs to work well live. To me, they are very open and melody driven. Very honest. I felt that the vocals and the lyrics had to go hand in hand with that, so I made a point of keeping things simple. Vocally, I tried to build on the melodies and the chords and really emphasize them. The lyrics are less metaphorical than before. I wanted them to put the message across.
The album title is a noun – and the lyrics don’t paint a flattering picture of the human race. Mikael: A construct is something that exists in your own mind. A kind of fantasy. I’m intrigued by the
human need to make stuff up. That we create something to believe in to feel more at ease. I’m primarily thinking of religion, of course. In the context of the album, a construct is a negative thing. Half of the songs deal with every-day things while the other half have a more philosophical angle. I’m trying to work out why things end up a certain way. The bottom line is that you can’t trust the human brain, that everything’s subjective and that you’re always wrong. You don’t know everything. You can’t even trust your own memory.
Niklas: I like the fact that both the music and the lyrics have a common thread. A record doesn’t have to contain every aspect of a band. It’s more interesting when every album has a character of its own.
Mikael: Yeah. And in an era of streamed music and disconnected songs, I think there’s still room for actual albums. These songs are tied together and form a whole. Dark Tranquillity is now a five piece – and bass duties on ”Construct” are handled by Martin Henriksson. Niklas: When Daniel Antonsson left the band we initially thought of having a session guy playing bass.Then someone said ”why not Martin?”.
Mikael: At first, he was a bit hesitant – but once he bought into the idea, he really went for it. Martin hadn’t played bass since ”Projector” (1999), so this was very cool and exciting.
Niklas: His playing on the record is really creative. As far as touring goes, we have several options that are being looked into. Martin is still a guitar player and Dark Tranquillity is a quintet.
After two records with Tue Madsen, the band decided to let Jens Bogren handle the mixing.
Niklas: It was time for something new. We changed the writing process, so it made sense to work with someone else. Since the new music is a bit more simple, it felt important to have a lot of depth to the sound. Jens has a great ear for detail.
Mikael: He was always my first choice. When it comes to ”metal for audiophiles”, he’s up there with the best. When we’ve talked in the past, he’s actually said ”so when will I get to mix one of your records?”. It feels great that it finally happened. Everything’s so audible in this mix and I particularly like how Jens treated the keyboards. Martin’s always been much more than just a lead player, and now you can hear all the other cool sounds he makes.
Niklas Sundin swore he wouldn’t get involved in the cover art – well, he changed his mind.
Niklas: I wanted to concentrate on the music, but then I got this idea for a cover. I was up half the night making it happen and when I presented the result, the guys went ”yes!”. The idea was to design something graphic and stylized, based on the fact that the title’s ambiguous. ”Construct” is a noun but of course also a verb. I aimed for a mechanical feel in the same vein as Fritz Lang’s ”Metropolis”. And there’s an ”X” in there, since it’s our tenth album.
Mikael: The cover is simple and striking. Again, it ties in perfectly with the general vibe of the record.
Niklas: I also drew a cover for the vinyl edition. It’s monochromatic, but with lots of things going on. A bunch of different drawings – both buildings and carnal elements – have been pieced together. There’s interesting stuff to build on when I’ll create projections for the upcoming tours. We’re really looking forward to taking this whole thing on the road.
Mikael Stanne – vocals
Niklas Sundin - guitar
Martin Henriksson - guitar
Martin Brändström - keyboards,programming
Anders Jivarp – drums
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