I really feel that Dark Tranquillity peaked with their 2002 album Damage Done, which was basically flawless, each track loaded with good hooks, and an excellent fusion of the bands keyboard-heavy atmosphere, driving inspirational guitar lines and Stanne's heavy (if not brutal) delivery. It more than compensated for the half-mediocre albums the band had been releasing like Projector or Haven. Since that time, Dark Tranquillity have remade Damage Done in 2005 and 2007, calling it Character and then Fiction. Granted, the riffs were not always exactly the same, and the production was arguably superior, but just listen through the chugging and the tempos of the tracks in general and it becomes clear that the magic of Damage Done was the formula that the band wanted to relive.
Here, eight years after the fact, we have the band's 9th album, We Are the Void, and once again, I am reminded very closely of Damage Done. Stanne's vocals seem to have a blacker edge to them, more of a vicious rasp which I actually don't think even borders on improvement. The band still experiments a little with the writing, but most of the album does feel as if you've already heard it. That being said, there are about 3-4 tracks on this which do stand out pretty far, amidst a crowd of filler that feels like it was already perfected earlier in the previous decade.
We Are the Void feels as much modern as the past few releases, opening with the booming bass and synth-driven mystique of "Shadows in Our Blood", which has a few decent thrashing melodic death rhythms and acceptable lead work, but doesn't feel all that remarkable. "Dream Oblivion" has a huge groove hook not unlike something Soilwork would have written during their 2000-2003 period, with a bouncy bridge over which the proggy electro keys strafe. "The Fatalist" has some resonant electric piano strikes over a generic chug, and then a melodic pick me up riff which isn't far from Damage Done, though the synth line there gives it an enhanced atmosphere. "In My Absence" is the first track on the album which I felt compelled to listen more than once, with a great chorus and some nice charging segments that shift into breakdowns.
And that's the story here: you go through a couple of filler-feeling tracks to get at the meat of the album. "The Grandest Accusation" and "At the Point of Ignition" went straight in one ear, and out the other, but "Her Silent Language" is fairly poignant and memorable through its goth vocals and gorgeous melodic mute pickings. Of course, if you don't like a mix of clean and melodeath vocals, stay clear. "Arkhangelsk" borders on symphonic black metal, not unlike Dimmu Borgir or Moonspell, but it's not all that great. "I Am the Void" is another of the album's strongest tracks, with a rousing rhythmic pulse that veers between dense thrash and layered synthesizer atmosphere. "Surface the Infinite" is similar if less interesting, but the closing track "Iridium" is possibly the best on the entire record, with a massive wall of ringing pianos and a highly melancholic riff sequence.
It's a fairly good album, and I'd expect no less from a veteran band such as this, but it just doesn't have that level of songwriting which evokes any desire to play it through in its entirety. If you think Character and Fiction are the be all end all of this band's catalog, then I can't imagine you'd find this disappointing. Nor did I, since I haven't exactly built any expectations around the band in years. There are a few songs here I'd certainly incorporate into an iPod playlist of the band's material, but the rest simply feel too average to revisit.
Highlights: In My Absence, Her Silent Language, I Am the Void, Iridium
Verdict: Win [7/10] (that we resist your pale attraction)