(2002) Dark Tranquility – Damage Done: Anniversary Special

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In 2002, the Gothenburg melodeath pioneers of DARK TRANQUILITY released their sixth full-length, “Damage Done,” after having released a couple of somewhat controversial studio albums, “Projector” (1999) and Haven (2000), both of which had received rather mixed reviews from fans and critics alike. The prominent use of electronics and the somewhat ballady tracks, in particular, had not exactly impressed certain factions of their fanbase. “Damage Done” was a change of direction, back towards their ”classic,” heavier sound. While the album boasts some nice atmospheric keyboards, the guitar riffs bite especially hard with thick layers of distortion. The heavier, riff-based approach plays rather poignantly off the lyrical themes about the frailty of life and this outing has indeed maintained a rather good reputation among the fans over the years. On this album, the clean vocals were discarded for the time being. In retrospect, it almost seems as though the band was trying to convince their fans that those two aforementioned outings were something like a pair of drunken affairs that were never to be referred to again – ever. Personally, I do not have a strong, emotional attachment to the band’s older material since I did not find their music until much later. So, here, I am going to give the album a spin and review the songs at face value, disregarding whatever schisms their musical endeavors might have caused back in the day.

Final Resistance” sets things in motion with a downright punch-in-the-face melodeath riffathon. Over the course of the song’s 3-minute duration, it is hard to avoid getting the impression that I’ve heard this a million times over. Then, I have to remind myself that this is the real deal from 20 years ago, not one of those copycat riff-raff outfits that have recycled and repackaged this style ever since. Yes, although I’ve never been the most ardent fan of this style, I must admit that there is something infectiously enticing to this Gothenburg aesthetic when you get a taste of it straight from the source.

After a few spins, I noticed that the song that I tend to put on repeat most often is the third track, “Monochromatic Stains.” The lyrics read out like a crime scene investigation and the music fits the mood perfectly. Vocalist Mikael Stanne has said about the song that it was his “stab in the dark at the mystery genre” and, I must say, he did a pretty good job at it, leaving the interpretation of the song, no doubt deliberately, up for grabs completely; who’s to say that the victim and the culprit were not one and the same? The riffs punch hard and the melodies are comfortably marinated in Slavic melancholy. Stanne‘s harsh goblin vocals provide the icing on the cake. Compared to the band’s later releases that lured me to their music, this is obviously more raw and unrefined but, nevertheless, balls-to-the-walls brilliant!

Another standout track is “The Treason Wall.” The same superlatives apply here, as well, albeit this track features keyboards a tad more prominently. The key melody resonates with a somewhat ethnic air… Celtic maybe? Heck, it has such an earworm quality to it that it needs to be added to my “Best of the best” Spotify playlist along with quite a few of the other album tracks. Yes, the album is consistently pretty damn good; there really aren’t tracks to skip, so when you put this one on, you just might have to listen through it in one go.

The title track is yet another song to single out for being a killer – it is an uptempo riff monster with the occasional piano ornamentations here and there. The last minute or so of the song is instrumental, creating a sort of cinematic coda that serves as a nice breather before “Cathode Ray Sunshine” gears up on the hard-hitting riffs again. There aren’t actually ballads on the album, although “The Enemy” does traverse through somewhat calmer waters, being perhaps the only track on the album that does not straight up punch you in the face. It slaps, though.

Depending on which version of the album you have, the tenth track is either “I, Deception” or “The Poison Well.” Mine came with the first-mentioned, with the track being yet another uptempo banger, layered with some electronics towards the end of the song. It does pale a little in comparison with the follow-up song, “White Noise/Black Silence,” of which some fans have said that it should have been the closer of the album instead of the instrumental track, “Ex Nihilo.” After a few spins, I think I have to agree with them; while the current closing track works pretty marvelously as an instrumental, it could have been an interlude somewhere along the outing rather than serve as the grande finale. The thing is: as good as the instrumental closer is as an individual song, I must agree that “White Noise/Black Silence” has much more of that appropriate “epic” quality required of a haunting closure. Nonetheless, “Damage Done” is a damn good metal album – still, after 20 years. At the time of its release, I was blissfully unaware of its greatness, but I’m glad that I found it, eventually. In retrospect, I can fully fathom why it has been regarded as a move back in the right direction by the fans of DARK TRANQUILITY – it really does kick some ass.

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. Final Resistance
  2. Hours Passed in Exile
  3. Monochromatic Stains
  4. Single Part of Two
  5. The Treason Wall
  6. Format C: For Cortex
  7. Damage Done
  8. Cathode Ray Sunshine
  9. The Enemy
  10. I, Deception
  11. White Noise / Black Silence
  12. Ex Nihilo (instrumental)

Lineup

Mikael Stanne – vocals

Niklas Sundin – lead guitars

Martin Henriksson – rhythm guitars

Martin Brändström – electronics

Michael Nicklasson – bass

Anders Jivarp – drums

Label

Century Media

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