Dark Tranquillity - 01/02/2010

DARK TRANQUILLITY is a melodic death metal band from Gothenburg, Sweden. The band was formed in 1989 by Mikael Stanne & Niklas Sundin who looked at their influences and decided to form their own thrash metal band with the name Septic Broiler. In 1990 the band recorded a demo cassette tape entitled ‘Enfeebled Earth’ after which they changed their name to Dark Tranquillity and devoted themselves to a new musical style. Dark Tranquillity is one of the longest-standing bands from the original Gothenburg metal scene and one of the pioneers of the melodic death metal genre, along with In Flames and At the Gates.


In 1993 Dark Tranquillity’s debutalbum ‘Skydancer’ was released. Shorly after the release, Dark Tranquillity's original lead vocalist Anders Fridén left the band and later joined In Flames. Mikael Stanne, who formerly played rhythm guitar and provided backing vocals, then became the lead vocalist and Fredrik Johansson was recruited to take over rhythm guitar duties. In 1995 Dark Tranquillity released ‘The Gallery’ which is now considered a landmark in melodic death metal. This album saw the band tightening their production details to a great extent and showed that the new line-up was an essential change that furthered the band as a whole.


In 1997 ‘The Mind's I’ was released, this albbum displayed a slight change in Dark Tranquillity’s sound. Prior to the release of the band's 1999 album ‘Projector’, Fredrik Johansson was asked to leave Dark Tranquillity due to his lack of devotion to the band. Martin Henriksson then switched from playing bass to guitar to replace Johansson, and the band added Mikael Niklasson on bass and Martin Brändström on keyboards and electronics. At this point the band also signed a deal with Century Media Records. Until 2008 the band had remained stable in its line-up and its musical style: blending layers of rapid guitar lines with harmony-rich electronic keyboard washes and extremely precise rhythms underneath Stanne's abstract growled lyrics. In august 2008 bass guitarist Mikael Niklasson left the band due to personal reasons. On September 19, the band found a new bassist in Dimension Zero guitarist Daniel Antonsson.


In October 2009 Dark Tranquillity finished work on their 9th studio album, ‘We Are the Void’, scheduled for release on March 1st, 2010 in Europe. ‘We Are The Void’ picks up where its predecessor left off and guarantees melodic death metal hits from start to finish that find an irresistible balance between untamed rage, progressive-tinged parts, captivating choruses and thought-provoking lyrics. Never afraid of taking chances and experimenting with refreshing new elements, the sextet succeeds to surprise the listener once again! Just take the black metal vibe on songs like the devastating opener “Shadow In Our Blood” or the almost apocalyptic “Arkhangelsk” or the gloomy gothic-touch of the epic closing track “Iridium”. Recorded in the homelike atmosphere of the band’s own Rogue Music studio, ‘We Are The Void’ was created in a relaxed and comfortable setting and according to the old “never change a winning team” formula once again mixed and mastered by Tue Madsen at Antfarm Studio, Denmark.



It appears that there is much to talk about and so we tracked down Niklas Sundin (guitar), who’s currently on the road with the band in the U.S.A. in support of their latest effort. Here you can rread what he had to say.  


First of all, could you start this interview off with a little update about Dark Tranquillity? How do you look back on 2009, what were the highs and lows of the year?


Niklas: Let's see here...most of 2009 was spent writing and recording the new album, so that's definitely the highlight. As for low points, there were some cancelled or rescheduled tours and gigs, which always is frustrating.


Secondly, Congratulations on your new album ‘We Are the Void’ which will be released in a couple of months, of course we’d like to ask you a couple of questions about it.


Niklas: Thanks! Just go ahead, ha ha!


How did you launch into writing material for ‘We Are the Void’ and how much time did you spend on the songs? 


Niklas: Some of the basic material is pretty old, but the real work started at the beginning of last year. When coming back from our European headline tour in late 2008, we decided to focus completely on composing the new album, so all in all it took about a year to get everything written and recorded. Hard to say exactly how much working time that was spent; everyone writes music at home and we usually rehearse a lot to try different ideas and arrangements out.


Which approach did you choose to create this album, did you go for a more raw exposition.. or something more reminiscent of your previous other works, or something all together different?


Niklas: Well, those who have heard the album know that it's a bit different while still retaining the D.T. identity. We actually never plan too much ahead; it's impossible to know at the start of the writing process exactly where the material will take us.


How can we imagine you work on new songs, what's the typical writing process like for Dark Tranquillity?


Niklas: Everyone writes music and comes up with basic riffs and ideas in their home studios. We then get together in the rehearsal room to arrange the material into proper songs.



Did ideas come easily so that you just had to write them down or was it more of a careful composing thing?


Niklas: It's mainly about careful composing and letting the music go through a lot of changes in order to be as good as we possibly can make it. We're don't really jam or come up with ideas on the spot.


What were the goals you had in mind when you started to record ‘We Are the Void’, any elements you definitely wanted to include on the album?


Niklas: Not really. Since we never set any specific goals when starting work on an album, we just see what happens and what feels right given the mindset at the time.


How hard was it to come up with a follow-up for your previous album ‘Fiction’? 


Niklas: It's always hard to start the song writing for an album, but there was no specific pressure or anything. After we had written 2-3 songs that we felt comfortable with, the inspiration really started flowing.


Could you describe the implications of the title ‘We Are the Void’, what does it stand for and is there a special meaning behind it?


Niklas: We like to give room for the listener to interpret the lyrics and titles in a way that makes sense to them, so normally we won't provide any full "solutions" in interviews. The title can represent a lot of things, and I'm sure that every band member has his own interpretation.


Can you give us a little background information on the songs, is there a story behind them?


Niklas: The only thing I can think of is that most of "Iridium" actually was written back in 1998. It has been in our archives since then and didn't feel suitable for any of the previous albums during that period, but since ‘We are the void’ is a bit more open, we decided to try it out. Apart from that, the songs don't have any particular background stories.


What about the lyrics, where do you get your inspiration from and can you tell me a little more about them?


Niklas: Mikael writes the lyrics, so I can't provide much insight here. As for the music, everything that in some way affects you can be a source of inspiration; books, movies, life or the absence of it...


How important is it to you that people pay attention to the lyrics apart from listening to the music?


Niklas: It used to be very important, but that attitude changed a long time ago. Music is music, and it'd be arrogant to try to dictate to people how they should approach it. I used to be very categorical, thinking that people really missed out of half of the experience if not reading them the "right" way or picking up the clever literary references scattered throughout our old work, but now I've realized that people create their own experience, and if someone doesn't care much for the lyrics, there's nothing wrong with that.



If someone was only going to read the lyrics and not listen to the music, what would you hope they would take from them?


Niklas: It'd be very pretentious of us to go around wishing to "enlighten" people with our lyrics. They're cathartic, written for our own purpose and we never had any ambition to push an agenda to people or impose any ideas or questions onto them. If they like the lyrics, great. If not, it's no big deal.


How did the recording process proceed, did you work differently this time than you did with your previous works? How much time did you spend in the studio?


Niklas: The process was pretty much the same as it was for ‘Fiction’, both when it comes to choice of studios and the working method. The studio work took around 2 months.


What is the utmost important ingredient for a song?


Niklas: There really isn't one I think. We're six members with very different musical tastes and opinions on how we should sound, and this dynamic is one of the biggest strengths of D.T. There's no real formula to how we write songs; if a certain element would be completely necessary, it would probably get a bit boring in the end if it was featured in every song.


What are the main differences between your last album ‘Fiction’ and ‘We Are the Void’ in your opinion?


Niklas: The new album is darker and has larger variations between the songs.


How has the band's sound progressed from your first album ‘Skydancer’ to ‘We Are the Void’ in your opinion?


Niklas: I'm not going to make and album-by-album listing, it's easy enough for people who are interested to listen and hear for themselves what we have to offer at any given time. I don't like the term "progression" as it implies a linear development - a strive from point A to point B - which just isn't how our songwriting works.


One of the most typical songs on the new album I think is the opener “Shadow In Our Blood”, a very devastating, dark and powerful song. Is this an influence you wish to develop more in the future, or can we expect Dark Tranquillity maintaining the typical “Gothenburg” kind of melodic metal sound?


Niklas: We have no idea. We just completed the new album and, judging from previous experience, it'll take at least one or two years before we even start thinking about the next one.


Who produced the new album and can you tell me something about him?


Niklas: Tue Madsen mixed and mastered the album, but the work traditionally called "producing" was taken care of by ourselves.



Your sound on ‘We Are the Void’ is excellent, what made Tue Madsen the perfect man for Dark Tranquillity?


Niklas: We really liked what he did on ‘Fiction’ and the live DVD, so he was our first choice for the mixing. We have a good working dynamic and trust him enough to let him do the mixes without us being present.


Are there songs on the new album in which we can clearly hear his vision and ideas? 


Niklas: Musically, not really...Everything is recorded and finished when we send off the material to Tue so he doesn't have any say in the actual music, and there isn't much to apply new ideas on. It's more about the small details, like choosing a particular effect for a lead guitar melody and getting the overall sound balance right by applying lots of small adjustments, but the way we work doesn't really allow for someone outside the band to have a whole lot of influence.


Which element of this new album are you most proud of?


Niklas: Usually it takes about a year before I can enjoy an album for what it is, so it's too early to tell. I like the fact that the album on the whole is very diverse and a step out of the comfort zone for us, but there is no particular element or feature that I like more than another, at least not yet. Usually you develop more of a preference for certain riffs or songs when you've played the material live as well.


How would you sum up the new record to someone that has never listened to the band?


Niklas: It's really hard to describe any album to someone that hasn't heard the band in question. There's no shared terminology; a lot of people say "heavy" when they really mean "fast" or "progressive" when they mean "technical" and so forth. And don't get me started on genre definitions, ha ha! These days, it's much easier to just point people to the web instead of trying to paint a picture of the music which by default wouldn't be completely accurate for the other person anyway.


Have you received any feedback on the album yet?


Niklas: Yes, the response to the two online preview songs has been great.


Are third party opinions (press, fans, etc.) on your music important to you? Or are your music and band the only things that matter?


Niklas: We're doing this first and foremost for ourselves, so other people's opinions don't matter in the creative process. We create enough pressure from our own expectations.


With all the touring and over nine albums under your belt, how far has Dark Tranquillity surpassed your original dreams and what would you say is the most rewarding part of being in the band?


Niklas: I never really had any "dreams" with the music. We started playing as kids and the whole appeal was to do something creative in our spare time. There wasn't any ambitions of world domination or becoming popular or anything, so from that perspective all expectations have been surpassed a million times over. The most rewarding part? Probably just the whole experience. It's hard to pick any particular highlights out since most of the things you do as a band have their good and bad sides. The sum of the parts is what matters.


Do you feel you have to prove yourself with each release due to the metal climate nowadays?


Niklas: Not really. We are what we are, and after 20 years there's no huge drive to prove ourselves in that sense.



Which song is your favourite one to play live? Which song do you feel is the most challenging one to play live?


Niklas: It depends on the situation and moment rather than the song itself.


Can you tell us a little about yourself and the kinds of things that motivate you in your writing, your poetry, and your lyrics?


Niklas: We don't get too personal in interviews; the music is the only relevant thing, and while I realize that many musicians are keen on promoting their own egos, there is no need for us to do so. We're six people with different tastes and interests that get together and write music - that's all there is to it.


Dark Tranquillity is one of the longest-standing bands from the original Gothenburg metal scene and one of the pioneers of the melodic death metal genre, along with In Flames and At the Gates. What is your view on the band’s position in today’s music scene?


Niklas: There are lots of people with strong views on where bands fit in the context of this or that scene, but I'm not of them. We're happy to keep making music that we can relate to, but just aren't very concerned with what the rest of the world is doing. People often tell us their theories about how they view D.T.'s position in relation to the local or global scene, but it's not of any interest to us. It's music. We just play.


In your opinion, what makes Dark Tranquillity stand out compared to other bands out there?


Niklas: It's not really up to us to say. I don't want to sound arrogant or anything, but it'd feel completely silly to try to come up with clever taglines to convince people how great we are.

Everyone can listen to our music online and see if it's something for them; no need for us to act like car salesmen in interviews, ha ha!


What can we expect from Dark Tranquillity in the near future, any European tours or festival shows planned?


Niklas: We're embarking on a US tour in two weeks, and there will definitely be a European tour and lots of festival shows in 2010. It's a bit too early to know exactly when and where we'll play, but things are starting to get booked now, so we'll have a better overview in the near future.


Any last statement or something you'd like to share with us?


Niklas: Well, thanks for reading this and thanks for your time.



Eugene Straver




Mikael Stanne - Vocals

Niklas Sundin - Guitar

Martin Henriksson - Guitar

Anders Jivarp - Drums

Martin Brändström – Electronics, Piano

Daniel Antonsson - Bass


Former members:

Anders Fridén - Vocals

Fredrik Johansson - Guitar

Mikael Niklasson - Bass


Studio Albums:

(1993) Skydancer

(1995) The Gallery

(1997) The Mind's I

(1999) Projector

(2000) Haven

(2002) Damage Done

(2005) Character

(2007) Fiction

(2010) We Are the Void