As a 90s melodic death metal nostalgic, the genre had little to offer to me past the turn of the millenium. But it’s not just the sound of that time that the genre lack nowadays, it is also the pushing of boundaries and innovative ideas. Dystopian concept albums like In Flames’ Whoracle or the counterintuitive With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness by At the Gates were shining examples of what the genre could be. More than just melodic death metal, these albums had what it takes to become long-standing classics.
In 1995, genre co-founders Dark Tranquillity came out with their groundbreaking sophomore album The Gallery. Released just two weeks after the genre’s most acclaimed album, The Gallery was a stark contrast to the primal Slaughter of the Soul. The mediterranean and passionate The Gallery played a leading role in defining melodic death metal. At the same time, the sophisticated and progressive songwriting was a testament to the potential of the genre.
The Mind’s I followed two years later and while it couldn’t outdo its predecessor, it further established Dark Tranquillity as one of the most important actors in the scene. But the band felt that it was time to make a statement, to show that they were a truly artistic entity and not just another band from Gothenburg.
The result of their efforts was Projector, an album that challenged the notion of what metal could be and what melodic death metal could achieve. The reception, however, was mixed. The softer sounds the band turned towards for Projector made it a divisive album in Dark Tranquillity’s career. Simultaneously, the aesthetic and sound of Projector are part of the root of Dark Tranquillity’s sound going into the new millenium.
The cold and modern Projector was much more introspective than its epic predecessors. The reserved songs featured a decelerated Dark Tranquillity and clean vocals from a vulnerable Mikael Stanne. With themes of human connections and interactions, Stanne explored personal topics that differed from the philosophical and mythical epics of The Gallery.
Similarly, the instrumentation shifted to colder gothic textures. Stripped of blastbeats and tremolo riffing, Dark Tranquillity focussed on leaner songwriting and expanded the melodic core of their sound for a more atmospheric experience. Acoustic guitars, female guest vocals, pianos and even plucked strings on album opener Freecard enrich the palette of sounds on Projector. The heavy use of electronics on this album would prompt the band to look for a permanent keyboarder for future releases and Martin Brändström came in to fill the position.
Shut away from the outside, ballads like Auctioned and Day to End are intimate moments without match in the band’s discography. On the other end of the spectrum, Therein and Dobermann feature bright guitar leads and animated riffing. The Sun Fired Blanks is the most reminiscent of Dark Tranquillity’s previous albums with gallopping drums and soaring, bold guitars.
After the turn of the millenium, Dark Tranquillity retained the modern aesthetics of Projector on subsequent albums like Haven. Though the music grew wilder again the electronic additions and introverted themes of Projector had made a lasting impression on the band’s sound.
While the rest of the genre was still swept up in the aftermath of Slaughter of the Soul, Dark Tranquillity made a statement the implications of which are shamefully underrated to this day. The band achieved what they had set out to do, to set themselves apart from the rest of the scene and prove themselves as artistically mature. Twenty years later, Projector still stands solitary and unequaled as one of melodic death metal’s most original albums.