Review by illusionist for Dark Tranquillity - The Gallery (1995)
The first classic album by probably the first Melodic Death Metal band, The Gallery's release in 1995 marked the coming-of-age of a sound that had been brewing in the Swedish underground since the early 90s.
A flurry of demos and EPs from bands such as Eucharist, At the Gates, and Unanimated, in addition to Dark Tranquillity, had established a primordial version of the "Gothenburg sound"... taking the raw tremolo riff-fest of Death Metal and infusing just a dash of melody and dynamic variation, with eyes towards gothic and philosophical themes rather than horror. Many bands have since achieved success by taking that formula in various directions in the decades since, but in my opinion this release marked the moment Melodic Death Metal truly became something separate and distinct.
Building upon influences hinted at in their earlier works, Dark Tranquillity intelligently took everything differentiating them from standard Death Metal, and took them even further. The compositions became even more progressive and ambitious in every way. More intricate and technical in the fast guitar-driven parts, juxtaposed against increased presence of simple piano, acoustic guitar, tasteful bass. More emotional, varied and understandable vocal delivery to complement the more cryptic and, frankly, epic lyrics. More complex. More melodic. And more intellectual than anything this burgeoning scene had yet produced. In short, Dark Tranquillity finally became everything that the extremity-focused Death Metal of this era wasn't. Yet, somehow, it was still sonically "Death Metal" at its bleeding heart.
People rapidly caught on to the appeal of this juxtaposition. Remarkably, despite the explosive proliferation of the Gothenburg sound and Melodic Death Metal as a whole in the decades since, The Gallery remains notable not only for its pioneering influence but also for its sheer musical quality. Still to this day, The Gallery remains one of the gold-standards and essential listens of Extreme, Dark, and Melodic Metal alike.
Now, it's not quite a perfect album in my view, at least not from a track-by-track perspective, which is how I rate albums. Although every song is very enjoyable and captures that early-DT splendor, only about half of them ever caught on with me as regular listens in my rotation. Those songs, however (see below), are all-time favorites that I will listen to 'til I die. I just fucking love the band's sound at this moment in time and it flows so well and consistently across the album. There's a certain adventurous charm... a certain youthful passion... an emotional gravity to these songs that would never quite return in the same way after The Mind's I or Projector as the band aged and modernized. This isn't a shot at Dark Tranquillity's latter discography, which I enjoy, but they were just on something different in the 90s.
I'm just thankful I live in a universe where Mikael Stanne joined up with these guys and recorded this treat for the years. His pained, dramatic vocals and poetic lyrics are just so perfect for the sombre, bittersweet melodies Dark Tranquillity specialize in. This, right here, is the epitome of what I like to call "Prime MeloDeath".
Essentrial Tracks: Punish My Heaven, Silence and the Firmament Withdrew, Edenspring, The Gallery, Lethe