DARK TRANQUILLITY long ago entered the realm of legacy bands whose newest record will always be, at the very least, pretty good. As some of their other contemporaries from the '90s Swedish melodic death scene faded into complete irrelevance, diminishing returns, or disastrous experimentation, the group has weathered the trends to remain a solid act that generates plenty of material worth revisiting upon every album release. Even their biggest moment of experimentation on turn-of-the-century albums such as 1999's "Projector" saw them figuring out ways to tastefully integrate the moments of goth-metal flirtation back into their core blueprint on subsequent records. The group's latest record, "Moment", comes after the biggest personnel change since the band's early days. Guitarist Niklas Sundin officially left the group earlier this year after sitting out recent touring, but the transition of longtime scene veterans Christoper Amott (ex-ARCH ENEMY) and Johan Reinholdz (NONEXIST, ANDROMEDA) from replacement live musicians to the studio lineup has resulted in a record that seamlessly rises to the standard that DARK TRANQUILLITY has set throughout their career.
"Moment"'s early goings see the band focusing solely on reaffirming their ability to maintain the heavier side of their songwriting. A strong midtempo groove opens the record on "Phantom Days", before that and the two songs that follow set into a solid formula of galloping tracks punctuated by ominous crunching guitar riffs and vocalist Mikael Stanne delivering his trademark growls. These early tracks do seem a bit workmanlike in that there are no surprises, but even DARK TRANQUILLITY in "let's go to work" mode is still better than the majority of acts sailing the seas of melo-death. The songs are still undeniably DARK TRANQUILLITY, though one can't help but hear a few moments where Amott seems to be channeling his old ARCH ENEMY days on guitar.
As the years have passed, the band has figured out the exact right moments to balance Stanne's ability to deliver a powerful death metal bark with his equally compelling ability to deliver a melodic croon. On "Moment", the band has chosen to showcase that for the entire middle portion of the record, delivering, in that stretch, moodier tracks than they have in several albums. In lesser hands that type of balladeering would result in overly emotive or worse, overly processed vocals. Here, however, those tracks keep the record going strong thanks to Stanne's croons remaining grounded with a hauntingly gothic weight, accentuated by crunching riffs lurking underneath even the record's cleanest moments. Reinholdz especially shows his chops and bona fides on tracks like "The Dark Unbroken", delivering one of the highest-soaring guitar solos of the year.
As the record enters its final stretch, it really is the soaring shred of Reinholdz's guitar work and Stanne's expert vocal juggling act that carries the record to a thrilling conclusion. The galloping death grooves return to prominence on "Ego Deception" and a suffocating trudge opens up the appropriately titled "A Drawn Out Exit" before the melo-death kicks in again. That mix is what awaits the listener as they near the finale, where "In Truth Divided" becomes the only real true departure point from what came before it. The song closes "Moment" with Stanne anchoring a haunting power ballad with this record's most forlorn vocal performance.
If you are a longtime DARK TRANQUILLITY fan, there is nothing on "Moment" that will particularly shock you. The new additions to the band slide into the picture in almost a plug-and-play manner, but here, that's a good thing as the final result is simply another strong record in an already impressively deep catalog.