(2000) Dark Tranquillity: Haven

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Artist: Dark Tranquillity
Album: Haven
Release: 17.07.2000
Label: Century Media

 

In July 2000, a mere 2 weeks after In Flames had molded Clayman, fellow Gothenburg band Dark Tranquillity invited fans of melodic death metal to their Haven. While In Flames streamlined their sound, Haven saw Dark Tranquillity bouncing back from the divisive Projector (1999), which had sparked controversy upon its release due to its mellower sound. Despite this (partial) return to a heavier style, classic status has eluded Haven, but that’s all the more reason to look back on it in honor of its 20th anniversary.

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Haven was the beginning of a new era for Dark Tranquillity due to a lineup change that took place after the recording of Projector: founding bassist Martin Henriksson moved to guitar, while the bassist spot was filled by Michael Nicklasson, and the addition of keyboardist Martin Brändström turned the band into a six-piece. The songwriting dynamic also changed: Henriksson – together with drummer Anders Jivarp – penned the bulk of the material and would remain the band’s main composer for several more albums, while co-guitarist Niklas Sundin – a major contributor on earlier albums – only co-wrote the bonus track “Misery in Me.” Nicklasson‘s first contribution, “Indifferent Suns,” is anchored by his bass riff, but it’s fellow newcomer Brändström who makes his presence known right off the bat on opening track “The Wonders at Your Feet,” a compact, punchy 3-minute track with a great tapping solo by Sundin and infectious keyboard melodies. Thanks to its catchiness and high energy level, it’s no wonder that it’s Dark Tranquillity‘s most-often-played-live song, according to Setlist.fm stats. Brändström‘s playing is a big part of atmospheric songs like “The Same” and “Ego Drama,” but he’s also prominent on up-tempo tracks such as “Feast of Burden” and “Rundown” – in fact, Haven might just be the most keyboard-driven Dark Tranquillity album to date.

On the title-track of Haven, vocalist Mikael Stanne asks: “If there were words for this / Would I sing or should I scream?” On this album, he chose the latter option, although his vocal style is closer to low growling than his raspy trademark screams. In later years, Stanne has revealed that he was having voice issues around the turn of the millennium and he wouldn’t find the right vocal technique until Character (2005), but despite that, his performance on Haven is rather strong to my ears. However, he also makes use of mannerisms that can get slightly comical at times, particularly on “Fabric” (“wait for it… ugh!”) and the very first thing he lets out of his mouth on the album is a James Hetfield-like “alright-ah!” I only wish Stanne hadn’t shied away from employing his clean voice more, because the only track to feature it, “Emptier Still,” is my favorite on the whole album and I like its gloomy-yet-experimental vibe. One of the bonus tracks, “In Sight,” is a ballad in vein of “Auctioned” from the previous album and shows what a great singer he is. Some of the quiet sections on the album could’ve benefited from clean singing instead of the half-growled/half-spoken style he uses on them. (For those interested, there’s a bootleg recording of the early version of the bonus track “Misery in Me” on YouTube featuring clean vocals instead of growls, demonstrating how the album was going to sound before the band decided to up the heaviness).

 

Haven is a bit of an odd album in the Dark Tranquillity discography – while there’s not much downright dislike for it, it’s not among the band’s most popular efforts either, and only “The Wonders at Your Feet” remains a setlist staple to this day. It can be seen as a transitional release between the experimental Projector and Damage Done (2002), which established the band’s modern sound – while the material got slightly more intense and the clean vocals were abandoned almost completely, the major role of keyboards and the lack of riff-oriented songs makes Haven more atmospheric and melancholic than the albums that came afterwards. To (once again) use a Rush analogy, I see Haven as Dark Tranquillity‘s equivalent of Signals (1982) – an album on which the opening track ended up overshadowing the rest in terms of live play and the band was still trying to figure out the right balance between guitars and keyboards. However, while apart from the epic final track, “At Loss for Words” – which would pave the way for future album closers such as “Ex Nihilo” and “Iridium” – the songwriting may be a little simplistic by Dark Tranquillity‘s standards, there are also no filler tracks, making it one of the band’s strongest records. On top of that, the title-track’s theme of withdrawal and isolation became poignantly relevant in the spring of this year when staying home became the norm, so in many ways Haven clearly still has a lot to offer to listeners in 2020.

Rating: 8/10, 4 stars

Tracklist:
1. The Wonders at Your Feet
2. Not Built to Last
3. Indifferent Suns
4. Feast of Burden
5. Haven
6. The Same
7. Fabric
8. Ego Drama
9. Rundown
10. Emptier Still
11. At Loss for Words

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