Dark Tranquility – you are a sell-out if you are not feeling 100% strong about it, if you don’t trust the material yourself

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When it comes to melodic death metal, there is no questions who sits on the throne in my opinion. Dark Tranquillity are back with an amazing album. “Moment” comes after important changes in their line-up, changes that might worked for the best. Mikael Stanne, singer of the Swedes, is an amazing guy to talk with, is never tired of doing interviews and hold nothing back when it comes to questions about the band.

Interview: George Terzakis

Rockpages.gr: Let’s start with a cliché, or stupid, question. The band has gone through a lot of changes the past few year, so how do you feel for the release of the new album? Is this something like a new era for you?

Dark Tranquility
photo: Caroline Traitler

Mikael Stanne: In many ways it is. New guys, new blood sort of speak. And yeah, big changes. The fundamentals are still there and it’s still the same but there is a different feel in the band for sure. Everybody’s excited and we did something that we’re all very proud of. The last three years that we’ve toured for “Atoma” have been incredible. So, it’s definitely a new kind of energy and maybe it’s a new era, I don’t know. For me it’s the same, it’s just a continuation although a bit different in terms of people.

Rockpages.gr: When I first listened to the album, when you did the live streaming event, I thought it had a lot of elements from “Atoma” but it looked back on albums like “Projector”. What is your opinion about that?

Mikael Stanne: I heard that and it does makes sense. When we did “Projector”, we wanted it to be very different. We tried things that we were uncomfortable with or things that we didn’t normally do and that is what we wanted. Because we got tired of where we were, we were frustrated with where the scene was going and we wanted to prove that we can be different and try out other things. And it was an emotional and weird time in our lives as well that played a part on how that album came out. I think that the same has been with this album. Not just because of the line-up changes, but we wanted to do something different. We were more confident this time after touring for “Atoma” so that we could do something a little bit more honest and not to worry about expectations or what people want. We did it because we like it and we feel strong about it. Also, because when we started recording the pandemic hit at the same time and we focused on an album that you can listen to and not an album that you play on the stage. We realized that there won’t be any tours anytime soon, so we wanted to make this the best sounding album. Something that you’ll want to listen to it again and again. So, it’s a new start for a lot of things.

Rockpages.gr: In the listening session, you said that some people might accuse you of being sell-outs. I believe you heard it before for “Projector”, but do you actually believe that in our days, with all the evolution of metal music, can be a band accused of something like that?

Mikael Stanne: Yeah, I heard them before. I believe that you are a sell-out if you don’t mean it, if you are not feeling 100% strong about it or if you are doing it for the wrong reasons. You are selling out if you don’t trust the material yourself. I can hear it sometimes when I listen to a new album by a band that I like and say “okay, now you’re going for something else” and I lose interest. For us, being honest it was always important. Of course, I joked about being sell-outs because it’s more melodic. It’s still a complex album, it’s more morose and emotional and that not necessarily translates into more sales. We talked about focusing on more melodic choruses. If you do it for the wrong reasons, it feels like thinking “let’s make it more accessible for the people who don’t like death metal” and that’s really what we didn’t want to do. But if we do it right and in a way that makes sense for the song, then we can do it and we worked hard for this on “Moment”. And it was challenging, trying to figure out that balance. I’m really happy that we figured out a way to do it.

Rockpages.gr: When did you start writing music for “Moment” and how long did it take you to complete them?

Mikael Stanne: It was at the start of last year and I think Anders [Jivarp, drums, Ed.] has started six months before that, in order to have material to begin with. Then me, Anders and Martin [Brändström, keyboards, Ed.] sat in the studio and tried to think where we wanted to go. Then, we brought Johan [Reinholdz, guitars, Ed.] and Chris [Amott, guitars, Ed.] to elevate it, so it’s been about two years in the process.

Rockpages.gr: I was going to ask that. Did they help composing the songs? I can hear more solos than ever before.

Mikael Stanne: Yeah, they definitely helped. We had the material and we wanted to be translated into proper guitar playing. Johan did a lot of that and Chris focused on solos and leads. So, we wanted the music to has the elements of Dark Tranquillity but also utilize their skills and experience. Johan also wrote some songs that we shaped to become closer to the Dark Tranquillity sound. Overall, the material stays true to our style but sounds a lot cooler because of these guys.

Rockpages.gr: So, the fit perfectly from the start?

Mikael Stanne: Yeah, I think so. We’ve known Johan for three years but with Chris we go way back since the 90s, when we were playing with Arch Enemy. We have the same background but a different way of writing. Me, Anders and Martin are doing this for many years together, so it’s difficult for anyone to come into that. This is something that we had to overcome early on. Johan is super creative, he writes all kinds of stuff, very progressive, super technical death metal and Chris can shred for hours. So, it took a while to find that balance, to get to know each other musically.

Rockpages.gr: Didn’t you feel any disturbance in the force with three new members joining on such short period of time?

Mikael Stanne: [laughs] No. It should have been or it would make sense to be weird and difficult. But it really wasn’t. With Anders [Iwers, bass, Ed.] we go way back, we are friends since he was fifteen, it’s weird that he didn’t join us before. Chris and Johan come also from a similar background as I said before, so it felt really natural. Although it’s three years now, it feels like it’s been ten or fifteen with these guys.

Rockpages.gr: Another interesting fact is the album cover, the most colorful and different from everything before. Who had the idea and how does it connect with the lyrics of “Moment”?

Dark Tranquility Moment
Dark Tranquility – Moment

Mikael Stanne: Niklas [Sundin, former guitarist, Ed.] and I started talking about it early on. I sent him the title of the album and some lyrics. Depending on your past and your experience, suddenly you arrive at a moment where you need to choose. How do you proceed? What path do you take? Sometimes it’s because you have new information or you learn something new or you realize something in yourself and suddenly you see things differently and that makes you change your decisions or helps you make better ones. So, I wanted the cover to reflect that somehow. Of course, this is difficult for me but Niklas knows me very well. So, his idea is that you have a landscape that is different and weird and hard to understand but then you can see through that somehow. So, the light pillar at the center reveals what has always been there but you finally see it for the first time. Or you maybe look through the bullshit and see what is really there. It can mean a lot of things obviously, but for me is the moment when you see things for what they truly are for the first time opposed to how you used to perceive them or how someone wants you to perceive them. I also wanted to change the color pattern from the initial idea to be warmer in order to look great on vinyl.

Rockpages.gr: In this release, once again, you have bonus songs for various editions. How do you always end up with more music? Do you do it on purpose, does your label forces you to do it?

Mikael Stanne: We intend to write more songs that we need because some might turn out best than expected or worse than expected. Some territories want bonus songs, like Japan. Also, it’s nice to have extra songs for future releases, like when releasing a tour edition of the album or an EP or something like that. Also, I’m a fan of making special editions, I like the physical product and I want to give something special to people who like that also. So, we have two bonus songs and one more that will be revealed in the future. Maybe in an EP, maybe when we start touring again. We’ll see.

Rockpages.gr: So, you had two big line-up changes. Martin [Henriksson, former guitarist, Ed.] quit because he lost interest in music and Niklas wasn’t excited with touring any more. Also, an old friend of yours, Anders Bjorler (At The Gates, The Haunted) stopped at about the same time for the same reasons. Three guitarists that helped a lot in shaping the melodic death metal sound. Is there a pattern?

Mikael Stanne: I guess you can say it this way, we are all about the same age. For Martin it was frustration, he wants to be in control, he wants to be in charge of everything and he has always done that for the band. He also wants to write and control all the music. Eventually he could only do one thing. That means touring, booking, finances, all that stuff that I find super boring. So, he is our manager now and takes care of everything except music and guitar playing. Niklas became a father six years ago, so he felt that being home with his family is the most important thing ever and sitting on a tour bus with drunk people for months didn’t work for him [laughs]. He now lives in the United Stated and still is a part of our family. He does and will do all the artwork and visuals that you will see from Dark Tranquillity. So, to answer your question, it’s easy to get carried away, do things because it’s fun and not think of something else. But there is some point in your life when you wonder “do I really want to do this?”. For me, it’s never been a question but for other people it is.

Rockpages.gr: Why did you wait for so long to announce the official departure of Martin and Niklas?

Mikael Stanne: With Martin we thought maybe he’d change his mind and he didn’t feel comfortable to announce something like that. Niklas stopped touring and also thought maybe he’ll come back, but then we realized that this wasn’t going to happen. Also, it wasn’t fair for the new guys. We asked them at first to join for some festivals and see how this is going on. We didn’t want to rush anything. After the first shows we asked them if they wanted to do more and when it came to the new album, we asked them if they want to be a part of it and make it official.

Rockpages.gr: Kinda like a smooth transition.

Mikael Stanne: Exactly, it happened as it was supposed to be.

Rockpages.gr: Looking a bit back, “We Are The Void” and “Construct” divided your fands and had a different sound from your latest releases. What do you think of these albums, ten and seven years after their release?

Mikael Stanne: With “Construct” we got into our own studio where we could be in more control. We’ve learned so much from recording in other studios and working with other people, so we decided to try and do this ourselves. That made us feel more self-confident and self-reliant, no one was listening apart from the six of us. And it turned out to be a cool album. “We’re The Void” came a bit different because we came from the “Fiction” tour and we wanted to do something different. So, instead of collaborating a lot everybody did their own songs. So, I think it’s very diverse as an album. And it made it very interesting for me as a singer to step on songs that are different from each other. But as a whole, looking it back now, it feels weird. We wouldn’t have done it that way now.

Rockpages.gr: Which album do you believe is the most important in the history of the band?

Mikael Stanne: It must have been “The Gallery”. It got a lot of attention and it was a good era as a lot of Gothenburg death metal bands released great albums. Also, we started touring for the first time. It was amazing, it opened up many opportunities and possibilities. It helped us become what we are right now. For me, this is when I realized that I want to do this for the rest of my life.

Rockpages.gr: Last year was thirty years since your first incarnation as Septic Broiler. What a name that was.

Mikael Stanne: [laughs] Awesome name!

Rockpages.gr: And the next year will be thirty since the beginning of your journey as Dark Tranquillity. Do you plan on doing anything special for that?

Mikael Stanne: I don’t know. We aren’t really that nostalgic. We don’t go around and say “let’s celebrate the fact that we are together for so long”. I wouldn’t be against on doing an anniversary show or a celebration show, to play older stuff that we don’t usually do anymore. But maybe, I love it when other bands do it.

Rockpages.gr: Maybe a live DVD in Greece?

Mikael Stanne: Oh, I’d love that. For sure. Holy shit!

Rockpages.gr: What are your memories from your shows here?

Mikael Stanne: Wow, there has been many. One that I always remember is when we came with Candlemass and Entombed. I really can’t remember the year so it was a long time ago [2002, Ed.]. We did two shows in Athens and Thessaloniki and it’s been one of the highlights of our career, one of the best weekends ever. We got to hang out with two of my favorite bands of all time and also played in front of an incredible crowd. Also, some of the Athens shows at Gagarin are legendary in my mind. Here’s an interesting story. There is a high-end and cool magazine in Sweden that did a feature on us about playing abroad. This journalist had no idea about metal or how touring outside of Sweden is, so she came with us to follow us three days in Greece and she said it was the most amazing thing she’s ever seen. That story, when it came out, it was super professional and amazing how she wrote it. The intensity and the passion that the crowd had for us had made an impact here in Sweden, so when people talk to me they ask “I remember when you toured Greece, are there the people really that crazy, is it really so awesome?” and I say “you know, it’s just Greece”. The Greek audience became a big deal here just because of that magazine.

Rockpages.gr: You also recorded some songs from Athens for your first DVD “Live Damage”.

Mikael Stanne: Yeah, you are right. If we do another live DVD again, we should do it in Athens, it would be nice. As soon as everybody’s safe, when everything is cool, we would love to come there again. It’s a cool thing being in front of an audience, screaming and spraying them with saliva [laughs]. I can’t wait until then.

Rockpages.gr: That was all from me Mikael, thank you for your time. Any message you want to send to the fans here?

Mikael Stanne: We love Greece, we love the fans. Unfortunately, the situation is weird. It is what it is, it’s crazy and releasing an album right now feels surreal. Check it out, stay safe and I hope I’ll see you soon again.

photo by: Immortal Affliction