Live Damage (Century Media)
An interview with vocalist Mikael Stanne
By Tim Den
Without a doubt the most innovative and emotive of the Gothenburg horde, Live Damage showcases the vibrant force that is Dark Tranquillity via three live shows: One with professional sound and film, two bootlegged on handhelds. There are also two music videos (for “Monochromatic Stains” and “ThereIn”), interviews, photo galleries, and all sorts of extras, but let’s not fool ourselves, it’s all about the live shows. The 21-song set, filmed professionally in Krakow, Poland, is simply stunning. Multiple cameras, studio quality recording, the only thing that could’ve made it better would’ve been a more engaged audience. The band rip through incredible renditions of everything from The Gallery to Damaged Done, but the thin-ish crowd never reciprocates the same intensity. That’s alright, though, cuz a glance at the bootlegged shows will show that Dark Tranquillity are very capable of inciting some ridiculously violent pits. Just not in Poland, I guess.
With the re-release of The Gallery and The Mind’s I slated for this year, as well as a b-sides/demo compilation and a new studio album to follow, 2004 is looking to be Dark Tranquillity’s biggest year yet!
When did the band start?
In ’89, just kids around 15, 16 years old.
You were originally the guitarist in the band – Anders Friden (now in In Flames) was doing vocals – but you still sang on the first few In Flames releases?
That (singing on In Flames albums) was later, after I started singing in Dark Tranquillity, too. I was just a session singer: Jesper (Stromblad; In Flames guitarist) and the guys needed help, but I was never a member.
Are you writing music for Dark Tranquillity at all? Cuz it seems like, even though you were once the guitarist, you mainly work on the lyrics now…
That’s pretty much the way it is. I write some stuff (musically), but they never end up in any of the songs. (chuckles) I write for myself, mainly.
There was a big stylistic change between The Gallery and The Mind’s I, where the crazy hammer-ons gave way to more power-chords and chugs. I’ve always wanted to know why you guys chose to trade in the more complex approach of playing via tapping solos for the heaviness of, say, the At The Gates grind. Cuz, to me, that complexity was what gave The Gallery – and Dark Tranquillity in general – the air of originality.
The thing is, we didn’t really know what we were doing at the time. (laughs) I think we learned and grew and realized that “this is the way to make music.” In ’94/’95 when we did The Gallery, everything was experimentation and learning about scales and harmonies. And we were like “whoa, let’s put more in all the time!” Never play the same thing twice. But we learned that it’s more challenging to do simpler things…
And when you put out Projector in ’99, you changed your sound again. This time it was almost Gothic pop metal, blending a lot of clean vocals with moody keyboards in drastically slower songs. I personally thought the results were amazing, and that you guys were once again reinventing yourselves as an amazingly original band writing incredible songs… but the public didn’t dig it as much.
We knew people were either going to love it or hate it. It was at the peak of “The Gothenburg Sound” and we were tired of it. Everything was about that. I remember, on tour for The Gallery, seeing flyers for bands from Germany claiming to play “true Gothenburg metal!” We hadn’t even heard of the phrase yet! So we said “let’s get away from it and do something different.”
Some people reacted to Projector like “aaaahhh, it’s sad!” and “You’re full of yourself!” A lot of weird critique, especially from fans in Southern Europe, where they’re very devoted and fond of “true metal.” It still wasn’t a chart failure or anything. Since we were changing the line-up at the time (guitarist Frederik Johansson left, bassist Martin Hendriksson moved to guitar, new bassist Michael Niklasson and electronics guy Martin Brandstrom entered), we thought we would do something new but still retain the death metal style.
Was it hard for Martin Hendriksson to switch instruments? Especially with the older, more complicated material…
Yeah, he still finds it difficult to play “Punish My Heaven.” But he’s a great guitar player and wrote a lot of the old songs. He used to play whenever Frederik wasn’t around, so the switch was natural. Just like when I moved from guitar to vocals.
Was it hard for you to become the frontman?
No, I think that’s what I really wanted to do. The guitar was just in the way. I was never a really good guitar player, (chuckles) so it was a release to let it go. Don’t have to worry about living up to Niklas’ standards. (chuckles)
Tell me about this b-sides/rarities compilation album that’s coming out.
It’s stuff that was only on Japanese editions and/or stuff that we didn’t want on the albums. It’s basically a worst-of collection. (laughs) No, there’s some good stuff on there, but left off for a reason. I think it’s 12 or 13 songs that no one has heard before, unless you got the Japanese versions. But five of the songs have never been on anything. It’s going to be two discs, with just the sound from the DVD live show included. It also has the first demo, Trail of Life Decayed, the first EP, A Moonclad Reflection, a really fast and aggressive song from Projector called “Exposure,” two songs from the Haven sessions, and two or three songs from the Damage Done sessions.
When I was growing up, I really hated it when bands re-released old stuff on CD. I thought it was just to make some fast money. But I’ve realized that people really do want it!
What are you listening to right now, as you prepare to record a new studio album?
A lot of The Mars Volta. Amazing album: I listen to it more than I should. One of those albums that, the first time you hear it, you just go “ooooooohhhh man, let’s play it five more times!”
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