Dark Tranquillity — The Mind’s I (1997)
So you’re just gonna skip Enter Suicidal Angels huh?
I mean it’s not like I get paid to do this. (Buy my book by the way, I got bills to pay.) But really: I just couldn’t find it to listen to online so I didn’t bother. One of the tracks is “Zodijackyl Light” from this record and the closer “Archetype” is a one-off techno track using samples from the band. (It actually slaps and I recommend you find it.) But the research I did suggested that the other two songs from that EP are tracks that didn’t make the cut for this album so I figured I’d skip it.
Into The Mind’s I
First of all, before I even dig in on any lyrics for this record, I just wanna point out that this is an extremely good album title even without needing to resort to absurd bleakness or pessimism, a rare feat in metal and one worth noting. Good work Mikael Staane.
My overall take on this record is that it’s a significant event in the DT discography, but the funny thing is that hearing it for the first time in retrospect it seems so very typical for the band. You can hear a lot of the “Dark Tranquillity-isms” we would start to get used to over the course of their career. Part of that is that this is the DT record where the band employed significant downtuning. I believe they’re playing D standard for this record, one whole step down from standard tuning. (Most thrash bands and other trad-metal movements play in standard.)
Part of those “DT-isms” is that we’ve officially reached the point where, for the most part, I have absolutely no fucking clue what Mikael Staane is talking about. This will also affect Anders Friden somewhat, but not to nearly as extreme a degree. Staane once again gives an excellent vocal performance of course, laying down solid rhythmic patterns and indulging us in a pretty raspy, high-mid wretch throughout this record that is quickly becoming his signature.
Unfortunately, I hate to say, but Enter Suicidal Angels gave away easily the best song on the record in “Zodijackyl Light,” a song that introduces itself with an absolutely perfect example of an MDM riff, mildly technical and with a really beautiful sense of movement. The opening riff makes this song a highlight of the Dark Tranquillity discography, but unfortunately it feels as though they wrote that song to be a standout, powerful single from their EP, but when they wrote the record they went with a more “album-oriented” approach and the resultant jams were far more ponderous in nature.
As for the rest of the record, it sounds familiar but not as powerful or memorable as later works in a similar style. The good news is that does mean the band improved from here, but unfortunately the style still does sound familiar. While I can’t do the breakdown on the actual time math, you’ll soon learn that DT, who on occasion employ some off-kilter timing for a progressive flavor, have in fact not been so progressive in trying new forms of off-kilter timing. The first versions of that they do here are largely similar to the flavor of odd timing that the band has employed almost continuously since then.
I would love to perhaps offer a more insightful lyrical read, but as stated previously, this is about the point where the lyrics of Mikael Staane start to lose me. He has a certain magic to picking the right word to create the right enunciations and the best rhythmic pattern, but I just don’t have any real thoughts on what these words could mean. And I think I learn a lesson here that, when it comes to harsh vocals music where the vocals are fairly inscrutable, that, as a metal lyricist, interest in the lyrical subject matter of your songs is kind of like a reward for having the music pull in the audience, which is something we’ll definitely be bringing up at the tail end of another band’s career.
And then you actually look at the lyrics and . . . I mean look:
Enter suicidal angels;
How hungry we’ve become;
like animals naked in shame
Fed with the tongues of apocalypse
that galloped down disordered worlds behind
From word to a word I was led to a word
that spanned over cultures in rage
Crimson masses, steeped in decadence
holding our tongues to the thirsty sun
So, is the future still open?
(so tell me, tell me)
Then enter, hornet, from our hive-dark hearts
And draw down the end from within
I’m just . . . not really sure what I’m supposed to be pulling out of this. That “hornet, hive dark” concept re-emerges on In Flames’ Whoracle album later that year, and I’m not entirely sure on that one either, maybe when we do that one I need to come back and compare the lyrics. (Guitarist Niklas Sundin of Dark Tranquillity helped Anders Friden translate his concepts into english lyrics on both The Jester Race and Whoracle, also maybe Colony, but the practice had definitely ended by Clayman for sure.) If any readers have a contrary read, feel free to contact me and I’d love to discuss it, I’m just not sure where to go with it. Doesn’t even mean it’s bad, it just feels alien to me. What is undeniable and will continue to serve Staane well is that he does have a way with words, and ability to create a gothic atmosphere just through his tone and word choice. It’s a skill, but it really defies analysis in the way that I would do it. But hey, there’s always songmeanings.com.
The thing is, I did look at a few people’s looks at “Moonshield” from The Jester Race because the lyrics on that album really did speak to me even like the first time I read them, and that was on an album where what was happening musically really worked for me too. I hate to admit this as a lover of words and texts, but in the context of metal, it feels for me, even as somebody who cares about lyrics quite a bit, that interest in a band’s lyrics is, for them, a reward for an audience’s interest and intrigue in the music. Without really being pulled in by anything the rest of the band is playing here as they develop a darker version of their sound, I’m left without the sort of mental drive to make subtextual connections in the lyrics that I would otherwise have, for lack of a better word, the inspiration to find.
This album also started something that would become a bit of a pattern where, unfortunately for me at least, it just feels like every other Dark Tranquillity album is sort of nonessential in a way that I rarely feel with most of the bands I enjoy: Skydancer? Kinda unbearable. The Gallery? Unbelievable. This record? Meh. Their next, Projector? Fucking great. 2000’s Haven? Lame! 2002’s Damage Done? One of the catchiest and most crushing albums ever recorded. And it goes beyond that! If this project reaches its natural conclusion, we will eventually track the ups and downs of a band that pretty much always seems to follow up a great album with something totally forgettable.
The #1 thing that hurts this album really is that I never strongly developed an interest in listening to it, and that’s something that’s really defined this project so far. I’ve already listened to that second Sacrilege album, The Fifth Season, like at least two more times than I listened to this record. I’ve done my best so far to give a true listen to records that don’t quite hit me at first, and I usually feel like that effort goes unrewarded in terms of finding new insight, and I’m gonna try and spend less time trying to “make it work” with a record. I do feel like, sadly, I’m not liking each of these individual MDM records as much as I liked, say, every random thrash album I heard in high school, but I guess that’s just to be expected at this point. As such I’m just gonna go ahead and cut this here. Not a terrible album, but only recommended for hardcore Dark Tranquillity fans, collectors, and historians.
— Durante Pierpaoli, Lynnwood, WA, 2021