"Character" has been awaited obsessively by the self-appointed defenders of heavy, who've pinned their Swede-metal hopes on DARK TRANQUILLITY after lamenting loud and long the "selling out" of IN FLAMES, SOILWORK, et al. Good news — Mikael Stanne's much-maligned clean vocals are history, his emotive snarl capable of carrying rudimentary melody and, more importantly, expressing his words in a clear, venomous, compelling way. And the keyboards — another red flag for purists — are held in check, very much a tool of color, accent and shading. The occasional four-measure break or melody line notwithstanding, this is a guitar record, through and through. In fact, if you're looking for someone to be the guardian of traditional Swedish thrash in purest form (and remember, that includes a little melody, always has), you've pretty much found them.
"Character" fits in with modern times — a song like "The Endless Feed" (about as "soft" as "Character" gets) or lead single "Lost to Apathy" won't be completely alien to a new generation of metalcore mallrats. But that's only because those kids' heroes have been ripping Sweden off since 1995 anyway — it's got nothing to do with DARK TRANQUILLITY. Their influences remain older and more pure, their outlook snarling, their melodies laced with echoes of the thrash and black metal of their past. There's more of a classic, epic feel to their soloing and arranging — nothing here was wedged into a three-minute radio format or saddled with a clean choruses and (Odin forbid) a stomping breakdown.
Openers "The New Build" and "Through Smudged Lenses" (these guys' song titles have always been a little off-kilter) are as intense and thrashy as anything on the new KREATOR, and it's doubtful that was an accident. They're up front to rally the troops and serve as a statement of intent that "Character" is a razor-sharp, precision-tooled antidote to the mallcore glut. Sure, that move is probably as calculated as their decision to incorporate clean vocals and get maudlin and Goth-y in 1998. But when the results give the people what they want and kick this much ass, that's easy to forgive. DARK TRANQUILLITY are Swedish thrash — fast tempos, buzzsaw riffs, harsh vocals, catchy songs, and that hint of classic-metal melody. And "Character" is a sterling example of all that's good about the genre.