artifact 007: projector

Our last poll was a hot one, as a revered Arch Enemy record was narrowly thwarted by Dark Tranquillity’s controversial Projector in a battle of straight ’99s:

poll7

[Avid lurkers may have noticed that there wasn’t a separate post announcing this poll; those are usually done for the benefit of Facebook users, but I deactivated that shit because your racist aunt from Edina doesn’t give a fuck about melodic death metal. So if you want in on the next one, follow me.]

The albums above offer a glimpse into a pretty fantastic year for heavy metal. Conventional wisdom in 1999 leaned pessimistic about the state of the genre, however, as we were in the throes of nu-metal’s rise (Slipknot and Static-X released their debuts, Limp Bizkit went TRL, and Machine Head tried tagging along) while stalwarts like Kreator and Darkthrone were fumbling with the likes Endorama and Ravishing Grimness. (Not to mention, this was the year that Metallica and Megadeth unleashed S&M and Risk.)

But the year still gave us classic American output like World Coming Down and The Gathering, and across the pond, the melodic death metal scene was swelling to full strength. Yet as their contemporaries In Flames and Soilwork were busy honing their respective sounds into the most concise, direct incarnations possible, Dark Tranquillity took a bold detour.

After laying the groundwork for the genre on their first three records (especially The Gallery and The Mind’s I) Dark Tranquillity found themselves ahead of the curve; as the melodeath core was growing stronger and putting down roots, they were already itching to experiment. And when extreme metal bands are ready to “expand their sound,” that usually means one thing:

Clean vocals.

The band was pretty roundly lambasted for their appearance on Projector; most of the chatter around the old Metal-Rules.com forums consisted of some variation of “they’re pussies and they suck now” (it was the Vince Russo era, after all), so I overlooked the band almost entirely while in the initial throes of meloinfatuation.

Mikael Stanne’s cleans here are robust–if a bit frosty–and instead looked backward to old trends rather than glomming onto new ones. Yeah, they weren’t “metal” cleans in the trad/power vein, but they sure as shit weren’t the nu-mumble or Affliction-bling style(s) that In Flames and Soilwork would respectively employ a mere three years later.

On Projector, Dark Tranquillity went all Depeche Mode on us. And while that was completely unfashionable in 1999, we’re currently living in an age where darkwave, synthpop, and whatever the hell that new Ulver record was are revered by ‘heads and regular-ass humans alike. So despite failing to find a home upon its release, this thing holds up pretty damn well.

And, after getting this out of their system, the band was ready to get back to kicking the shit out of shit in 2002 with Damage Done, reclaiming the Gothenburg throne while In Flames went off and started dressing like janitors.

Melodeathness: 7

Dark Tranquillity IS melodeath, and despite the experimentation here, they never let that go. This is commendable and ensured a full-on fan revolt, but in a way it also hindered the styleshift, at least academically. The metallic rigidity bolts straight through the new wave-isms, and it never feels like the band truly lets go and embraces the challenge. Projector is an experimentation, but a guarded one, often lacking the emotion and vulnerability that propelled the outsider acts they’re culling influence from.

The savage, death metal contrasts on “Undo Control” and “Nether Novas” go a long way towards making Projector one of band’s most dynamic works, so the riff retention isn’t a misfire, by any stretch. But by fully-embracing the new elements, a full-blown ballad like “Day to End” might’ve taken on new life instead of coming across like a glorified interlude.

Artistic Badness: 4

Wow, I can’t believe we made it through seven entries without coming across Niklas Sundin cover art.

Dude always saved his best stuff for his own band, and the new logo he put together here is crisp and timeless. The cyborg/demon/cherub thing in the middle though?

dt_proj

Yuck. No.

Deathstyle: 3

Since this was their SERIOUS ARTISTIC STATEMENT period, the band decided to go with “classy leather” for this excursion, employing those wide-lapel jackets that kept your local mall’s Wilson’s Leather in business through the Y2K crisis:

dtliveproj

They looked like dorks.

Vitality: 9

Damn straight, Darkane Enthusiast. Time has been kind to Projector.

Trouble is, there’s no timeline where it comfortably exists. It blends two styles that didn’t align then and don’t necessarily align now. Melodic death metal and darkwave have never been cool at the same time.

It’s a niche record in a niche subgenre. But it’s a damn good one.

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