Dark Tranquillity's Niklas Sundin Explains Why Everyone Should Be More Like Carl Sagan

As one of the original Gothenburg (Sweden) metal bands, Dark Tranquillity offers a style of music that's few and far between. Formed in 1989 by guitarist Niklas Sundin and vocalist/guitarist Mikael Stanne, the five-piece melodic death metal act has released 10 studio albums over the years, each one substantially different then the last.

The band constantly experiments with different musical textures and vocal styles -- one album will focus on heavy growling vocals and abstract riffing, while the next centers around clean soft choruses and atmospheric keyboards. And then there's their most recent and diverse record, 2013's Construct.

The album marks the band's descent into their "darkest period" thus far, and the title refers to the negative "construct" of faith and organized religion as an excuse or safe-guard that people use to defend what they do. It's melody-driven, emotional and heavy, and lyrically focuses on a world-weary viewpoint of mankind's ignorance and bigotry, straying from the band's typical songwriting method to include contributions from basically all the members. The result is liberation from what Stanne describes as a previous struggle with writer's block.

Dark Tranquility is currently touring with a full setlist of some of their strongest work, and is playing at Club Red in Mesa on January 27.

Up on the Sun talked with band founder/guitarist Niklas Sundin about the band's desire for change, the virtue he'd give all humans, and the San Francisco thrash scene.

Have you guys already started writing material for the 11th studio album on tour, or will the writing begin once the touring cycle for Construct is complete?

Well, there are some basic riffs and ideas written for the next album, but we'll start the real work when getting back from all the touring. Being creative on the road is easier said than done; it's very hard to find the focus needed for songwriting when living on a bus and being in constant transit.

The mood was so melancholy on Construct. Is the band still in that same mindset now, or has touring for almost 200 shows cleared your minds?

Apart from the collective band mindset at the time, there are often other variables determining the sound of an album. With Construct, we all felt that the previous couple of releases had been a bit too similar to each other and that we needed to reinvent ourselves. In that sense, the desire for change was the biggest reason why the album ended up sounding way it did.

With Construct being the band's most diverse record since 1999's Projector, what can fans expect from the next album?

I wish that I knew, ha ha! We are as curious as everyone else to see how the album will end up. The material that we have so far is pretty varied, and it's common for songs to change drastically before they're finally recorded, so at this point it's all pretty open.

Is there an idea yet if the vocals will lean towards clean and operatic, or overall heavier?

Not yet. The lyrics/vocals are always the last thing to be added to a song, so before the actual music is ready it's impossible to know whether harsh or clean vocals are the best bet. It usually ends up being a bit of both, though.

Some of the members have said in past interviews that the biased and narrow-mindedness of people is really upsetting; Construct, in fact, meaning a shield for people to do the things they do. While touring, is there a place in the world where you see this the most or the least?

Tricky question. I know that it ties in with the lyrics on Construct, but there's a risk of sounding all too presumptuous and self-righteous if delving too deep into these things in band interviews. These days I prefer to keep any personal opinions on worldly matters private and instead embrace the fact that our music seems to communicate something of value to lots of people with vastly different outlooks on life. Some of the other guys may think differently, but to me our only mission here is music, and it'd dilute the impact of the songs to bring our own (often very different from each other) opinions into the equation.

If you could give all humans one virtue, what would it be?

If aiming high: critical thinking. Carl Sagan's baloney detection kit firmly installed in every brain on the planet. If being more modest, one really wishes for better bathroom etiquette after some weeks on the road. The male population of our species seem to have significant problems with concepts such as flushing and putting their bodily fluids where they belong.

With 10 studio albums, if someone had never heard your music and you had to give them one album that represented the entirety of Dark Tranquility's sound, which album would you hand them?

I think that diversity is the key to our sound, so there's really no single release that could give the full picture. Some records (like Projector and "Character) are focused on atmosphere and texture while some are fast and intense. The best bet would probably be our latest live album since it features tons of songs from every part of our career.

As one of the longest-standing bands from the original Gothenburg metal scene, what is another metal scene out there that you see as strong and contributing good music to society?

Hard to say. A strong scene usually means a lot of shows and a vibrant community of musicians, but in my view this often leads to less individuality in the actual music and a tendency to have a couple of great bands and a lot of not-so-great ones. We do meet people that claim to like all Swedish bands for example, so it certainly differs.

Most of my own favorite bands are of the more solitary kind that never influenced a movement as such. But to give a proper reply, and since we watched Metallica's Cliff 'em all video in the bus yesterday night, I'd say that the San Francisco Bay Area scene produced some amazing bands back in the day. That would be my number one pick.

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Lauren Wise has worked as a rock/heavy metal journalist for 15 years. She contributes to Noisey and LA Weekly, edits books, and drinks whiskey.
Contact: Lauren Wise