The Link-Up Spell: Embracing fatalism with Dark Tranquillity – We Are the Void
This week, we enter into the fantastic school of stoicism to analyze the lyrics behind the album We Are the Void, from Dark Tranquillity.
Swedish melodic titans Dark Tranquillity are easily one of the best examples artistic integrity within the extreme metal realms. The proud outfit started as Septic Broiler in 1989, and 28 years later, the core of the band is still intact, only missing one key member at their last release, Atoma.
From this impressive achievement, we could predict Dark Tranquillity endured so much while developing a pretty long discography with a nice batch of highly acclaimed titles under their melancholic banner. Also, the band helped to define what melodic death metal can signify in both regional and worldwide environments.
The vocalist and main lyricist, Mikael Stanne, is an important side of the reflective nature of the band’s music. From the first songs of their repertoire, the frontman crafted a very unique vibe for their brand, thanks to his passionate growls, expressive baritone voice, and a detailed poetic approach to a diverse array of introspective lyrical themes.
In a broader context, Stanne’s style begins in the scripts of his young self, around the classic era of the band. In The Gallery, for example, we often find flamboyant verses in songs like “Edenspring” or “Punish My Heaven” that are connected in substance with the progressive influences of the frantic compositions.
In that time, cosmic and spiritual references were constantly placed within a more poetic framework, gifting the songs a more classical rhythm, from the lyrical point of view. In fact, most of the old-school melodic death metal releases seem to delve into that path and that grandiloquent style to represent the darkness of life and nature, within the confines of the Swedish seasons and geography.
However, when Dark Tranquillity shifted directions towards a more eclectic mix of their melodic metal sound, around the heavy introduction of keyboards in the Projector era, the lyrics also morphed to match the change of the rules. The extensive verses with metaphysical encounters as a form of narration were reduced to more emotive and cryptic announcements. From then on, Stanne started to work with concepts about life, emotions, philosophy and societal issues, relegating the tales to his younger self and gaining new knowledge with each album.
This particular style was refined by Mikael in We Are the Void, a record that for most fans and casual listeners became a low point of their winning discography. Released in 2009, after the successful Fiction tour era, the band tried to prove they flow at their own pace, without having to repeat older glories. The writing and recording process was smooth, but the reviews were not that warm at the time.
Essentially, We Are the Void is a record dominated by keyboards, which practically dictates the mood of the entire track list. The quasi-industrial style of the work of Martin Brändström shifted the core into gothic territories, aiding the melodic and rhythmic instruments to play within this concise framework. This, of course, did not relegate the guitars to a second plane, since there are solid riffs and good melodies, but both Niklas Sundin’s and Martin Henriksson’s strings lived peacefully with the abrasive, yet rich, layers of synths.
As a consequence, Mikael Stanne completed a loose concept to unify the evolution of the band’s sound, getting some help from Sundin, who wrote lyrics for two songs. I really like this topic, so I invite you to check out with me what they talk about on this album!
Representations of fatalism as the Void that haunts us
I think the first song to look in order to find the magic behind We Are the Void is “The Fatalist”. Fast and aggressive, the music goes for the scorching thrash tempo present in each Dark Tranquillity record, but, like I said before, keyboards take the command in the melodies, while the guitars crunch chords in the back.
This straightforward number encircles the notion of fatalism as a form of apathy towards experiencing life. In the lyrics, Stanne recalls to those “fatalists” that losing the rides of time is, probably, the worst sin of humankind, arching it as a recurrent topic throughout the whole record.
“You squander time
We borrow from eternity
Is it another lame excuse?”
The nameless subject of the song is constantly accused of wasting opportunities because he takes for granted the destiny that is traced for him. This dead end is represented when life is compared to an “endless realm of possibility and dream” that is going to be “laid to waste and ruin”.
Like the song, the lyrics are very direct, but could be lead to a wider road when we find out that “fatalism” is a concept deeply thought in the wonderful school of philosophy.
Traditionally, the definition of fatalism was constructed by the stoics, a group of thinkers from ancient Greece, around the Third Century. The followers of Zenon, the founder of stoicism, thought that living in conformity with the nature of Reason, some kind of divine order, was the only way to achieve a real happiness.
“How can we fight fatigue?
In pre-historic sorrow?
When all is preordained
The cycle never ends”
According to them, one of the truths humanity has to face is the inevitability of destiny: everything that occurs, good or bad, is determinate by the Reason as a way to give order to the Universe. Eventually, since stoics were later labeled as an esoteric group and their contributions to philosophy diminished, modern schools of thought gave the term of destiny a pejorative connotation.
Is destiny what ties our actions to our sure end? Is it correct to throw in your towel when the road is difficult because life does not matter? Mikael Stanne and Dark Tranquillity seem to confront this rigid notion throughout the record. Living side by side with mortality could be that “void” that “haunts us”, directly called in the title track; however current times are fast and vicious, eating our expectations of what we can do with the little time we are gifted in the Earthly realm.
“Have you ever noticed
The spaces in-between
Where life is in recession
And agony begins?”
The subject of the rest of the songs in We Are the Void are either one or many, which are repeatedly judged by the lyricist words for being unable to act for many different reasons, but also to represent an alter ego calling the subject to subdue to the doom of having a pessimist attitude.
In this case, “Dream Oblivion” seems to argue about these thoughts crystallized within the kingdoms of the mind; “Shadow in our Blood” manifests the first fight against mortality; “In My Absence” is about living through the passing of a loved one; “Her Silent Language” depicts the sorrow of not fully appreciating life’s opportunities; “Arkhangelsk” makes use of the metaphor of the cold Russian town to paint how depression burns your mind; and “Iridium” reminds us that the material plane is always conditioned by death.
“Now is the time to leave
We lie awake, we stand afire
At the edge of the world
Above a myriad of light
Below the mantle of the stars
And strangely they fall”
Revealing the brighter side of We Are the Void
Without being aware of it, Stanne understands that the only way to withstand fate is with serenity and action, just like the stoics did and later as determinists argue in modern philosophy, a school that supplanted fatalism.
To sum up, destiny is not that rigid, and human actions are integrated into the eternal stream of causes and consequences. In one of the important texts of stoicism, Tratado del destino, from Ciceron, individuality marks and personalizes each destiny, since every person reacts and tries to judge every action that affects us all. For the stoics, freedom is inherent to humanity since we are on the pinnacle of nature thanks to the gift of rationality, and while we cannot modify the course of actions, we can understand and react to them through reason.
In We Are the Void we can find three songs that could at least partially agree with the stoic views of fatalism: “The Grandest Accusation”, “At the Point of Ignition,” and “Surface the Infinity”.
On “The Grandest Accusation”, Stanne believes that living at its fullest is the true goal of mankind, so when people do not realize their full potential to react their destinies falter away from a better outcome. This also ties to the main concept of the defeated man in front of fate as a cowardly attitude. In the verses, Stanne angrily answers every pathetic claim with a dominant metaphor. I always found these lines very empowering, since he acknowledges the lust for living a great life as a way to redirect the sadness that could imply fate.
Additionally, “At the Point of Ignition” and “Surface the Infinity” compliments this view reminding the listeners to not be ashamed of their lives and being proud of the “void” that lives within us, since it shows our true nature and how we handle our highs and lows. According to this, it does not matter how it ends, because it will always end; rather it is about appreciating every little detail of life and slowing it down to fully understand our motives.
“In the proud momentum,
Thrust the hand from the start
Our fragile fate falls apart”
I really hope you liked the content this week and don’t forget to share it and your thoughts about the album, the band and the lyrical themes in the comment section. See ya!
We Are the Void, by Dark Tranquillity, was released on Century Media Records. Buy it here.
The Link-Up Spell is a weekly Toilet ov Hell column about music, movies, books, retro video games and guaranteed Elfic nonsense. If you want to contact the author to send your material, mail us at toiletovhell [at] gmail.com with the subject “The Link-Up Spell” or message him on social media.