Yes, Atoma does share a good number of characteristics with their recent effort Construct, but one massively notable difference that separates the two is the lack of an all-encompassing darkness in the atmosphere. It does exist from time to time, but a good majority of this album actually has a lighter tone that can even offer up moments of shoegaze quality wonder or amazement without ever treading into that field. The title track “Atoma” is a superb example of this. There’s a subtle romanticism in the guitars and keyboards that offers up a warm gothic embrace akin to bands like H.I.M. or The 69 Eyes while incorporating a hopefulness Alcest would appreciate. This one also reintroduces clean singing, a success from the last album that Dark Tranquillity seems to be doubling down on here.
While far from a bad decision, it does prove to be a problem with the melancholic “Forward Momentum”, which just comes off like something built on the success of “Uniformity” that misses the point of why that track worked in the first place. There’s no environment, there’s no real emotion behind it, and the attempt to be dark and brooding simply doesn’t work with the mastering utilized, leaving this to just sit there as an unintentional filler track. There’s also “The Pitiless” which gets it right without the clean singing, but features a chorus that is a little more along the aforementioned familiar lines with the main difference being the harsh vocals are used throughout instead of clean singing. But then you have “Our Proof of Life” and the additional singing in the main verses against music that captures a depressing atmosphere on par with Fiction when at its heaviest.
Of course the band hasn’t forgotten how to be hostile either. “Neutrality” easily sums up the group’s early Gothenburg sound, launching some tight Damage Done grade riffs and speed behind a vocal approach that feels far more visceral than it normally is. This is one of the few modern tracks that legitimately doesn’t need the additional keyboards to build the atmosphere, which is a refreshing change of pace since Character skyrocketed up the charts and made Dark Tranquillity a house hold name for metal heads. Even “Encircled” does a good job of adding in some aggression, standing as one of the very few truly dark compositions of the album with a great deal of tension felt from start to finish comparable at times to that on “Her Ghost in the Fog” by Cradle of Filth.
While Atoma is loaded with familiar territory, it’s mostly well-defined familiar territory. It’s also nice to see a change in attitude from the group thanks to the audio itself having more of an upbeat approach that exudes hope and wonder while exploring their past and the present to mold quite the varied effort fans of all evolutionary phases of the band will greatly enjoy. Not every song is a smash hit, but there’s enough that manages to get the new formula down to keep you coming back for more. This isn’t one of those albums you can just have as background music, however, especially if you’re a long-standing fan. In fact that was how I experienced it the first few time and I was incredibly let down, feeling as though it were nothing more than a rehash of Construct. But if you hunker down and pay attention to what the band is doing, it all clicks and you’ll have a greater appreciation for it. So take fifty minutes, sit back, and just soak in the Atoma at least once. You won’t regret.