Sound — 5
Sweden may have been a hub that brought forth game-changing characteristics to death metal, but there were plenty of other first-wave melodeath bands from the country that didn't achieve the same worldwide success as the brand names (At The Gates, In Flames, Dark Tranquility); case in point, Gates Of Ishtar. Whether it was because their name's minor similarity to At The Gates caused them to be eclipsed, or because their location in Luleå was on the opposite end of Sweden as Gothenburg, Gates Of Ishtar never acquired widespread acclaim for their work, and broke up after their third album, "At Dusk and Forever," in 1998. The members of the band would create a new band, Soulash, a year later, but then rename it to The Duskfall before releasing any music.
For the most part, The Duskfall would continue on where Gates Of Ishtar left off. The melodeath style was still as straightforward as before, and they would see considerably more success this time around by signing with Nuclear Blast to release their third and fourth albums, "Lifetime Supply of Guilt" and "The Dying Wonders of the World," but The Duskfall would meet an untimely end when founding member Mikael Sandorf left the band in 2008, which promptly led to the whole breakup of the band. With some of the members (including Sandorf) joining Helltrain afterwards, it seemed The Duskfall would be toe-tagged for good, but at the start of 2014, Sandorf revived the band to make their fifth album, "Where the Tree Stands Dead."
Right off the bat, the album pounds a strong first impression into the listener's ears with the stampeding fury of "To the Pigs," and amongst the fleeting tremolo, the frenetic drum-work from the band's new drummer Fredrik Andersson is the most exciting upgrade heard in The Duskfall 2.0. His talents are touted again in the proper melodeather "Where the Tree Stands Dead" and "Burn Your Ghosts," but only these are the really tough-going tracks on the album, and the lot of "Where the Tree Stands Dead" travels at a less-aggressive gear compared to their other albums.
One of the primary elements that catalyze this is the new vocalist Magnus Klavborn, formerly of Engel. He puts out a standard melodeath harsh vocal style when need be, but it's his semi-harsh screams and his crispy clean singing that directs much of The Duskfall's new songs towards a more accessible sound - though some may be unenthusiastic towards these cases of dominantly clean vocals in tracks like "We the Freaks" and "Hate For Your God." Unfortunately, the other elements that bring forth this more accessible sound is a lack of energy and/or intrigue: melodic riffs and guitar solos come off like afterthoughts rather than being spotlight elements that captivate (like the in the uneventful melodeather "Farewell," or the metalcore-infused "I Can Kill You" and "Travesty"), and even the decent case of melody in the final track "We Bleed" is hamstringed by a lukewarm rhythm section. Ultimately, the change in the sound's direction will have the listener wistfully looking back at the band's bona-fide aggressive past rather than appreciating this new step.
Lyrics — 7
The Duskfall's lyrical content has always contained some ties to social criticism, but they show the most direct investment in that area of topics in "Where the Tree Stands Dead." And regardless of the less-aggressive gear generally felt throughout the album, The Duskfall sound more pissed off that ever. Klavborn goes from screaming evocatively about feeding the corrupt elites to pigs in "To the Pigs" (which bears a stealthy cannibalistic pun) and threatening to choke the truth out of them in "Farewell," to calling for revolution in "Endgame" and denouncing organized religion in "Hate for Your God" with the simple chant, "religion sucks!"
However, the album isn't only filled with confrontational words of self-imposed justice, and Klavborn also shows some bouts of productive calls for action: "Where the Tree Stands Dead" has Klavborn brashly painting the reality of global warming and the withering of the natural world caused by increasing industrialization; the people's revolution message in "We Bleed" is an all-applicable appeal to unity; and the empowering commentary in "We the Freaks" takes the "don't judge a book by its cover" maxim and applies it to the metalhead subculture, articulating that despite the different look, they understand more about the world than the close-minded people that ridicule them.
Overall Impression — 5
Based on their music prior being exclusively melodeath, it's understandable why The Duskfall's return with "Where the Tree Stands Dead" showed an effort to broaden their metal repertoire, and there's nothing wrong with that; in fact, it's a basic progressive action for a band to refresh and add onto their capabilities. There may be more style nuances in the songs, but the adherence to beaten-path formulas found throughout is what deprives the album of a renewal of intrigue for the band, which essentially negates the purpose of branching out musically. The few tracks that have The Duskfall doing the death metal they've been doing for decades may provide some strong moments, but overall, "Where the Tree Stands Dead" isn't a captivating return.