Dark Tranquillity: Pioneers of melodic death metal
By Kazuto Otsuka and Haruna Aoki, May 8, 2014
After a three-year hiatus, melodic death metal trailblazers, Dark Tranquillity, returned last year with their tenth album Construct. During the memorable tour that marked the 25th anniversary of the band's formation, we had the opportunity to interview Martin Brändström, keyboardist and recording engineer for Dark Tranquillity, in Japan. Martin was involved with bringing the synthesizer to the band's aesthetic as well as making Cubase their DAW of choice to achieve their distinctive sound as we can appreciate it today.
When did you start using Cubase?
I think I started using Cubase about 20 years ago. The first DAW I used was Steinberg's Pro-24, but as soon as Cubase was released, I switched and started to use Cubase.
When I joined Dark Tranquillity I gradually converted them to Cubase. For the album Haven (2000), we recorded my keyboard parts with Cubase, and then for the album Character (2005), we stopped using the MIDI synthesizer, and instead began recording VSTis for the first time. Then I went ahead and established my own studio called Rogue Music, where we used Cubase to record guitars and vocals. Recently, for the Construct album (2013), we recorded every part in Cubase.
From the many DAWs available, why did your choice fall on Cubase?
I think primarily it's because I started with Cubase. But from the viewpoint of a keyboardist, I think it is also because the MIDI editing in Cubase was superior to other DAWs. Those are the reasons for starting off with Cubase as my goto DAW. It's also very useful that the other members have it at home, so we can send ideas and project files between each other. Admittedly, I haven't worked that much with other DAWs but I sometimes use Pro Tools. My studio is one of three studios, and while I only use Cubase in my studio, the other studios run Pro Tools. This means that when I'm working in one of the other studios, I usually use Pro Tools, and when I come back to my studio, I use Cubase.
What functions do you like the most in Cubase?
There are so many great functions... but I especially like the batch export capability which we have in Cubase and which is missing in Pro Tools. It is very useful that we can export the other tracks individually at the same time. Also, I really like the VST instruments included in Cubase. You won't want to miss them once you start working with them.
The band’s latest release, the single A Memory Construct, was sold as seven-inch vinyl during the North American leg of their tour. The transparent red wax was limited to 500 copies. Meanwhile it is available as digital download.
Recorded during the Construct sessions, the single contains previously unreleased tracks “A Memory Construct” and “Sorrows Architect”.
Could you tell us your settings and techniques for recording guitars?
We record in an isolation booth. We usually have 2 or 3 microphones and we split the input signal in order for us to record the line signals as well. That means, we use 3 or 4 tracks for recording the mic and line signals.
And how do you record vocals?
I use a Neumann U87 microphone. I feed the signal through a classic Universal Audio LA-2A compressor. I add a little compression to make our vocalist comfortable with his voice and to get a better texture, but I try not to use too much because we can choose the rate of compression while mixing. Personally, I like to have a lot of compression, but for the sake of the mixing guys I try to restrain from doing so.
In Japan, many people play guitar, but only a few use DAWs. Martin, in your eyes, what's so fun about music production and publication?
I think the latest DAWs offer the optimal working environment. Sometimes, while I'm in the middle of a recording session, I remember how it used to be with two-inch analog tracks. We had to rewind and if you missed the mark, well... nowadays, every setting's saved. It's definitely become so much easier over the years. It's like comparing an old analog phone with a new smartphone.
The modern DAW offers so many possibilities, and you don't have to be a millionaire to be able to afford a good studio setup. If you have a computer and an audio device, you can pretty much do everything at home. And that again helps to push forward with many smaller projects. Today, you just can't be without a DAW.
Refer to www.darktranquillity.com for more information on the band.