REVIEW: TRIBULATION – “Down Below”
Tribulation are the shadows that watch you from the dark corner of your sleeping room, the light switch that your fingers just can’t find while you wake up bathed in sweat in the middle of the night. Instead of relying on blunt horror and gory lyrics, the four Swedes play with your mind, discover beauty in darkness and grief, but without ever falling into the boring gorges of gothic metal. Started in 2009 as classical death metal act, the band soon experimented with mesmerizing melodies, progressive song structures and graceful, almost androgynous looks that saw them walk completely new paths.
With their fourth album ‘Down Below‘ the quartet from Arvika (now Stockholm) outdoes their previous masterpiece ‘The Children Of The Night’ and delivers its ‘red album’. For musicians thinking in colours and moods, this is more than just a simple recognition feature, as their songwriting process brought them into a mental cathedral or ‘house made of stone, not quite in the city, not quite in the woods’, as Adam Zaars states. And while this may sound obscure and vague at first, it only needs a few seconds of music to understand what he means.
As soon the the first riff kicks in after the melancholic intro of the „The Lament“, the cathedral door slams open, sucking you right into the damp, cold, but somehow soothing darkness of the band’s mental image. As soon as the first riff kicks in after the melancholic intro of the „The Lament“, the cathedral door slams open, sucking you right into the damp, cold, but somehow soothing darkness of the band’s mental image. With a subtle vibe towards gothic metal and melancholic guitar tunes contrasted with aggressive vocals, the band mourns ‘the death of Sophia’, delivering endless possibilities of interpretation with only one verse, may it be in a Greek, gnostic or biblical context.
The album’s majestic highlight is already sitting on the second spot in the track list. While Tribulation’ previous record, ‘The Children Of The Night’ gained some of its best moments from the twisted mixture of death metal with a bizarrely catchy 60s rock sound, the band seemed to have gotten bored with this and simply moved two decades forward: Therefore, „Nightbound“ starts off with a filigree riff that could have easily appeared on some of the best Scorpions’ records, moves forward with Johannes Andersson‘ most soulful growls to date and peaks in guitar counterplays, that seem catchier than the theme of some 80’s TV action series. Sounds cheesy? Nope. It’s rather a truly magical demonstration of Tribulation’s ability to stuff both hypnotic melodies and harsh extreme metal sounds into their little hiking backpack without ever losing their balance and falling off the cliff.
With „Subterranea“ and „Lady Death“, the band unveils rather ‘typical’ tracks that could have easily appeared on the previous record as well, and the latter will see the dim light of day on December 22nd as 7” vinyl EP. Let’s hope we will get another music video from our favourite Swedish vampires, even though guitarist Jonathan Hultén already revealed that we won’t get to see any new music video directed by him within the next months (yes, you may sob in a dark corner now!). But at least you can enjoy his atmospheric artwork with the silhouette of the church grotesque, the city of Stockholm and a blazing red sky on the cover (PS: Spot the lady’s face?).
On the instrumental „Purgatorio“, the band presents a haunting interlude close to „Cauda Pavonis“ but this time performed with the help of Gothenburg’s death pop nymph Anna Von Hausswolff. What seems like a calming entr’acte at first, soon turn into a terrifying lullaby that would definitely play in a horror movie, while the camera slowly pans down to the long sharp fingernails of the shadow under your bed.
Or even deeper, right into purgatory, which actually seems more real and earthly than in most metal albums. Looking at the lyrics, it feels as if hellfires were right among us, and that the band’s „Cries From The Underworld“ refer way more to some daily observation of a conscious mind than to nefarious voices of the devil’s victims. If you listen closely you can find allusions to environmental and social issues in the metaphorical lyrics all over the album, however they never preach and their remarks can usually be seen as lamenting conclusions valid both for inner spiritual growth as well as daily social events.
The fascinating fact about most Tribulation albums is that the guitars play the leading part in their tracks and no matter if it’s in a massive chorus or howling solo, string wizards Adam Zaars and Jonathan Hultén constantly grab the listener back into their boat. Underneath every cathedral stone you discover more beautiful details, acoustic challenges and magical contrasts between joyful and sad, raw and elegant, old and new. But what else would you expect from a band whose live shows seem like a theatrical mix of a black mass, ballet performance and exorcism?
On „Lacrimosa,“ the band once again plays with catholic imagery and allusions to Mater Dolorosa, the suffering and grieving Mother Mary. With church bells and monk chants the song appears as the most ‘gothic’ sounding one next to „The Lament“, portraying death and reunion, ending with a melancholic, nostalgic piano outro played from an old gramophone, reminding of the last sunbeams on a French café before the autumn rain comes. Yep, we’re being a little romantic here, and that feeling stays during the 80s gothic/darkwave inspired „The World“ with a rhythmic Killing Joke vibe and singer Johannes proving that ‘growling softly’ is actually not an oxymoron. Another catchy highlight that definitely sticks out on the walk through the band’s dusty cathedral, before „Here Be Dragons“ takes you on a 7:30-minutes-long odyssey with a massive instrumental finish, sucking the last drops of blood from your carotid artery.
What Tribulation dares to integrate into their sound will seem like a reckless, lunatic mixture of styles to some, but this is exactly where the band’s strength lies. They ignore outdated rules, use well-known imagery only to rip it out of its normal context, discover beauty in strangeness and follow their weird yet sincere intuition, without ever losing their credibility or betraying their death metal roots. Surely, narrow-minded whinger might still wait for the Swedes to return to their early sound, but be assured there are plenty of other bands you may enjoy instead. However there is only one act able to include acoustic interludes, chimes, gothic allures and hard rock finger twists in raw extreme metal. This album includes way too many spectacular moments, details and melodies to capture them all in one text, so go and listen for yourself.
With ‘Down Below’, Tribulation reach yet another creative peak and beg the question where they will end up in ten years – as by now, they have already become the most fascinating young band of the past decade.