‘Hamartia,’ associated with Greek tragedy, and defined as a mistake in judgment or a tragic flaw, is one of the Greek words used in the Bible to describe the sin of humanity. While it makes for an excellent concept to accompany Tribulation’s unique brand of progressive death rock, the band’s only mistake in judgment here is not expanding this exceptional effort into a full-blown LP.
The title track picks up right where 2021’s standout ‘Where the Gloom Becomes Sound’ left off. Melodic phased guitars bleed into double-time “death ‘n roll” before bassist/vocalist Johannes Anderson’s undead rasp takes center stage. With inflections rising from a whisper to a rasp, the uncompromising vocals inhabit the gothic-tinged atmospheric maelstrom with a genuinely haunted effect. Newcomer Jonathan Tholl effortlessly trades melodically anchored, minor-key lead-guitar barbs with founding guitarist Adam Zaars, alleviating any fears that the band is reeling from Jonathan Hultén’s loss.
The macabre swing of “Axis Mundi” mines similar territory as the title track. Its verses, which split the difference between spare ethereality and syncopated eighth-note breakdowns, build into a rousing chorus thick with arpeggiated guitar runs. Continuing the EPs concept, “Axis Mundi” is defined as the mythological stem at the center of the Earth that connects its surface to the underworld and the heavens and around which the universe revolves. Similarly, the overall concept of the record and the lyrical imagery found therein is the axis upon which these songs turn, and verily increases the effectiveness of this collection of tunes tenfold.
The final original tune here, “Hemoclysm” (defined as a violent bloodbath), adds some of the more delicate gothic grandeur that I always suspected Hultén brought to the table, based on his solo work. The brittle clean guitars of its intro slowly claw their way through the dirt eventually unleashing a plodding 6/8 “funereal dirge.” Tribulation have always made the best of subtle embellishments, and while synths and other keyboards were more prominent on their last two records, their appearance here is highly effective. Consider the cinematic descending line that punctuates the pre-chorus or the choral vocal pads of the chorus as proof. ‘Hemoclysm,’ like all these songs, contains a magnificent lead break. Songs-within-songs, Zaar, and Tholl don’t waste a single note on their thoughtful tension-building flights of fancy.
The record ends with a fairly faithful and well-executed cover of Blue Öyster Cult’s “Vengeance (The Pact).” Anderson’s vampiric rasp sounds a bit out of place during the verses, but it builds into Lemmy-like gruffness during the pre-chorus, and into honest-to-Dio singing that doesn’t sound particularly auto-tuned in the chorus. It will be interesting to see if these tools eventually find their way into the band’s arsenal on future recordings. It’s tempting to call this cover unnecessary, but if it brings even a single fan around to BÖC, and their standout record ‘Fire of Unknown Origin,’ I’ll consider it a win for everyone.
Whether it’s meant as a stop-gap measure between full-lengths or an unveiling of new guitarist Joseph Tholl, Tribulation’s ‘Hamartia’ finds the Swedes in fine form. Leaning mostly into the band’s heavier tendencies, the record doesn’t check any new boxes, but continues the excellent post-death-metal trajectory begun with 2015’s ‘Children of the Night.’