Although they began as progenitors of fuzzed-out Entombed-style death metal, Sweden’s Tribulation has been on a trajectory towards smarter, more structured music since their second record, 2013’s The Formulas of Death. Their latest album boasts the Dio-worthy title The Children Of The Night, and it’s their first release for metal powerhouse Century Media.
The album begins with “Strange Gateways Beckon,” sporting a delicate church organ intro before gradually building into a more anthemic, structured song. The tempo kicks up a notch for the vaguely death n’ roll (I hate that term) “Melancholia.” This gives way to the showstopper track “In the Dreams of the Dead,” which boasts a thrashy, vaguely Immortal-esque riff and some of the biggest hooks on the album.
Longtime fans looking for signs of Tribulation‘s death metal past will find little of it here. Children‘s sonic qualities are decidedly retro, with low-gain guitars and almost garage-y sounding drums. The overall blend is slightly weird at first, but once the ears adjust, the sound feels comfortably vintage. The interplay between guitarists Adam Zaars and Jonathan Hultén is intricate and melodic, recalling some of metal’s great 6-string duos of yesteryear. Bassist/frontman Johannes Andersson’s harsh growl remains intact, one of the few remaining links to the band’s roots.
If all of this talk of vintage tones and organs and whatnot sounds familiar, then let me say it before you think it: Yes, it’s kind of the same idea as Ghost. Minus the masks and the whole Satan thing, of course. A more apt comparison is In Solitude‘s fantastic (and final) album Sister, and I suspect that the Tribulation guys spent some time studying that record closely. Whatever prompted this latest stylistic shift, the ends more than justify the means.
The surprises continue with six minute instrumental “Själaflykt,” which starts off metal enough but somehow mutates into a grim take on surf rock, complete with twangy guitar and cheesy ’60s organ. “Själaflykt” is one of two instrumentals on the record, the other being the Tim Burton-worthy “Cauda Pavonis.” Another highlight is “The Motherhood of God,” built upon a jangly, gothic guitar riff and hinting at an alternate reality where Sisters of Mercy have death metal vocals.
If I had one complaint about Children of the Night, it would be that it’s way too fucking long. At ten tracks over 57 minutes, it is in clear violation of AMG’s 45 Minute Rule®, and perfectly demonstrates why such a rule exists. This album does not need two instrumentals, and not every song needs to be six and a half minutes long. The cluster of lengthy, slightly weaker tracks towards the end really kills the momentum as well. Children would be absolutely deadly at seven or eight tracks, the remaining material would make for a kick-ass EP.
Children Of The Night is a massive leap forward musically for Tribulation. Yes, they’re taking some influence from In Solitude and possibly Ghost, but at least they were able to use those bands as a launching point for their own evolution. It’s pretty rare that I hear a metal record with this level of songwriting and depth, and the first half of this record is particularly well done. In an era where Swedish-style death metal has reached saturation point, it’s hard to stand apart from the pack, but Tribulation has achieved just that.