Tribulation have been on an interesting career path as of late. While their early works could be loosely classified as Swedish death metal a la Entombed, the band gradually began to bring in other influences and become something else entirely. As of 2015’s The Children Of The Night, the band was taking cues from such diverse sources as Mercyful Fate and Sisters Of Mercy, and seemed to have learned a few things from former tourmates In Solitude, with excellent results. I was curious about what Tribulation would do next, and with the impending release of Down Below, it looks like I’m about to find out.
The album kicks off with a near-classical guitar intro leading into “The Lament,” which is a fairly progressive yet streamlined composition. This track makes use of some clever counterpoint between guitarists Adam Zaars and Jonathan Hultén, while also incorporating some tasteful piano and even a brief bass solo. At first listen, it seems like Down Below sports a more polished mix than its somewhat raw-sounding predecessor, but this actually compliments Tribulation‘s current sound nicely. “Nightbound” is another “wow” moment, built upon a cascading, jangly guitar pattern and, later, some intricate harmonized soloing.
The uptempo “Lady Death” bears more than a passing resemblance to the much-missed In Solitude, separated only by bassist/frontman Johannes Andersson’s guttural vocals. (For those wondering: Tribulation has not ventured into the perilous waters of ‘clean vocals’ just yet). These three songs are the strongest start to an album that I’ve heard in a long time. Stylistically, this feels like an evolution of the approach first heard on Children Of The Night, but with more memorable (dare I say catchy?) songwriting. Consider me impressed.
I have no idea if the members of Tribulation read my review of their last album, but they seem to have taken one piece of my advice to heart. In lamenting Children Of The Night‘s overlong running time, I had suggested creating a 45-minute, 8-track album, and then make an EP out of any extra material. Three years later, Down Below contains 8 reasonably long songs and an instrumental, for a total running time of 46 minutes. And there’s even a companion EP, Lady Death, where a few non-album tracks seem to have ended up. I applaud this move, since it was my idea after all, and I think we can all agree that this is yet another result of AMG’s increasing influence.
“Subterranea” and “Cries From The Underworld” utilize piano and even synth effectively, while also being among the most aggressive tracks on the record. “Purgatorio” is the album’s sole instrumental, and engages in some of the same creepy Danny Elfman-isms that the band has dabbled in before. This leads into the pounding “Lacrimosa,” perhaps the heaviest and yet most complex song on the record. Anchored by a pummeling performance by new drummer Oscar Leander, the song goes through several musical movements before arriving at a quiet, piano-led outro. Up next is the anthemic, hook-filled “The World,” which sounds like the Chicago Bulls intro music executed in the grimmest fashion possible. The 7-minute-long closing track “Here Be Dragons” is maybe a little much (I don’t want to hear anyone sing about dragons except Dio), but the musicianship is still at a high level here.
Down Below is “gothic” in the original sense of the term. It’s a world of cobblestone and bronze, lit by gas lamps and populated by people who prefer to go about their business at night. Andersson’s vocals aside, most of the traditional “metal” elements of the band’s sound are gone, replaced by a different kind of darkness. This record is one of those rare instances where a band manages to transcend their influences and their own back catalog, and come out stronger as a result. Tribulation has been headed in this direction for several years, but with Down Below‘s ambitious songwriting and meticulous execution, they’ve finally arrived.