Album Title: Down Below
Label: Century Media
Date Of Release: 26 January 2018
Before coming to this review, I knew nothing of the band Tribulation. In fact, it was only the odd comment on social media from a couple of trusted sources that led me to investigate further. For once though, this gap in my knowledge seems not to have hampered me, because my research has led me to discover that ‘Down Below’ is a completely different beast to anything that has gone before.
Tribulation was formed in 2005 and originally hails from the small town of Arvika in the south-east of Sweden in the bay of the country’s only inland Fjord. A quartet comprised of guitarists Adam Zaars and Jonathan Hultén, vocalist/bassist Johannes Andersson and drummer Oscar Leander, it is only in the drum department that Tribulation has seen a change in personnel since the year of their formation.
More often, radical shifts in style can occur within the context of less stable line-ups, as new blood inevitably brings with it new ideas and new techniques. But that’s not the case with Tribulation, who apparently went from delivering more of a straight-up death metal sound within their first two albums, to veering off to experiment with more Gothic rock/metal sounds as well as a touch of psychedelia/prog. For those in the know, this was quite a radical departure but with it, ‘The Children of the Night’ drew significant critical acclaim.
And now we have before us the Swedes’ fourth record, ‘Down Below’. Coming at the band with fresh ears, I would describe the output as dark metal with a demonstrable black metal edge perpetuated by the gruff vocal delivery and a strong Gothic vein running through it, which offers a nod to the 80s more than anything else. It manages to sound both uncomfortable and accessible at the same time, blending creepy, malevolent atmospheres with bold rhythms and strong melodies, sometimes twisted and slightly depraved-sounding in their delivery.
Even after spending a decent amount of time with this record, I must report that my favourite tracks remain the first two that I heard off this album. And it just so happens that they are the opening duo on ‘Down Below’.
‘The Lament’ starts with a delicate and atmospheric guitar melody before exploding into the central riff. It gallops along at a great pace, infectious, playful and melodic, almost at odds to the dry, sinister rasp of Johannes Andersson that lays across the top of the track. The chorus dials up the atmosphere and the sinister intent, as the guitar offers a beguiling, descanting lead that has really grown on me. The urgency and steady build-up in the second-half of the song creates a lovely dramatic feeling before reverting back to the catchy up-tempo rhythms, led by new drummer Oscar Leander.
However. the more I listen, the more I’m coming around to the idea that ‘Nightbound’ might be my favourite composition on the record, even eclipsing the excellent opener. The riffs are superb throughout, but it is the rumbling and surprisingly eloquent bass-playing of Andersson that stands out to me. Like its predecessor, it is undeniably catchy but with an ominous and threatening underbelly, something that even the more expansive and gratuitous lead guitar solo fails to derail. As Andersson screams ‘Nightbound’, I can’t help but be reminded of the vocals of the late Jon Nodveidt (Dissection), a huge positive in my book. And indeed, there is something here within ‘Down Below’ that is not overly dissimilar to the better bits within Dissection’s final album, ‘Reinkaos’.
If I’m honest, the remaining seven songs took a little longer to burrow under my skin, but there is still plenty within them to wax lyrical about.
‘Lady Death’ rips along at a lovely pace with yet more lead guitar frivolities, whilst ‘Subterranea’ takes longer to boil up to the surface. The piano and synth intro is superbly theatrical, the stuff of horror-filled nightmares, giving way to a brisk riff, full of dark intent. The pace is then slowed expertly to increase the drama and suspense, which also works well with the pounding heaviness of the instrumentation within the chorus, such as it is.
In contrast, ‘Purgatorio’ cannot be described as anything other than a sick and twisted Gothic lullaby for the depraved, an instrumental that’s strangely hypnotic and macabre. ‘Cries From The Underworld’ on the other hand kicks off with a metronomic electronic note before beating the listener over the head with some excellent in-your-face guitar work. The eerie piano notes that underpin another driving beat are super, as is the constant variation within the song, making it another firm favourite.
If you miss the darkwave connotations within ‘The World’, you’re clearly not listening closely enough, whilst the inclusion of that most Gothic of ingredients, the church bell within ‘Lacrimosa’ is welcome, delivered as it is alongside the sound of religious chanting and lashings of grandiose synths, all of which enhance the sense of theatre beautifully.
The final say goes to the marvellously-monikered ‘Here Be Dragons’, which introduces more than a touch of doom to an album already brim-full of different ideas and interesting nuances, before an extended instrumental outro soothes the frenetic machinations of the band into a suitably dark and eerie conclusion.
With ‘Down Below’, Tribulation have managed to artfully construct an album that is pure metal, pure darkness and pure accessible enjoyment without ever sacrificing any of these elements along the way. The tightrope has been attempted and, smoothly and effortlessly, it has been conquered. Based on the content of ‘Down Below’, I can only predict even bigger things for Tribulation in their, somewhat ironically, bright future.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse