Down Below

Written by: AP on 19/03/2018 19:23:36

Most people were surprised by the radical turn which Tribulation took on their lauded 2015 album, “The Children of the Night”. Gone were the classic death metal stylings with a blackened veneer for which the Swedish outfit became known on their first two records, 2009’s magnificent “The Horror” and 2013’s “The Formulas of Death”; these were replaced by gothic influences, pop sensibilities and a progressive mindset, and with that, the band was lifted from the underground’s embrace and catapulted into the ‘mainstream’ of extreme metal. What this fourth and latest outing, “Down Below”, would bring was thus a point of much speculation — would the quartet reinvent itself yet again, revert to its origins, or stick with the winning formula that was introduced three years ago?

The short answer is that the album largely subscribes to the same formula as its predecessor, but not to an extent that it comes across as treading water. Atmosphere plays a greater role now, while the immediacy of the music has been toned down, with the outcome that none of the tracks featured on “Down Below” make a lasting impression quite as quickly as the likes of “Melancholia” and “The Motherhood of God” did in 2015. Tribulation nonetheless maintains a high standard throughout and with some patience, the layers begin to unfold, revealing a rich and at times psychedelic soundscape capable of holding an audience captive for the 46 minutes that “Down Below” lasts. While the songs are perhaps not memorable in the traditional sense, the lengthy guitar soliloquies that extend across the likes of “The Lament” and “Lady Death” are deceptively catchy, providing the more instant forms of gratification while the wealth of detail laced into the album slowly unfurls. But once the listener starts to notice quirks such as the glorious, ‘80s heavy metal-style guitar solo in “Nightbound”, and the outro of the closing track, “Here Be Dragons”, with its interplay between xylophone and a muted guitar melody, almost Cradle of Filth-esque in its dark, neoclassical tone.

Do not be alarmed though — Tribulation has not transformed into some symphonic black metal act. Despite keys playing an important role in giving rise to a graveyard atmosphere and evoking images of thick velvet drapes and candelabras across the album, main axeman Jonathan Hultén still prefers to play guitar over synth, piano and xylophone, only deploying those instruments when they can add even more elegance to a given composition. The ferocity of songs like “Subterranea” and “Cries from the Underworld” thus remains intact, reminding us that while Tribulation has certainly taken steps to appeal to a much wider audience since debuting with the blackened death metal of “The Horror” in 2009, the band’s music retains its serrated edge. This is further underlined by the fact that bassist/vocalist Johannes Andersson refuses to abandon his decrepit growling style even once in favour of clean singing — even if the music might, in places, gain additional edginess from it. On “Down Below”, Tribulation thus remains very much an extreme metal act, which should contain the negative impulses of the more traditionalist elements of their fanbase.

To return to the question posed at the end of the opening paragraph of this article, Tribulation thus continues to hone the unique style that won the band such widespread adoration on “The Children of the Night” on this latest offering. But because of how scintillating and above all different that record was, it was almost inevitable that “Down Below” would have difficulty garnering the same kind of praise without executing another radical shift. It is more of a ‘grower’ than its predecessor but nonetheless maintains the eclecticism and ambition to make Tribulation stand out as one of the most original metal bands in the world right now.


Download: The Lament, Nightbound, Lady Death, Lacrimosa
For the fans of: Cloak, In Solitude, Slægt
Listen: Facebook

Release date 26.01.2018
Century Media

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