It’s been an evolutionary journey for Tribulation. From the purist thrash beginnings of their 2009 debut album The Horror and through the decidedly more progressive workings of 2013’s Formulas Of Death and 2015’s The Children Of The Night, these Swedish death metallers have dared to traverse the waves of possibility within the realms of death, prog and all things brooding. Their fourth album, Down Below, boldly demonstrates how this quest continues with some reinforced substance.
Down Below may be a notable departure from the more speedy and raw workings of Tribulation‘s past. It may even be hard to swallow for die-hard fans. But what it is NOT is boring. Three tracks in, and we get a sense of it. As well as having a glistening black metal gloss, opening track “The Lament” treats us to a nicely constructed ensemble of somber melodies, emotive pianos and dynamic guitar leads. Though as traditionally guttural as ever, even vocalist Johannes Andersson’s voice seems to have matured. As already mentioned, this is by no means the first time the band have played around with progressive elements. Black metal-meets-prog has been a hallmark of Tribulation‘s music for quite some time. But the usual sinister overtone has in this case morphed into something which seems just a little more impassioned.
Tribulation‘s musical reinvention is further cemented in the second track “Nightbound”, where a post-punk drum beat, reminiscent of The Cure‘s “Close To Me”, takes precedence, infused with some guitar effects that are more akin to Rush and David Gilmour. With such an adept mixture layered over a groovy tempo, this song is a great hook for the album, and those pacified will no doubt venture gleefully further along the record, to their benefit.
Anyway back to those classic proggy, guitar tones. They actually reemerge as a recurring product of the album, and come into play again in third track “Lady Death”. So even when a more traditional deathly Tribulation sound takes center stage, we can already feel that something a little more special is happening in the long run. By the time the pounding motions of “Subterranea” follow through, listeners have already derived that this journey is a varied one with some unexpected trinkets along the way. And one is even granted the time to settle within the sinister melodic nuances of “Purgatorio”, a halfway point to the album which pleasantly lulls listeners into adventurous uncertainty.
Then it’s back to business with “Cries Of The Underworld.” And by business, we’re talking the newer, more patient 2.0 emergence of Tribulation. The song is a triumphant, everything-but-the kitchen-sink track that is also borderline… can it be said… upbeat. And this adrenalized segment of Down Below continues into “Lacrimosa,” one of the heaviest tracks of the album that also features some interesting and unabashed synths halfway in.
And even after all this, the move towards single track “The World” is a partially unexpected one. It pretty much summarizes everything that’s good about the new Tribulation endeavour, and is something of a grand achievement in its own right. Oozing more of the 70s/80s gothic punk groove of “Nightbound,” this song is a crowning achievement for the record, as well as the band in general, especially when considering that their origins lie in the abrasive rawness of the 2006 EP Putrid Rebirth. “The World” may be THE Tribulation song as much as Down Below may be THE Tribulation album.
From what’s been given already, there is no finer way to sound off the album than with the epic battle cry anthem of “Here Be Dragons” (cue more Rush guitar parts in case you forgot about those), followed by the punky epitaph of “Come Become To Be.” By the closing of this song, listeners can expect to be well fed. The post punk/ prog rock with death/black metal overcoat of Down Below is a blend which works really well. Those returning prog guitar leads and groovy gothic tempos have enough potency turn the whole concept of this album sideways, but in the best possible way. It all fits, seemingly with little effort into a neat ensemble, which renders Down Below a courageous and well measured delve into new territory.
Notable tracks: “Nightbound”; “The World”; “Here Be Dragons”
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