The term “progressive” has always been inextricably linked to Swedish death metal band Tribulation. Some might even say they’re downright experimental, in a way that feels almost purposefully meant to screw with their listeners. The band’s expansive 2013 release, The Formulas of Death, laid out a vision that stretched the definition of two usually confining genres—black metal and death metal, but with their new album, The Children of the Night, Tribulation has shattered the chains of genre labeling and forged a path that is entirely their own. And they’ve done so by subtracting from their once thick, technical sound rather than adding.
Where their prior work contained longer-format songs, some exceeding even the thirteen-minute mark, on The Children of the Night, Tribulation keeps things in the four- to seven-minute window—almost pop length by black or death metal standards. And it’s effective—super effective actually. Throw out the fact that this band is, at its core, both musically and thematically a death metal band. Throw out the fact that Tribulation has been known for their live performances more than their albums. Throw it all out. Because it’s rubbish at this point. This album is their masterpiece.
Let’s start by talking about the guitar sounds of Adam Zaars and Jonathan Hultén. Tribulation have traded in their thicker, more depressive guitar sound for a UK-inspired, ’50s psychedelic rock-esque crunchiness. The guitars absolutely sing with sustain and reverb—not unlike the sound Brian May created with his overdriven, self-modified Vox amplifiers.. Whether it’s their full strumming rhythm or their acid laced lead, their sound is both shocking and entrancing—like nothing you’ve ever heard in their genre. Matching this more classic, organic sound is the drumming. Jakob Ljungberg has pared down his kit and brightened his cymbal collection. The result is an all together bright and cohesive sound that is surprisingly clean and organized—a perfect template for Johannes Andersson to lay his vocals upon.
Tracks like “Melancholia,” “In the Dreams of the Dead” and “Mother of God” probably best feature the band’s approach on The Children of the Night. The guitars bang out a very rock and roll foundation throughout each of these tracks. The songs may not have the expected chaotic and frenzied pace of raw black metal, but they do not lack for emotion. There is a palpable anxiety in the chordal simplicity. We’d be kidding ourselves to think that we, or even the metal musicians we idolize, listen solely to raucous, indecipherable black and death metal. Many bands hide from that fact and use their credibility as a shield for subpar songwriting. Well, not Tribulation. These guys just play straight ahead solid metal with perfectly intertwined influences from both the darker and the lighter side of things.
Other tracks, like the Ventures inspired, surf-rocking “Själaflykt” and the eerily creeping “Strains of Horror,” offer a glimpse into the band’s range. As if turning classic rock and roll into fantastic blackened death metal without batting an eyelash wasn’t enough, the band shows that the members are steeped in music history and have the talent to reproduce sounds from almost any decade. “Strains of Horror” is not only a very spooky track, but also features a screaming guitar solo that would make Mick Taylor blush. “Holy Libations” is similarly loose and familiar to the acid rock of the 1970s. Once again, glorious lead lines show a serious touch for melody and mood, rather than ego, in their playing.
The final track, “Music From the Other” is most closely linked to their prior work—sort of an update of a track that could have easily been featured on The Formulas of Death. But it’s the lead-in track, “Cauda Pavonis” that’s the real gem. Although only just under three minutes in length, it reveals a serious knowledge and talent for not only playing but also arranging. In its brief span “Cauda Pavonis” alters the mood of the album like a Danny Elfman song opening a Tim Burton film.
This is, for me, the album that all other releases of 2015 will be judged against. Thus, it’s my early pick for Album of the Year. It absolutely knocked my socks off. It’s not only the experimentation and the promise of where black metal and death metal can go, it’s the actual album itself. The Children of the Night doesn’t merely offer a critique on the state of music today; it actually offers, and presents, a solution to that stagnant state. My only critique of the album lies with “Holy Libations,” which could and should be maybe 25 seconds shorter. Yes, my critique is over twenty-five seconds of the nearly hour long recording; that’s how good this thing is.
I have heard some condescension toward Johannes Andersson’s vocals, or arguments that they don’t match the music. Others have said that the vocals are too one-dimensional for similar reasons. In my opinion, and this is only my opinion, the vocals are what keep the music genuinely linked to the kvltish form of black/death metal that they have become known for. You can’t expand a genre by leaving it entirely. Thus, Tribulation remain squarely in the blended genres of metal’s underground and they make room for themselves by banging down the walls of conformity and trampling the guardians at the gate. This album is unique, original and absolutely wonderful.