So, what’s a band to do after putting out the rare ‘impossible to top’ album? In Tribulation‘s case, they crank out Down Below, their fourth full length since forming nearly 14 years ago. But in the case of this Swedish band, it’s a story of progression, rebirth and tinkering with a sound that began as death metal but since has carefully and methodically evolved into gothic, epic and downright morbid rock with an even darker heart. A lot was expected from this follow up and expectations were not only met but exceeded by leaps and bounds.
For the vast majority of you reading this, a history lesson isn’t needed, or wanted for that matter, but it’s inextricably difficult to imagine, much less discuss, how far this band has come since their progressive, forward thinking death metal debut The Horror. It filled a hole for me when I was looking for something different than the standard blackened fare and, keep in mind, this was way before that term got stale. Then came The Formulas of Death and my initial impressions of what Tribulation were capable of were taking flight. I always knew there was more to it than just a better than average death metal band. The progression was palpable as the guitars wandered gently outside typical death metal lines and there was a slight rock overtone to the whole thing. 2015 brought on The Children of the Night which competently sealed it for me and Tribulation quickly became a household name for far more than just metal heads. It was dark, it was rock and it was metal. But at the same time there was a theatricality to it that made it unique and special. The progression, at that point, seemed to be complete and fully realized. I mean, how much further could they actually take it while still retaining their identity?
The answer? Even further. Down Below finds Tribulation expanding on everything that made The Children of the Night such a huge success while still managing to create a completely new album in the process. Not simply a part deux. The soaring guitar duo of Adam Zaars and Jonathan Hultén has never seen these heights. Take the soothing and immaculate interplay on “Nightbound” for example, while one resorts to solo style playing, the other keeps the rhythm extremely strong, showcasing their ability to add tension and release on a whim. They make it sound easy and effortless which is no small feat. And this is only one example of many found throughout these nine tracks. New drummer Oscar Leander? No worries there at all, just take a listen to his talents on “Subterranea,” weaving in and out of groove and wreckless abandon like he’s been a member since the early days. Johannes Andersson’s vocals remain the key piece of the band’s identity as he still sports a black metal style growl but these days his tone and delivery has a different personality to it than on The Horror and even The Children of the Night, as good as it was there.
There’s a maturity and self awareness on this album that wasn’t apparent on previous efforts even though I thought The Children of the Night was a far departure. Take the 80s horror aesthetic of “Cries From the Underworld” with its synth backbone and the hard driving classic guitar rock of “The World” and you’ve got a band that has found total comfort in its own skin, finally. And the results are right there for us to grab on to and cherish. Closer, and longest track, “Here Be Dragons” is an ode to just how far Tribulation has come with its gothic teeth and hard underbelly that recalls the early days. Yet it still speaks to the heights this band has reached while offering glimpses at what Tribulation has yet to uncover at the same time.
After countless spins through Down Below, it’s crystal clear that Tribulation are out to give us, the fans, more than we bargained for with every new album. And, inevitably, you’re either in the camp of ‘it’s not The Horror‘ or ‘this is my jam’ and honestly I don’t care where you fall in this spectrum because for me, Tribulation has progressed with such grace and a level of maturity that I’m not sure we’ll ever hear this type of successful change in a band’s sound…ever. The best part? They’re not done. They’re still a young band that has much more to give and even more to explore. I know I’ll be anxiously awaiting whatever comes next. The only question is: will you?