Review Summary: With Down Below, Tribulation seem to have finally perfected their current sound.
Tribulation is an interesting case of a band that began in a rather solid manner but evolved into something different and eventually more interesting. Much like a few select ‘90s acts – Paradise Lost, The Gathering and Anathema come to my mind – their first couple of albums raised some eyebrows but a shift in sound arguably resulted in something better. Of course, Tribulation’s first couple of albums weren’t as influential or genre-defining (or even genre-bending) as those by the aforementioned outfits, but there is an apparent quality or a feeling in Down Below
that can be compared only to the one I felt as a kid by certain ‘90s bands.
Yes, it is easy to associate these guys with vampires but there is an underlying quality that makes them more like Bram Stoker’s Dracula
or The Raven
. The gothic element feels sincere and deep, not banal. There is an emphasis on the darkness of the night and the feelings it can evoke to a human being rather than superficial romance. However, the aesthetics consist only half of the charm as they are complimented perfectly by – dare I say – pop-ish melodies and a focus on songwriting. Down Below
reeks of gothic atmosphere but cannot be characterized as gothic metal in the sense that Paradise Lost defined the sound. The band’s black and death metal elements combined with their approach towards melodies and their aesthetics might make their music equally enjoyable to fans of Cradle of Filth, Fields of the Nephilim and Ghost.
Album highlight (and overture of a kind) “The Lament” feels like a statement of where Tribulation were heading with their previous release. Melancholic, melodic but very well-structured and with a strong sense of melody, the entire album feels like a more refined version of The Children of the Night
. There is a sense of urgency and clear direction throughout the LP which feels rather cinematic, an element that seems very important to the Swedish outfit. What is more, “Nightbound” and “Subterranea” are two representative samples of how these guys complement their ideas by using their very fitting harsh/whispering vocals as an instrument and combine them with clever guitar fills and leads. Stating that the guitarwork in “Cries from the Underworld” is quite influenced by more traditional metal (Mercyful Fate, for example) wouldn’t be a significant reach and is another reason for the appeal of this record.
Structure-wise, another smart decision by the Scandinavians is that they allow their songs to breathe by creating simple bridges. In fact, most songs are mostly simple affairs as they are based on one idea around which each track revolves. That is not to say that the songwriting is simplistic, but the mainstream, for extreme metal, nature of their songs combined with the consistent approach towards songwriting might be a deal breaker for some listeners.
It remains to be seen whether Down Below
will have significant replay value but everything sounds so meticulously crafted that each listen results in a different highlight. Everything that Tribulation seem to have lost in aggression, they have gained in haunting atmosphere and hooks. Granted, their more mainstream approach might not be for everyone but those who appreciate song-based songwriting are in for one hell of a ride.