Album: Down Below
Label: Century Media
Release Date: 26 January, 2018
This is a pretty easy review, if you’re at all familiar with the Tribulation catalogue: If you liked Children of the Night, then you will love Down Below. If you did not, you might want to skip this one. But if you do skip it, you’re only hurting yourself.
Tribulation has had an interesting career. They started as a Death Metal band with lots of Thrash elements mixed with some intricate melodies. I really like their first release, The Horror, and absolutely loved their second album, The Formulas of Death. And then they came around with Children of the Night and threw a curveball. And man, was it exciting. They dropped some of the heaviness for more of the melody, but they certainly didn’t drop the Metal one bit. They just sort of shifted gears, a little bit in the way that Amorphis did way back when, although not nearly as drastically. There was a new sheen, a new polish, but all the darkness was still there, just as dank and dirty as before.
Now they’ve released Down Below, an excellent follow-up to Children of the Night, an extension of those esthetics on display there. They’ve ramped up the melody a bit and added some interesting keyboard parts and some may complain that the heaviness isn’t there but they would be wrong. No, it’s not as dense and pulverizing as Formulas was, but it’s there, just spread out, breathing freer, and yes, dark as dark can get.
Opening track “The Lament” is a great example. Just like the last record, this one comes softly out of the gate, some nice, melancholic guitar, and then it’s off to the races. The vocals are just as harsh and grating as ever, and yet still full of emotion and that dark poetry that graces all of their lyrics. This one rocks, no doubt about it, but it doesn’t overwhelm you. It takes it’s time, stepping back here and there, creating something called “dynamics” that add to the overall texture and listenability. This is a song built for play over years, decades even, not just a furious, momentary blast that will fade into obscurity. That can be said about this album as a whole, in fact: it’s built in a classic way, to withstand time, to endure. Also, I love the little breakdown about three minutes in, when the song drops and then builds again, with some intense guitar playing. These guys know what they’re doing.
Some other highlights:
Second track “Nightbound” continues with that heavy, melodic, gothic feel, and glides right along, feeling very much an extension of the Children of the Night record. And then it builds to this nice guitar crescendo, and man, is this a guitar track or what? The playing is tasty, clean, emotional, full of vibrancy, backed by some gritty riffs as the song rushes headlong, stopping only now and again to give you a tiny second to catch your breath. When it finally does slow enough for you to say, “Okay,” around the three minute mark, it’s really just a deception. Sweet guitar solos follow, along with more of that dirty riffing, the guys putting on a clinic here in feel and heaviness, weaving both in and out of the song like the excellent composers they are. I’m not going to even get into how good the vocals are. I would love to hear this one live.
I could have picked several other songs instead of “Purgatorio” to highlight but there’s a specific reason I’m doing this one. Here we find Tribulation at its most delicate and haunted. Sure, it’s melodic, no guitar heaviness at all, but the atmosphere of gloom and dark agony on display here is outstanding. This is a band showing it can do different things with their sound and still remain true to their founding spirit.
“Lacrimosa” is a rocker from the get-go, ripping its way out of the gate. Plenty of riffs here, plenty to remind you of Formulations, minus the sheer density of that record. As always, Tribulation allows the song to somehow breathe, even though it is chock-full of guitar runs and riffs. What follows is some great guitar soloing and then, about four minutes in, the appearance of that sick keyboard melody. They sprinkle this entire record with these kinds of moments, adding John Carpenter-esque keys to augment the tone and atmosphere (listen to the beginning of “Cries from the Underworld,” which sounds like a riff on something from the Halloween soundtrack). Just another excellent addition to an already amazing sound.
Tribulation has released an incredible new album that grows on you the more you play it. Nuances in the nooks and crannies reward repeated listens. They’ve crafted an album that will stand the test of time, and will surely be at or near the top of any Best Of list for 2018.
1. The Lament
3. Lady Death
6. Cries From The Underworld
8. The World
9. Here Be Dragons
Total Playing Time: 46:37