(Wil Cifer turns in this review of the new album by Tribulation, which will be released by Century Media on January 26th.)
The new album from this Swedish band is labelled by my iTunes as “gothic metal”. This is a bit of a misnomer as it sounds nothing like Type O Negative or My Dying Bride. They have been wearing a bit of make-up for some time now, but that affects their complexion more than their sound. The bells and whistles giving them a layer of atmosphere have multiplied. There are more synths on this album, but it makes it more melodic not darker. But I have a high bar for what I call “goth”. If there are not less than six degrees of separation between a band and The Cure’s Pornography album it’s not “goth”.
What seems to have occurred in the time that has passed since they released The Children of the Night is this band has listened to a ton of classic metal from the ‘70s and ‘80s. While a logical progression for their sound, this makes for a much more streamlined version of their already melodic take on death metal.
When kids today think of metal from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s it sounds more like rock ’n’ roll than what metal is considered today. Here, the growled vocals are really the only thing anchoring the new album to metal. One of the factors that plays into this is their new drummer is more of an in-the-pocket rock guy. He doesn’t hit you with a ton of double-bass or blast beats.
But the place where growth is most evident lies in the guitar playing. It is more thoughtful and nuanced to make up for the fact that it might not be as aggressive as their previous releases. It is hard to call them death metal anymore when songs like “Nightbound” find them more metal than, say, Ghost, but a far cry from the more Morbid Angel-like moments of their first album. This doesn’t mean this is not a great album, since what has stepped up is the songwriting. The guitar solos are also very memorable, adding to the songs rather than just wanking over them.
“Lady Death” finds the band straddling the fence between metal and rock. I’ll admit to indulging the trolls over at MetalSucks when I am working on my second cup of coffee. They had an article about why there will never be another band as big as Metallica, and cited harsh vocals as one of the reasons why. This article came to mind, as this is clearly Tribulation’s most accessible work to date. I don’t think it’s selling out like Metallica did with The Black Album, as this is true to their sound even with some of the heft dialed back. Though I would not want to see this band playing arenas with ticket prices tripled and being crammed in with a bunch of trailer trash and frat boys.
I am satisfied with the palm-muted tension of “Subterranea”, which finds the band reaffirming their finely honed sense of dynamics when they bust back into a more headbanging build. The first hint of something dark and creepy enough to be goth is on the instrumental interlude “Purgatorio”, while there is more of a big metal punch to “Cries From the Underworld”.
This album has a much more organic production value in terms of what sounds like vintage amps that they used to capture some of the guitar tones. The vocals are dry and a little too upfront in the mix, but it’s not a deal breaker.
There is a more death ‘n’ roll feel to “Lacrimosa”. The vocals do sound a little more like Watain, in the way there are exclaimed. Midway into this song it takes a darker turn. The synths play a much bigger role not only in this song, but across the album as a whole.
Things get more upbeat and uptempo on “The World”. There are interesting layers of guitar, and the vocals do sit back a little further in mix on this song, which works better for me. The actual power chords that set the tone almost sound like ’80s Judas Priest, but somehow it all works.
They close with the longest song, “Here Be Dragons”, which at seven and a half minutes is still pretty compact when you think about how so much metal has gotten to be sprawling 10-minute epics. It moves with a smooth tight chug and then builds from there to a more sweeping escalation.
My first impression of this album is it falls slightly shy of the high target that The Children of the Night set, but it might just take a few listens for me to get used to where they are now. Overall it’s still an impressive album, one that relies less on power and more on melodic nuances. I grew up on early ’80s metal so this works for me. If you need blast-beats to survive, well Portal has a new one coming out as well.