Release Date: January 26, 2018
Runtime: 50 Minutes
Label: Century Media Records
Producer: Martin Ehrencrona
Personnel: Johannes Andersson (vocals, bass), Adam Zaars (guitars), Jonathan Hultén (guitars), Oscar Leander (drums), Anna von Hausswolf (vocals on “Lady Death”)
Down Below was an album that I remember seeing on a list of metal albums to be released this year, and I made a mental note to check it out. I’m glad I did. When I first heard the album’s opening track, “The Lament,” I had to hear more and find out who Tribulation was. My first impression of Down Below was that the album had awesome production. This didn’t sound like the shoddy production quality present on Megadeth’s Killing Is My Business… And Business is Good, where Dave Mustaine, with an eight thousand dollar budget, spent half of the money on booze and half on the actual production of the album. Great attention was given to the Down Below’s production by Martin Ehrencrona, and I think elevates the band above their peers. During my research of Tribulation, I discovered a few interesting facts about the band.
Tribulation was formed in 2004, and the band’s members are from Sweden. Hearing some of the eerie, psychedelic guitar tuning on “Nightbound” and “Lady Death”, I was reminded of Ghost’s sound from their debut effort, Opus Eponymous. Considering that Ghost also hails from Sweden, I wasn’t overly surprised to hear of Tribulation’s originating country. The bands’ similarities don’t stop at the guitar tuning. Both bands also utilize keyboards and the organ in their music, which I have found to be a boon while listening to Ghost. Much like Ghost, Tribulation employs a psychedelic, progressive metal flair to their music, but vocalist Andersson sounds nothing like Papa Emeritus. Rather than using clean vocals to accompany the melodic sound on Down Below, Andersson growls the lyrics, much like you’d hear from a death metal band. Although I prefer metal with traditional, metal vocalists like a James Hetfield or Joey Belladonna, Andersson’s vocals eventually grew on me. Andersson’s gritty voice, coupled with the band’s melodies, give Tribulation a sound that sets them apart from others in their genre. Although Down Below contains numerous, symphonic melodies, Tribulation didn’t always play accessible, progressive metal.
In the early stages of their career, Tribulation experimented with more extreme subgenres of metal – playing around with death and horror-themed lyrics. Keeping the same style of lyrics, Tribulation seems to have settled in with more Goth, psychedelic metal oeuvre on their two most recent albums, The Children of the Night and Down Below. But for fans of death metal, Tribulation stays true to their death metal roots with the likes of “Lady Death”, “Cries from the Underworld”, and “Lacrimosa.” If it’s superb guitar play that you seek, Zaars and Húlten are at the ready on “Nightbound”, “Lady Death”, “Lacrimosa”, and are both afforded a lot of freedom to play around on “The World.”
Image via Blabbermouth
Not only does Tribulation seem to be free to experiment on Down Below, they pull off what I consider to be a musical masterpiece – something not easily accomplished in the metal genre. It seems as though Tribulation has been toying around with different styles of music and has found their calling with this Swedish, melodic, psychedelic, melting pot of musical excellence. There were times while listening to Down Below that I felt the album could have been a soundtrack for a horror movie or a zombie video game. One of the creepiest and most stressful games that I’ve played, The Evil Within, would have been an excellent host for this album.
While I think Tribulation has found their niche within metal, it is still a niche, and will most likely turn away the average fan of rock or even of metal. Musically, Tribulation has become more accessible to fans in metal, including more subgenres than just death or doom, but it’s the vocals of Anderrson that will deter the average music fan. As I stated earlier, he has a gritty, growling voice that at first blush didn’t seem to jive with the softer tones on Down Below. However, I found that with each iteration of delving into the album, Anderrson’s growls seemed to fit better and better. What this means, at least in my humble opinion, is that Tribulation won’t enjoy mainstream success with their current style, but if they’re comfortable with that, then I say go for it. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.