Album Review – Down Below by Tribulation (Century Media Records)

Swedish metallers Tribulation are set to release their fourth studio album on the 26th of January 2018. That album will be called Down Below and it will be released via Century Media Records.

Tribulation are Johannes Andersson on the bass and vocals. Adam Zaars and Jonathan Hultén are on the guitars. Last but not least, Jakob Johansson is on the drums. Tribulation received critical acclaim with their 2015 release The Children of the Night so there is quite a bit of expectation heaped on their collective shoulders this time around. That expectation doesn’t seem to have bothered them. We received a first glimpse at their new music recently with the release of the single, The Lament. A song I absolutely loved and you can read our review of that here.

Tribulation are a band known for change, though they work hard to ensure it is an evolution and not just change for the sake of change.

Down Below

Guitarist, Adam Zaars, had the following to say about Down Below – “I wouldn’t say that evolution is as dramatic this time around. There are elements from both The Formulas of Death and The Children of the Night (and The Horror for that matter) on the new album, but with a new flavour. Down Below is heavier and a bit rawer than Children and it wanders in similar territories when it gets more expansive, but it’s surely on different paths.”

He added – “It’s a very peculiar process when making music because you hear quite instantly whether something works if you try something ‘bold.’ And often you feel it even before you try it out and you have to tell everyone else to bear with you until you reach the point (whatever and where ever that is) where your idea has manifested in the way that you first saw or heard it. I think it’s the same for all of us. It’s all very Tribulation at least!”

Down Below has nine tracks on it. There will be a CD with media book version that has a tenth. There will also be an LP Box Set available which has five bonus tracks on it in total. It was recorded at Soundtrade Studios and Studio Cobra in Sweden. This review focuses on the core 9 tracks which come in at around 47 minutes in total length.

Down Below kicks off with the first single, the excellent The Lament. As far as openers go, it is a real statement of intent and should have even the most casual of listener excited for what is to follow. One thing Down Below has in spades is originality. Within each song, and between each song there is a ton of individuality and creativity. The album is as fresh as an occasionally depressing, occasionally uplifting album can be.

Tracks like Lady Death have a dark, blackened feel to them with whispering winds in the intro that lead into a bass heavy, morose riff and steady drum rhythm. The vocals are dark and strong and the song has a real gothic feel to it.  Suddenly a ray of sunshine peeps through a thunderous sky in the form of an uplifting guitar lead. Nightbound is a little quicker and a lot more uplifting with constant bursts of those sunshiny solos.

Down Below

Subterranea has a gentle piano intro that fades out and is replaced by a groove laden riff. The verses are slow and menacing but build as they progress and we get some really dark growls and backing vocals to compliment Johannes Andersson’s already strong vocals. A solid instrumental section with a chugging bass and stop start drums plays out until the song ends with the same piano intro from the start, closing the loop. Cries from the Underworld has a crashing intro that for a second feels like the start to a thrash song. The song structure with this one is supremely interesting. There are cymbals crashing all over the place, a high pitch guitar line occasionally pokes it’s head up and the vocals seem a little off beat, purposely.

One thing Down Below is saturated in is brilliant guitar hooks, lines and solos and Cries from the Underworld has a few of my favourites. The song switches to almost silence nearing the end bar some background noise before the most impassioned solo takes over. Lacrimosa is a much faster and heavier track. It isn’t far off being a straight black metal track albeit one with mid tempo drums. It does switch it up near the end bringing in an interesting guitar scale before delivering us another awesome solo. The minute or two of closing atmospherics at the end is probably a little too much though.

We also get two instrumentals, well sort of. One is called Purgatorio and is an instrumental that is more theatrical and atmosphere building with just gentle melodies and occasional effects. To be honest it is a bit boring as a track of it’s own. It does work well in the whole concept of the album though. The other isn’t really an instrumental either as it has vocals but very few. It is called The World and is the polar opposite to Purgatorio. There is a really strong rhythm, loads of guitars and bass and the occasional growled vocal line. The album closer is also the longest song on the album, called Here Be Dragons. Seeing as these guys pack so much in a 3 or 4 minute track, you can imagine how much will go in this sub 8 minute epic.

Down Below

Big guitars and crashing cymbals start us off before it fades into a gentle piano which in turn then fades back into the guitars and drums. A slow pace comes first before it runs into a heavy, chugging verse with dark vocals. The chorus is catchy and I remember thinking the concept was quite folk metal. You know, dragons and all that.

Like a call to arms, my thought sees the second verse start and the guitars drop out and be replaced by orchestral violins. The guitars come back in shortly after and continue the riff. An explosion of drumming sees the song switch into instrumental mode. A bell like sound play in the background while a guitar chugs away and one by one each instrument joins in before we get a fast solo. Back to the atmospheric instrumental and another short guitar solo before it all fades to just the bell and then gentle melody as the song, and album ends.

What an album it is too. Down Below is fresh and exhilarating. It is often morose and depressive but also dappled with hope and encouragement. I think Tribulation stand alone but if I had to compare them to a band, they are a little like Ghost Bath on Starmourner with vocals. Perhaps with a sprinkling of Dark Tranquillity’s Atoma. Either way there is a whole lot to love on this album. It is well laid out and you get a sense that Tribulation are a band at the very top of their game.

Down Below does require a bit of volume, or headphones, to truly appreciate it’s masterful beauty though. There are so many intricate layers weaved into each song, having it on gently in the background can see you lose bits of it. The only issue I have, and this is a stretch, is that some of the tracks play like a concept album. In particular Purgatorio. It is a nice song, but not the sort of song you will leave on during a shuffling playlist. Sandwiched between Subterranea and Cries from the Underworld, it makes perfect sense, just not so much on it’s own.

Yep, that is my only complaint. Down Below is mesmerising in it’s gothic, melancholic beauty. It is more of an experience then just an album and with 2017 not even over yet, 2018’s album of the year front runner is already announced.

You can, and should, preorder Down Below in any of it’s many different formats from Century Media. Find out more about Tribulation over at Instagram, on their website or on Facebook. Make sure you like and follow them while you are there.

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Down Below by Tribulation (Century Media Records)
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