Tribulation will be the first to admit the leap to Down Below from The Children of the Night isn’t as drastic as the one from The Formulas of Death. For now, the Swedes have settled on a blueprint that works. On all levels. They’ve taken canon, infused it with gothic rock, imbued it with folkmusik, lined it with an occult Art Nouveau aesthetic to devise a fiendish fingerprint that’s distinctive of everything and nothing at the same time. A sort of Dissection meets the Cult blade, tempered by an intrepid attitude and quenched with superb musicianship. That is to say, no band is like Tribulation. And they prove it on Down Below.
From opener “The Lament” to the funeral parlor mid-point instrumental “Purgatoria” to closer “Here Be Dragons,” Tribulation’s mid-paced, horror-movie-score-inflected death—yes, frontman/bassist Johannes Andersson growls throughout—burns bright and hot. By now, the Stockholmites should’ve succumbed to the nadir of maturity, where compromise metes out innovation or discovery, on Down Below, but the ensorcelled pages of the grand grimoire keep turning. There are new caves to explore (“Nightbound”), old coffins to unearth (“Lady Death”) and golden wings upon which to fly (“The World”). Guitarists Adam Zaars and Jonathan Hultén are completely out of their skulls here, riffing, soloing, running folksy-scary melodic lines like they own the place. In many respects, their playing hints of The Formulas of Death, but it’s been refined, the note choices smarter, the segues more haunting. New drummer Oscar Leander is the show-stealer, though. The former Deathstars pounder shows remarkable craft and discipline throughout, particularly on “The Lament,” “Cries from the Underworld” and “Here Be Dragons,” where he swings (the timpani hits on the down beat subtly crush!) like an understudy of Butch Miles and Rune Carlsson.
There are very few perfect pieces of music in recent memory. The ability to create another Reign in Blood, Wildhoney or Through Silver in Blood just doesn’t happen these days. Well, Down Below is fucking flawless. Hail Tribulation! Hail death!
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