2015 was a big year for Tribulation, and The Children of the Night (Century Media) quickly garnered them a lot of media attention for delicately weaving together Classic Rock, Prog and psychedelia, to create a haunting, depraved tale that was as much in common with Hawkwind as it did Mercyful Fate. They elevated their musical ambitions from 2013’s The Formulas of Death (Invictus), with its suffocating combination of Death and Black metal, and produced a record that not only exposed them to a much broader audience but set expectations at an all-time high. Three years later Tribulation has brought us Down Below (Century Media), continuing their evolution from morbid death-rattlers to fully fledged Occult Rock-stars.
The evolution of Tribulation has taken a lighter turn. This is immediately apparent from just glancing at the artwork for Down Below, with the crude darkness of previous album covers replaced by more vibrant, striking gothic imagery, but this is just seems to be a natural next step in the band’s progression. The Children of the Night also opted for a more elegant film noir feel, in both its visuals and sound, and Down Below is just one step further. It’s a less intense record than its predecessors with a cleaner production than their first two records, but is much more immediate on first listen as a result, even with the harsh riffs of their Death Metal days becoming increasingly absent. The first half of the record makes use of this by incorporating delicate piano, mellotron, and melodic leads that would make Ghost jealous.
After the unnerving and cinematic musical interlude ‘Purgatorio’ draws us in for an epic tail-end to the record, Down Below becomes harder to digest in both positive and negative ways. ‘Cries From The Underworld’ and ‘Lacrimosa’ blend seamlessly into one, but to their detriment, as neither track conjures up its own identity. The two certainly don’t lack atmosphere, but it’s all one-note and rather toothless. The Killing Joke-esque ‘The World’ is a welcome curveball that offsets any previous monotony, before the record’s apex ‘Here Be Dragons’ gives us a truly grand conclusion full of pomp and bombast that is just dying to be taken to the live setting; this is about as operatic as Tribulation can get.
For all of the grit that Down Below lacks, it more than makes up for in style and sophistication. We sit now in a position where one of the underground’s most popular acts stands a chance of reaching as wide an audience as possible, with a strong focus on visual aesthetics and a more accessible sound to potentially draw fans into darker, more extreme music in the most grandiose and captivating way possible.