The third album by Swedish metal band Tribulation, The Children of the Night, is out this week, and it’s one of the best albums of 2015. (Get it on Amazon.) They’ve evolved substantially with each release—taking four years between 2009’s The Horror and 2013’s The Formulas of Death probably helped, but they’ve made another creative leap between that album and this one.
When they started out, they were basically a Swedish death metal band, but they weren’t content to retread the ground marked out by Entombed, Grave, Dismember, et al. They incorporated ideas from German thrash (Kreator) and Florida death metal (Morbid Angel), winding up with a churning, bottom-heavy roar that was leavened by a surprising amount of melody.
The Formulas of Death marked a major shift. The songs moved away from death metal toward black metal, while incorporating elements of progressive rock and classic ’80s metal as well. It opened with an instrumental, “Vagina Dentata,” that blended postpunk bass throb with sharp black metal riffing, before launching into the high-speed, head-down barrage of “Wanderer in the Outer Darkness.” Unsurprisingly, the longer songs were the proggiest; “Suspiria de Profundis” ran 10:21, and the album’s closing track, “Apparitions,” a staggering 13:25, and they featured multiple tempo changes, radical shifts in tone, and on “Suspiria,” endless passages of psychedelic guitar that came off like a cross between Opeth and the Allman Brothers Band. In the middle of it all, bassist/vocalist Johannes Andersson‘s voice was a hoarse, croaking roar, as though trying to keep them rooted in the Swedish death metal of their debut. The band was clearly evolving, but as impressive as some of the moments on Formulas were, they didn’t add up to a glorious whole.
The Children of the Night marks yet another transition for Tribulation. This time out, they’re incorporating elements of occult rock and ’70s AOR into their music. The first sound heard on the album is a haunted-church organ, and when the guitars come roaring in, they’re more Opeth-esque than ever. On “Strange Gateways Beckon,” the opening track, a one-note keyboard pulse repeatedly crops up in the middle of the mix, recalling Blue Öyster Cult. Each song has its own feel; some verge on classic rock (“The Motherhood of God”), while others are doomy and ominous (“Själaflykt”), and still others move in an almost Goth/postpunk direction (“Strains of Horror”), all while maintaining an essential metal-ness, mostly due to Andersson’s vocals, which are as dry and agonized as ever. Indeed, there are times when it’s possible to imagine what these songs might sound like with a cleaner vocalist.
Stream two tracks from the album:
Tribulation recently completed a US tour with Behemoth, Cannibal Corpse, and Aeon, on which they were easily the most surprising part of the show. They totally eschewed the head-down, men-working approach common in death metal, instead swiveling around the stage in ultra-tight jeans, pointed boots, and velvet jackets. Guitarists Jonathan Hultén and Adam Zaars writhed back and forth, bone-skinny, hair flying, swinging their instruments toward the ceiling, turning to face drummer Jakob Ljungberg (who’s fantastic, by the way) and jam out, and generally acting like…well, like rock stars. They looked like an undead version of a glam metal band, and opened the show with an extremely welcome burst of attitude and energy, and it seemed like just about everyone present was won over. Now that The Children of the Night is out, they should be back again soom—if they do return, go see them. And buy the record; bands this creative and original deserve support.
Jonathan Hultén answered a few questions via email.
Every time you release an album, you’re on a new label. How did you decide to sign with Century Media?
They proposed the best deal. We had some other options (and the difference between them was not immense), but CM put that little extra effort into it, which also is a good sign when discussing a future collaboration.
We also have a bit of history together as we had started to talk about a possible cooperation before on several occasions several years ago. Yet, back then, we came to the conclusion that it would not make sense for us to sign with a bigger type of label, so we decided that releasing Formulas of Death on Invictus would suit our purposes better for the time being.
Your style has become more melodic and rock ’n’ roll on this record—what inspired this evolution in the songwriting?
It sort of comes naturally, as art is a reflection of the artist. As we are expressing ourselves, we are manifesting what is taking place in our minds and lives in this particular moment in time. Everything is slowly but steadily changing, and in the future you will end up where you are focusing your attention today. With that said, our sound today is as much a product of what we were thinking and feeling yesteryear as what we have on our minds right now.
Your last album had some extremely long songs—10 and even 13 minutes. This time, the longest track is 7 minutes. Was this a deliberate artistic choice going into the album, and if so, what inspired it?
Throughout the process I was personally very open for however it could turn out. I usually don’t like putting up rules and boundaries as a frame for my work, it is better to be honest with your impulses and uninhibitedly bring forth what you have inside of yourself. If a 13-minute song forces itself into the world through you, then that’s that, and it’s fine. The question is whether it appeals to the other individuals in the band, and if not, one has to go back to the material and find a way through to the point where the composition feels exactly right – for one’s own account as well as for the whole group. My guess is that that point was, in terms of time, around 6-7 minutes this time around. Thus, it was both deliberate and unintentional.
Some listeners may say that the use of harsh “extreme” vocals no longer matches the music you’re making. Have you considered a clean vocal approach for certain songs?
I think that it is just the vocals that keep us from going too far in any direction and lose track of where we started. It is a fixed point in our soundscape, and to me it actually makes perfect sense in our music. It sets the mood, and dyes the audible experience in a comfortable blackness. I can’t speak for our future selves of course, but for this album we were not ready for such a big leap as to start singing with a clean voice.
You recently toured the US with Cannibal Corpse, Behemoth and Aeon; you didn’t sound like any of the other bands on the bill, and your stage presence was very different, too. How were you received by audiences, and do you feel like you won people over?
There were a lot of people who were really into it, so much that it was even palpable when standing on stage, and that is simply wonderful. Sometimes a moshpit even occurred on one of our more calm and experimental songs, “Ultra Silvam,” which was a very positive surprise. So generally good I think, at least judging from the performances and from the people you meet afterwards. But then again, those who don’t like it would maybe not come up to us after the show and say it either, so I’m sure there were both kinds of reactions.