Honestly, Tribulation’s Down Below is hardly anymore a death metal album from Sweden. It is much more. Admittedly, I’ve never been a huge fan of the genre, since the coming of Dark Tranquillity and In Flames I’ve barely listened to 10 albums that could be defined death metal. My heart and ear lies more in the western sounds of the Scandinavian peninsula, with the norwegian black metal.
Therefore, Tribulation were born and played their first 3 albums completely outside my radar. Children of the Night saw the first turn of the road, with gothic, progressive, theatrical sounds intertwined into the normal death metal. Once it was all Gothenburg sound but those times have passed. Even more with Down Below, that sounds like a mature episode of a successful band, not just the fourth album of one that has barely a decade of playing behind.
Tribulation attempt of making a death metal album with black tendencies (corpse painting and totally black dresses included), mixed with horror themes but with the musical prowess of a progressive metal band hits all the right spots with Down Below: still harshly sounding, the voice of Andersson is melodic enough to be not too daunting to less learned listeners’ ears, while the use of keyboards and changes of tempo makes for a relatively, for the genre, easy listen. Without touching the general atmosphere a bit, never you feel like you aren’t listening to an extreme metal album throughout all the 10 songs making Down Below: it is all very well dark and horrorific. I find it hard to name a single song among them as they are all written in a way that each one has an uniqueness in them that makes an arduous mission to highlight any.
Perhaps what I like the most in Tribulation’s latest effort is that it is a bit of an hypothetical marriage between Enslaved and Dark Tranquillity. Less powerful than the former, as melodic as the latter, enough unique to not sound a copy of either. Briefly the guitar playing resembles Chuck Schuldiner’s, in tone and rhythm more than in technique. Somehow, despite the number of bands the album evoques, no part of Down Below sounds copied or trite. Somehow Tribulation managed to write an album that pays a lot of homage to the giants of the recent past while keeping its own soul, its own faithfulness to the idea that the band has of its future. Which may well be become one of those giants, or even going mainstream (there’s nothing that would prevent them to play alongside Marylin Manson or Ozzy Osbourne right now, for instance).
The bigger risk is indeed this: that the band would choose to become softer and softer after each album in search of mainstream recognition and wealth. They would deserve it, yet they would not reach it without losing their soul, which shines so much in Down Below. A no-filler album that doesn’t deserve to be the last before the commercial success but one amid a long series of masterfully crafted albums.