Tribulation – Down Below

Along with Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, In Solitude, Grave Pleasures and, most popularly, the masked men of Ghost, Tribulation are among a spate of purportedly scary bands leading the now-not-so-new wave of semi-scary heavy metal, a.k.a. NWSSHM. All the aforementioned bands are grimly reaping notoriety by retooling the now quarter of a century old black metal template to meld an amalgam of metal that is performatively and musically appealing to wider audiences. In other words, these acts have ditched the “ideologies” of their brain-eating, church-burning, fascist-leaning forbearers (Mayhem, Emperor, Gorgoroth, and, more recently, even Watain, for example), dialed back the speed and cacophony, upped the ante on melody (which was all but erased) and constructed darkly cuddly personas that are more Edward Scissorhands than Necro Butcher.

Of course, “trve kvlt” black metallers, an unfun bunch of nerds who desperately police generic boundaries to “keep black metal extreme,” absolutely hate all these bands. But who cares what those idiots think, anyway? The NWSSHM bunch certainly doesn’t. They’re too busy amassing avid fans, making money and having fun. Yes, fun.

Circa late 2018, Sweden’s Tribulation is leading the second wave of NWSSHM. Their latest album, Down Below, might just prove the X factor that spurs their ascension from the beyond grave to the mainstream – well, as “mainstream” as it gets for a metal band cloaked in Satanist trappings, that is. (These days, Ghost is getting huge. And if the dark shadows continue to align just so, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Tribulation might follow their Faustian path.)

Down Below is indeed dark, but it is not, ahem, black. Down Below’s sonic charnel house is decorated with a selection of catchy riff-rock spires, festooned amply with baroque musical friezes, and overlaid with the chanting of midrange, death grunt vocals learned at the Thomas Gabriel Fischer Institute for Vocal Studies. This formula doesn’t exactly equate as “pop” – but it’s definitely accessible. And it’s getting popular. So I guess it is pop. Sure, songs like “Lady Death” and “Purgatorio” aren’t likely to reap rotation on top 40 radio – but does top 40 radio even exist? (Honestly, I don’t even know anymore.)

Anyway, what we have here with Down Below is entertainment. Tribulation aren’t exactly reinventing the Catherine wheel or treading new ground (or digging new graves, as it were) here, but their deft recombination of various “scary” and “extreme” styles into a more palatable – and saleable, even – form sounds good and is good fun. And fun is what we want, right? (And for all ye Atlanta clubgoers who are unfamiliar with and/or unconcerned about the infinite generic mutations of metal, what I’m saying, basically, is that Tribulation sounds a lot like Atlanta NWSSHM up-and-comers Cloak. Tribulation predates Cloak by at least a decade, but we’re talking more or less the same kind of jams, yo. So, if you dig Cloak, check out Tribulation – and vice versa.)

Sure, Down Below is edgy and abrasive enough to be classified as “true” (but probably not “trve”) metal. But it’s the live setting where this band really shines.

Yeah, all the dudes in Tribulation wear a variation of corpsepaint and tight black clothes. So they’re cool to look at. And yeah, the songs are melodic, memorable, and shredding – but not the “rip-your-face-off,” blastbeat, white light/white heat, black metal kinda way, but more of a Priest/Scorps/Coven kinda way. What takes the band over the top is the terpsichorean artistry of lead guitarist, Jonathen Hulten. Hulten is a whirling dervish of nonstop, surreal, spectral arabesques – all the while never missing a lick, either. Hulten incarnates Tribulation’s music, transmogrifying the supernatural into a whirlwind of corporeal, decaying flesh.

Hulten is the X factor, secret weapon of the band. He’s the focal point, the guy who turns a cool/kvlt metal show into a genre-transcending event that all stripes of people can (and do) enjoy. You’ve got to see it to believe it. And the band’s upcoming show at Masquerade might just be your last chance to experience the agony and ecstasy of Tribulation close and personal, before they “graduate” into the music festival big leagues and become microscopic specks, dancing on the horizon, three blazing hot football fields full of sunburned, sweating, stinking masses away. Death (and perhaps “success”) is certain.

Down Below
[Century Media]