Tribulation have always aimed for something much bigger and greater than metal’s underground. That’s where they forged their gothic heavy metal sound, hammering the classic sound of death metal into unconventional shapes and crossing over into progressive new terrain with 2013’s The Formulas of Death. Yet with 2015’s The Children of the Night, a celebration of both heavy metal’s leather-and-pyromania pageantry and post-punk’s gothic grandeur alike, the Swedish group broadcast their stadium-sized ambitions through the stylization of dark underground subcultures. Their ghoulish makeup and vocalist Johannes Andersson’s guttural growls speak to their subterranean death metal roots, but their bombastic onstage dynamics revealed that the heathens were ready for primetime.
Where the Gloom Becomes Sound, Tribulation’s fifth album and first for Metal Blade, is the third such album of heavy metal theatrics and gothic atmosphere, as much a refinement of the ideas on The Children of the Night and 2018’s Down Below as it is a play toward greater clarity and immediacy. Co-produced by the band and Jamie Elton after a 10-day rehearsal period, and then later mixed by Tom Dagelty (Rammstein, Ghost), Gloom has a level of immaculate sonic richness and execution that makes the idea of Tribulation crashing the mainstream with pitchforks and torches seem not only plausible but likely.
That Tribulation sound so dialed-in on Where the Gloom Becomes Sound isn’t necessarily so surprising. They’re seasoned veterans and road warriors, having logged hundreds of live dates and 17 years playing together—their ghastly glamour and grandiose concepts are their greatest draw, but it’s the well-oiled machine of four dudes playing the hell out of these songs that make them what they are. And they’ve never sounded quite so formidable as they do on the album’s opener, “In Remembrance.” Adam Zaars’ guitar leads are aimed toward more soaring heights, and there’s an even greater tension to Oscar Leander’s driving rhythms. In just under seven minutes, the band presents a climactic overture, delivering the best version of themselves to ever be captured in the studio, one with as much depth as there is dazzle.
Though, let’s be clear: One of the things that make this record so unmistakably Tribulation is its abundance of horns-to-the-air anthems. Though there’s considerably more nuance to a Tribulation record than, say, an AC/DC album, at the heart of each great expression of haunted metal majesty is simply a great rock ‘n’ roll song, a habit in which they indulge confidently and without apology. “Hour of the Wolf” is driven by an ornate riff and Andersson’s ominous soothsaying (“All that you hold dear/Is bound to crumble/And come to dust“), but it harbors certain flourishes that you’d expect to find on a big-budget rock album from the 1970s, from echo effects to the subtle touches of piano as it fades out. If there’s an obvious influence on standout “Daughter of the Djinn,” it’s Judas Priest’s hell-bent-for-leather heavy metal abandon, and Tribulation wear it well, though they tailor it to their own supernatural needs, with minor key riffs and an atmospheric mid-section populated by suggested apparitions. The group don’t mute or backbench their fondness for gothic rock this time out, either, but the added production glow brings out an added punchiness to tracks like “Elementals” and “Leviathans,” pushing them from Pornography to Disintegration in sonic dimension if not necessarily in their approach to songwriting.
For the first half of their career, Tribulation seemed to be in a state of perpetual evolution, reemerging every three or four years in dramatically different form. With Where the Gloom Becomes Sound, they reaffirm their commitment to the aesthetic they’ve cultivated over the past six years, but their evolution continues. Now, it’s one more of sophistication and rarefaction rather than experimentation, and with bigger budget treatments for the darkly romantic atmosphere that permeates even their most escapist heavy metal barnburners. Tribulation aren’t sacrificing anything for the sake of stepping into the spotlight, those elements were always there—it simply takes the right band with just enough of a production upgrade to show that what once dwelled in the darkest corners of the underground belongs on a bigger stage after all.
Label: Metal Blade
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.