Over the past few years death metal has witnessed rabid insurgence. While most have fulfilled the needs of the desperate old school death metal fans by taking elements of the overlords of the death metal genre and rehashed them in an innovative way, some have at this junction of time decided to push the boundaries of this genre. Now humans have this tendency to stick to the tried and tested out way, and have a demurring attitude towards change but some have had the urge to boycott this train of thought and instead possess within them a proclivity towards thinking out of the box. Bands like Necrovation infused elements of rock in death metal without disastrous results, Karanrium infused elements of ritual ambient into its music, Antediluvian and Mitochondrion took chaotic brutality to its extremes and Dead Congregation crushing atmosphere would have made forefathers of the genre proud. Now, the boundaries of the death metal genre have been rather solidly expounded by the laureates of the death metal genre that roamed around in the golden era which lasted from 1983-97, but Tribulation have pushed these very boundaries to parts un-thought of.
Now, Tribulation have been around for almost a decade and this Swedish band released their debut ‘The Horror’ back in 2009 which gained wide acceptance as a brutal slab of a death-thrash assault which showed a severe penchant towards the mould of death metal crafted by the likes of Merciless and Repugnant. Now four years later they have released their sophomore effort entitled ‘The Formulas of Death’. First and foremost, expect absolutely nothing like ‘The Horror, because the music impregnated within this revolves around a different axis completely. On ‘The Formulas Of Death’ the band has matured. Now I used the word matured carefully because even on the previous album the band showed that they were very proficient in the language of horror influenced death metal (well, I personally thought it was a decent album, but the general cry of the mass was that it was some of the best death metal that had ever graced our ears) with their song writing and merciless onslaught of riffs and blastbeats and lyrics gyrating around necrophilia, but to be brutally honest, this kind of Swedish death thrash has been done masterfully well by the likes of Repugnant and Winterwolf, and however good Tribulation were, they weren’t original.
However, on this album they have chosen to take the elephantine burden of death metal on their backs and forge it into something new, something original. It is not highly uncommon for a band to change their style of music as they progress. Many like Darkthrone, Skyclad, Anathema and Pestilence have done it. Closer to their home Tiamat did it, but I believe that the change in sound initiated by this band most closely resembles the metamorphosis in Morbid Angel’s ‘Altars of Madness’ and ‘Blessed are the Sick’. While both Morbid Angel and Tribulation’s debut album were an aggressive sonic strike that were genuinely malevolent and sinister affairs, their follow up LP’s though firmly ingrained within the sphere of death metal focussed a lot on the aspect of creating an atmosphere. Even an inadvertent glance on the artwork and you see that the unsophisticated screaming zombie with the haphazard hair has been replaced by a beautiful foggy landscape which hypostatizes the band music contained here beautifully.
Musically, describing which genre this LP belongs to is a tough one but I’d call it a mix of atmospheric black metal with elements of progressive metal inculcated with touches of early psychedelic rock though firmly adhered within the death metal genre. Lasting 75 minutes this is more than twice the length of the predecessor and the only trait similar between both releases are the throaty screaming vocals of Johannes Andersson and at few occasions the riffing as well. The guitar tone has gone from a bone dry, razor sharp type of feel to a highly layered feel drenched with a ton of guitar effects and pedal work. Apart from that the band has opted for a sound that boasts of numerous but extremely well structured and rich in detail guitar solos which become rather atypical of the album which add to the extensive soundscape repertoire of this album. The production done by ‘Invictus Productions’ requires special mention because their warm production gives the band a much cleaner sound which adds an extra dimension which massively helps Tribulation achieve what they intended to with this release. Though most of the lead guitar work seems comparable to the psychedelic tremolo riffing of bands like ‘A Forest of Stars’ or ‘Hail Spirit Noir’ or the melodic tremolo riffs of ‘Dissection’ there are moments on tracks like ‘Wanderer in the Outer Darkness’, ‘Spell’ and ‘Apparitions’, the riffs of which are an instant throwback to the thrashy vibe of the debut album.
However, the department where the band seems to have taken a quantum leap is that of the intense song writing which has been given thought of the highest order because of which Tribulation has been able to coalesce such a freakish amount of variables into a cohesive and fluid record that never loses direction with its sharp twists and turns and you find something new awaiting you each corner. The abrupt changes in tempo from a brutal chaotic maelstrom to an eerie, calm section and back to the former, which is best exemplified in ‘Spectres’ acts as a testament to how far the band has progressed. Be it the progressively labyrinthine structures of Ved Buens Ende or the classic Deathspell Omega atmosphere (you know, when the band manages to create a cataclysmic and suffocating surrounding only to put that in a pressure chamber and then channel it using all its energy to a particular point) or the alternating between the melodic riff work and the lo-fi, raw soloing reminiscent of early Darkthrone, Tribulation manage to channel them all and make each such section a small piece is a massive puzzle. Everything from the meaningful instrumentals to the violent ragers like ‘Spell’ and the almost post rock influenced tracks like ‘Ultra silvam’ fit in perfectly. On ‘The Horror’ the bands’ up roaring bedlam grabbed the listeners attentions by the throat, but here the onus is on the listener to give his highest concentration to the songs as they progress so they can thoroughly contemplate the aural enlightenment they have been subjected to. Even though it is mostly about noticing the subtle changes and the individual thought patterns and flow of ideas in each track and how each track progresses from section to another and from atmosphere to another, rather than specific attention to any particular aspect, there are moments on tracks like ‘Spectres’, ‘Through the Velvet Black’ and ‘When the Sky Is Black With Devils’ that are highly infectious and catchy. However, the high point for me in the last track, ‘Apparitions’ where towards 8 minute mark the band starts the build up to one of the greatest crescendos ever created which explodes upon the listener and puts the likes of Immortal to shame, and as the crescendo progresses the rhythm guitar enters with its tremolo picked riffs, bass enters with its sepulchral bass lines and the Goblin influenced ethereal horror effects enter. Epic, majestic, beautiful.
The bands central focal point though, throughout the album has always been the evocative atmosphere, as can be seen due to the presence of as many as three instrumental tracks, and if that wasn’t enough, what is to be noticed is that the band do not stick to a particular type of atmosphere only. While the majority of the album brings to mind the experience of meandering in a dense and foggy forest which collides with the artwork of this release there are a plethora of emotions aroused as the LP progresses. While on tracks like the instrumental opener ‘Vagina dentata’ which starts off with a middle eastern sound which evokes an atmosphere of 60’s psychedelic music or the eerie occult like humming in ‘Spectres’ which conjures feelings of agitation, there is a sepulchral and desolate feel on the piano based לילה (Hebrew for Night), and the uplifting phases in tracks like ‘Apparitions’ and ‘When the Sky Is Black With Devils’. While on the previous album the band used horror influenced the straightforward horror influenced sound effects, here the band has shunned those for a more ethereal horror sound effects, like the ones created by Italian progressive rock band ‘Goblin’ for the horror movie ‘Suspiria’ and evidence of that sound in splattered all throughout especially on tracks like ‘Suspiria’, ‘לילה ‘and ‘Apparitions’. Great production vastly enhances the presence of the bass as it plods along with the rhythm guitar and the drums and is reminiscent of early progressive rock bands and thus is an entity on its own. Making the bass audible nearly throughout makes a titanic difference to the atmosphere and the bass riffs / drum fills combination which the band uses in rare instances brings about a sense of dread and impending doom, something extremely valuable for a horror influenced quartet.
And as the last tracks extended outro acts as an intro to the opening track you wonder what message the band wants to convey. Do they wish dwell upon the circle of life or is my noticing this feature just my imagination?I honestly don’t know, but what I do know is that on ‘The Formulas Of Death’, ‘Tribulation’ has done with its ambiguous approach is force the listener to think and to interpret the meanings themselves. What this is, is an evidence of a forward thinking band. This is evocative and this is thinking man’s metal. This album is a hard pill to swallow and takes many listens to understand. On my first listen I thought it was sloppy and too long, but the more you listen to it the more you understand the complexity and beauty and the catchier it gets. This is the kind of release where you notice something new each time you decide to give it a spin. Keep this is mind, this right here is one the best metal albums of the decade, and being highly original, the band may have created a fountain of inspiration for others to sip from.
SCORE - 85/100