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Tribulation’s Down Below: Here Be Sweet Licks

I’m going to tell you about Down Below, which is the metal album to beat in 2018.

But quickly, to start: I’d like to apologize to anyone I ever made fun of for liking Tribulation. The truth is that I never really listened to them before this album; I judged a book by its cover, as is often fun to do.

In particular, I’d like to say sorry to Frank Godla (of Metal Injection, Meek is Murder, etc. – check out the great Meek video he just directed).

Sorry about the time I made fun of you for wearing your Tribulation shirt when you hung out with Marty Friedman:

Sorry for making fun of you when you wore your Tribulation shirt on Thanksgiving:

Sorry for making fun of you when you wore your Tribulation shirt when you hung out with Tribulation:

And I’m sorry for posting your Tribulation t-shirt collection that you texted me into this review:

Ok, on to Down Below

It takes a lot to get me excited about guitar music anymore. Not because “everything’s been done,” but because the layers of self-serious post-whatever irony folded into the fabric of every other millenial/vest/Connecticut/shoegaze/Instagram/Ride the Lightning-core band have weighed down the genre at the expense of actual music.

Tribulation have a gimmick too, for sure. I guess it’s sort of your standard miscellaneously-European black metal corpsepaint + devil stuff gimmick, but Tribulation pull it off as if their style was plucked from pieces of Alice Cooper wet dream-material. If Ghost is corny (they are), and if Ghost writes bad music (they do), then, by contrast, Tribulation is not corny (they’re cool and weird), and they write badass music (that I want to listen to).

Tribulation has actual mystique. They write real songs.  If you were to boil Down Below down, I guess you’d call it Appetite for Destruction meets At the Heart of Winter, with acid-sheet dabbings of Bitches Brew and The Number of the Beast. Down to the minutae: Trib’s panned guitar parts are almost tossed off, just like Slash and Izzy used to do. They move between major and minor modes — not for subversive effect as a Deafheaven might do, but in a subtle, viscerally exciting way (e.g., the solo section of “Lady Death”). They write big-ass, poppy Iron Maiden choruses. In an era where guitarists overthink, overplay, and over-gear, Tribulation let the inspiration come to them, then slop it out with low-gain settings.

The playing is naked, in a way. They’re a proper ensemble, whose songs feel as though they’re actual songs around which the members loosely come together, as opposed to djent-like facsimiles so tightly wound that you could’ve had an algorithm spit them out. Having just seen I Tonya, I’m reminded of competitive ice skating: Tribulation songs feel like they’re performed with real stakes involved. There’s drama in the execution – not because a given part is tremendously difficult to play, but because you can hear the slap of an actual person’s hand hitting an instrument. You’re almost waiting for someone to hit a wrong note.

Down Below isn’t perfect. The standouts — “Nightbound,” “Lady Death,” “Lacrimosa” and “Here Be Dragons” – are obvious. But the album is so visceral, so catchy, so engulfed in a rabbit-hole of dark inspiration, that I find it  overwhelming in a way that guitar music made me feel as a teenager. With this and Children of the Night, Tribulation have found a voice, and they’re poised to push it to the next level.

Suddenly we have a collection of bands — God Mother, Oranssi Pazuzu, etc . — who don’t fit the mold of certain media outlets’ bleeding edge of hip genre-mashing. Tribulation and their cohorts are doing exciting, weird, interesting things with what should be tired genres. But above all, they’re writing great songs. In modern metal, that’s rare.

Tribulation‘s Down Below is out January 26th via Century Media. Pre-order it here.

Categories: Reviews
Tags: down belowTribulation
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