Do Swedes Tribulation live up to massive hype machine powering new ‘The Children of the Night’?

TribulationEvery year, we are greeted with a spate of metal releases that seem universally praised and are pre-ordained as one of the current 12 months’ best. You know the ones: Song premieres at every site you visit, millions of scribes chiming in to sing the band’s praises, the relentless press cycle reiterating said viewpoints. Hey, Meat Mead Metal often plays a part of those giant choruses.

Today, we have one of the year’s most anticipated new metal releases by a band that’s been seen as one of the up-and-coming leaders of the future. I was absolutely floored by Tribulation’s last record “The Formulas of Death,” that was unleashed in 2013. It was when that record arrived and was absorbed that the incredible promise this band holds became clear. Here was a record that took death and black metal into entirely different terrain (as like-minded groups such as Morbus Chron and Execration also did), and it had an imagination and creativity you just don’t get from every band. This record has stuck with me ever since and gets regular rotation in my ears, so quite obviously, the arrival of their new, third album “The Children of the Night” had me overly excited and counting down the days until the new music was in my possession.

Tribulation coverI try to steer clear of album reviews of things I haven’t written about yet, but seeing preview stories isn’t something from which you really can’t shield yourself. The effusive praise for this Swedish band—bassist/vocalist Johannes Andersson, guitarists Adam Zaars and Jonathan Hulten, and drummer Jakob Ljungberg—and this new album is impossible to avoid. There have been more than a few calls for album of the year, and the response to the advance singles people have heard has been overly positive. I’m not purposely trying to go against the grain at all, but the record isn’t resonating with me like it is so many others. I like the music. It’s a very well-played, smartly written document, and it’s catchy as hell. I’m just not feeling it moving my mind and soul like their previous work did, and the direction they take here doesn’t make me excited. They have pulled away from the death and black terrain and are more of a retro-sounding outfit with gruff vocals. There are a lot of bands playing the same type of music as Tribulation now, so for me, they’ve left the stratosphere of special and have come back to Earth. Instead of this being a mind-blowing, year-altering release, it’s just a really good album. Not that that’s a bad thing.

The album does get off to an excellent start with “Strange Gateways Beckon,” packed with infectious guitar melodies you won’t soon shake, a fine vocal performance from Andersson, and a death rock feel that reeks of promise. “Melancholia” also has its strong points, veering down the Mercyful Fate/In Solitude path (to mix old and new examples), with a bit of a punk rock bend as well. The keys glimmer, the guitars drive, and this also is a pretty fine track. “In the Dreams of the Dead” has a blurry, clean open before the power kicks in, vocals are delivered as raspy growls, and a dreamy atmosphere sits behind the track, giving off a pretty cool fog. This also is one of the many examples where the band bites on old Maiden-style riffs, which they do pretty well. “Winds” is calculated and stormy, with proggy keys zapping and noises whirring in the dark. It’s not a bad song, but it also isn’t one of their standout cuts. “Sjalaflykt” is an instrumental number that trickles in ominously and eventually gains steam, with eerie, haunting melodies, and a nighttime psychedelic aura that sends chills.

The second half of the record begins with “The Motherhood of God” that has made it rounds on various sites and blogs, and it’s one of the strongest cuts on this album. The riffs sting, the vocals are catchy and a serious strong point, and it’s them putting their best classic metal foot forward, showing just how strong this band can be. But it’s a slow descent from that point, as the last four songs sound fine and aren’t bad at all, but they don’t elevate the album. “Strains of Horror” again has a vintage touch to it, which sounds good but doesn’t set the band apart. The vocals are whispery and creepy in spots, with nicely textured guitars and some cold piano notes filling in at the end. “Holy Libations” has a neat, jazzy open, with well-time guitar lines slipping in and dramatic melodies bursting. There’s actually a killer hook to this one on the chorus, but it kind of gets buried underneath everything so doesn’t really get to show its swagger. It’s a shame because, if that part was featured more prominently, it really raises this one. “Cauda Pavonis” is a brief, almost whimsically dark interlude that sets the stage for 7:04 closer “Music From the Other,” which takes a slow-driving, evil journey. This one hammers and pounds, with gurgly vocals, slurry lead guitars, and a cosmic feel coloring in the last minutes of the song, ending the record on a pretty positive note.

It probably sounds weird to say I’m disappointed with a record I actually enjoy, but to me, Tribulation doesn’t really pay off their enormous potential on this album. I really wish the band would have continued to explore the outer reaches of death and black metal instead of evening out their sound and treading similar paths other bands before them already have. Their work before “The Children of the Night” really set them apart from the pack, but this record pulls them back toward normality. Obviously I’m in the minority in that viewpoint, but I see this record as a chance the band could have taken to establish their greatness instead of falling short of the mark. I really wanted to walk away absolutely blown away by this album, but instead I hear a record that isn’t a slam dunk to make my Top 40 of 2015.

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