Musical growth is a key factor in the longevity of any band, but in the underground, we’re an unforgiving bunch.
It was inevitable that with the wave of new Swedish bands bowing to the altar of their sonic forefathers in the Death Metal realm, some would eventually do what some of those early bands did – progress out of the dodsmetal comfort zone.
The problem with that first time round was that when bands did that, it had disastrous consequences, with bands adding classic rock, progressive or “alternative” elements in an attempt to “broaden” their sound and audiences with alternately ham fisted and downright awful results.
20 years on we’re slowly (and thankfully) starting to see signs that history repeats itself some of their progeny are getting itchy feet and looking to mine new influences too, though thankfully in a less cringe inducing manner.
First Necrovation’s intriguing fresh start with their self titled sophomore album of last year, and now Tribulation’s second record sees them following suit. Perhaps not that much of a surprise given the leap in ability between their mediocre demo and ep into a more exciting if traditional prospect with their debut “The Horror” a few years back.
Rather than remake the debut though, “The Formulas of Death” has seen a curious turn in their musical road. While vestiges of their death metal roots remain in the vocals, and in the overall tone, this second album is a far more mature and less formulaic work.
For one thing, this record has a far broader canvas that draws more upon psychedelia and even hints of black metal than it does the Morbid Angel worship of yore. Heavily effected guitars and mid paced workouts are present here, in among the blasts and blood freezing vocals of yore.
It is an ambitious step, or series of steps should I say, in the right direction.
I’d wager this new album has been influenced to some degree by their new labelmates and former touring buddies Negative Plane – it has a similarly cinematic feel and approach, though this is perhaps a little more of a Giallo affair to that band’s Hammer Horror.
The fact there’s a ten minute song called “Suspiria” makes the connection even more explicit in fact.
Sure, I’ve banged on about the connections between extreme metal and horror movies in terms of atmosphere before, but it really is the case that “The Formulas Of Death” captures a distinctly pre-video nasties era surreal horror aura, even down to the artwork. It is intentional, and it serves them well.
And musically there’s even a hint of that 70s vibe at work in the instrumentation. The guitars, previously bone dry and razor sharp, are drenched in effects here – phased guitar lines and moments of soundtracks, psychedelia and prog rock underscore the pounding metal that takes up a lot of the record. They slot a lot more instrumental stuff into this record, vocals appearing as necessary and absent entirely on a song or two.
A brooding piano instrumental appears, not as a mere interlude, but as a song that enhances the album as a whole. The guitarists are a little excessive on the phaser pedal at times, but that’s a minor complaint. These new found influences work well, and the marriage to a more deathly framework works excellently on a track like “When The Sky Is Black With Devils” – a song that nails their abilities here clearly, as it balances the violent and the dreamlike perfectly.
There’s a variety here that other bands should envy. To put a track like “Ultra Silvam” on the same record as a rager like “Spell”, never mind have them follow each other, takes balls.
Even to digest the album fully, to allow it to plant its’ black seed in your mind and take root – well, how many death metal bands are willing to make a record that they must themselves know will at first alienate many who liked the previous one? Not many I wager.
To call this album a grower is an understatement. On first listen, I thought it was a mess. Now, I can’t get enough of the thing.
To all intents and purposes we may be witnessing the modern day equivalent of the leap Tiamat made between ” Sumerian Cry” and “The Astral Sleep”. The musical similarity to that latter album is uncanny off in the heavier moments here in fact.
On “The Formulas of Death”, Tribulation retain the visceral impact of many of their peers, but have developed a confidence and fluency of expression that leaves many of them light years behind. This is Death Metal for grown ups.
While not an entire severance of the umbilical cord from the Great Mother Death that birthed them, we’re talking a band almost entirely different at times to who they once were. A remarkable turn from the Swedes here, a band spreading their black wings wide – and casting a formidable shadow in the process.