A growth across five increasingly dramatic albums has seen Tribulation morph from demonic Swedish death metal savages into the great crossover hope of heavy music's underground, a band who in their blending of classic heavy metal, gothic rock, a progressive mindset and a cinematic approach to their aesthetic represent one of the most trailblazing and singular rock bands today just waiting to be heard by more people.
The band's latest, Where the Gloom Becomes Sound, is as accommodating to fresh converts as they've ever been while holding so many treasures and delights for those willing to pore over every detail, a proper album in the old school sense like all of their records have been. On its predecessor Down Below, they won a Swedish Grammi award and supported their peers Ghost in arenas, and justly they should see even more this time. With the announcement of founding guitarist Jonathan Hultén leaving the band just prior to the album's release (replaced by Joseph Tholl), Tribulation are sailing into unknown territory, but fellow songwriter Adam Zaars sees their world only getting more strange.
Tribulation in the early years of your band were defined by really wide leaps in sound between records, whereas now with Down Below and Where the Gloom Becomes Sound it feels more like refining and evolving the sound you really landed on with The Children of the Night. How representative is that of what sounds you are drawn to and really fully immersed in as people at those times?
I suppose we are doing that refining of a sound we have found for ourselves, but the reasons for that outcome and all of those changes throughout the years have really been as a consequence of us always doing what has felt like the right thing to do. Not comfortable as in not difficult, but something that we feel represents ourselves, and I think that the changes in the early years between those first three albums, that was a time when a lot of things were changing for us in our lives as well. In those years we went from being teenagers in school when we did the first album to moving away to the big city and so on, and growing up. Since then the changes for us as people maybe haven’t been so drastic, which would be my explanation.
Was there a particular idea of what Where the Gloom Becomes Sound might achieve, or what it might represent within that context?
I am not sure about Jonathan, because it’s always been me and Jonathan writing the music, he might have had some idea of where he wanted to take the songs, but as it has been since the first album we didn’t talk about a specific thing we were trying to achieve. I do set up some goals sometimes but I am always aware that we’re probably not actually going to reach that goal, because along the way we will find something that looks more interesting and will go down that path instead. Particularly, one of the songs feels like some kind of step to something else to me, and that would be the first song In Remembrance. I am not sure if that lead in to somewhere else will for sure happen, but we added some electronic elements to that song and Leviathans, possibly a few more, and that’s a new thing. We never know until it actually happens, only ideas, and we often just don’t get to those ideas. This is just one specific and easy idea to implement, something we wanted to try, and sometimes those ideas take a lot of time before we get them right. In Funeral Pyre, for instance, there is a guitar that kind of sounds like a theremin, and the idea of using something like that goes back to the second album. We originally imagined using a saw for that though, but I can’t play a saw and I can play guitar, so I used that instead.
One noticeable thing is a real upping of heavy metal in the traditional sense, particularly tracks like Daughter of the Djinn and Funeral Pyre have way more driving 1980s heavy metal riffing, or even arena rock in In Remembrance. Was there a particular emphasis on fusing those old ideas with modern sounds this time around?
You’re absolute right, heavy metal and 80s heavy metal in particular has always been a big influence, but I think it’s absolutely more obvious here. Some of the inspirations are more very early Swedish punk and metal musicians, but another influence is absolutely those huge acts like Ozzy Osbourne. I always listen to AOR stuff as well so I would fully agree that that can be heard in a song like that. Those three are the songs that I wrote for the album as well, and I guess I’m the heavy metal freak in the band. Another thing that could be more pronounced maybe is the Swedish folk music influences, because I think at least that there are more of them and can be found in every song.
Was that at all related to Jonathan releasing his folk-inspired solo album last year?
Possibly but all of us in the band I think have always liked and listened to folk music. It could though have something to do with Jonathan doing his solo stuff and exploring more folkish sounds in general.
With the directness of albums like this, where do you feel the progressive or psychedelic side of Tribulation fits in with what you are on Where the Gloom Becomes Sound?
Some of the songs are a bit more direct and simple maybe, like Hour of the Wolf as well, and there are many other sides that I do at times worry about, thinking that the songs should be in different tempos or in different keys. I will always fool myself into thinking I am writing just in E and all the same tempo but when I go through them that’s absolutely not the case. I think we manage to get both sides into the album anyway, and what I imagine is that we might flip out a little bit more with our new guitar player Joseph in the band now because we share a lot of those influences. Not only the soundtrack prog but other kinds of progressive music using different sounds.
Some of those elements come in forms reminiscent of 1970s and 80s prog rock horror film scores from bands like Goblin, and cinema and gothic ideas are hugely intertwined with Tribulation from a visual point of view. To what extent are you visualising imagery when writing music?
I think it’s more abstract than that, more to do with the overall feeling and impression of the song than particular images. One of the things that we did for this album is that both me and Jonathan had been naming the working titles of the songs after the elements. Funeral Pyre and Daughter of the Djinn both felt fiery to me, and Leviathans which Jonathan wrote was something water-based. We didn’t talk about this, it just happened, and it’s more like that than thinking, y’know, “Now I’m in the forest, now I’m in an old castle with ruins”.
With many bands unable to tour turning to livestreams right now and the best ones being bands who have a flair for the theatrical and can do something with that in that space, and after your Alive & Dead at Södra Teatern live album being something elaborately staged you have done in the recent past, have you discussed any ideas of what the live presentation for this album might encompass?
We haven’t actually discussed it, partially because I am not living in Stockholm anymore and am about four hours away from the other guys, and we’ve really been doing the press cycle for this album for the last month or more. What I have been thinking though recently is that I was skeptical at first when I saw bands announcing these shows, specifically for Tribulation, but that I think I was probably wrong in being that skeptical. I definitely see the possibilities. We could really do whatever we wanna do, if we decided to do this, so I haven’t talked to the other guys about it but I am fairly sure we will. I cannot promise you that but it would be stupid not to do it I think, and why not? It would be a fun thing to do first of all but it would also bring just that sense of goodness for right now, everyone’s consuming different kinds of media at the moment, and that’s what people need. That’s why it feels good to release an album right now as well. If I am guessing I would guess that if and when we all start playing and touring normally again, this streaming will continue, because as boring as I sometimes think it is with streaming music in general, it’s something that everyone does and nostalgia for the old way of buying and listening to albums aside the world is changing.
Does Where the Gloom Becomes Sound have a defining quality in themes or content when it comes to the occultism or mythology that feeds into Tribulation?
Some of the lyrics are more directly related to certain myths or concepts, Inanna would be the most striking example which is centred on the Hindu god Ganesh, and we use Ancient Greek elements more than we’ve ever done before. We’ve been there, but there’s more of it on this album. I know I mentioned not thinking in imagery before but when the album is finished, The Formulas of Death perhaps is a more forested album, and The Children of the Night more nocturnal and city-like, Down Below perhaps somewhere in-between, this one Johannes our singer said he feels it’s more like a 19th century romantic park with ruins and so on. It’s not as clear to me as it’s been before.
You study religious history in your own life. How much of what you immerse yourself in and consume is then reflected in Tribulation?
I have always been interested in it but studying these things at the university is kinda like a demystifying process, which in a way makes it more difficult to write about in a metal band like this. It’s kinda like going behind the scenes on a movie set or something. It’s probably more and more difficult for me actually, not in the sense that it’s not possible to do it, but I’m noticing a need to find new ways of doing it.
Jonathan left the band a while ago, with that announcement coming for the public in between the album announcement and its release. How much of a major event was this for Tribulation?
It could have been even more so, I wasn’t sure that we would be able to continue because he has been such a huge part of the band, and it is going to be something else now in that respect. My first thought was that we were going to quit, but because Joseph who has also been a friend of ours since we were kids agreed on joining the band, we decided to continue. It did not come as a shock which made it easier to adjust I would say, less so than if we had actually quit.
With a different writing team now, what’s Joseph bringing to the band right now?
The reason we wanted Joseph aside from just being a great guy and a great musician is that he knows the band and the music, he knows what we are all about, and ever since we were thirteen have admired his songwriting. That’s true of Jonathan too and Joseph is the guy that Jonathan wanted in the band after him. He’s gonna be involved in the songwriting for sure, and what that will bring I am very curious about myself.
Where the Gloom Becomes Sound from Tribulation is currently available on Metal Blade Records. Get the album - HERE
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