Tribulation: Down Below (Century Media)
The difference between Sweden's Tribulation and…let’s be frank, most of the bands I write about here, is you can actually recommend to friends and lovers, existing and potential, real or imagined. The quartet began as a death metal band, albeit one that was a little trippier and psychedelic than most, and eventually heeded their true calling as sexy goth vampires, a path more fertile on their fourth album Down Below. Johannes Andersson’s vocals are the only remnant of death metal in their sound, and even they are much too sultry for a headbanger on a diet of Bud Ice, dirt weed and Cannibal Corpse. Who knew croaking could be so erotic? Jonathan Hultén and Adam Zaars spin riffs that sound like your favorite NWOBHM band cutting loose on the dance floor to Sisters of Mercy. Leadoff track and first single “The Lament” really captures this essence, made for the stages of giant European metal festivals and private evenings with ever-flowing streams of wine and lust. From how airy yet full of playful darkness the guitars are, you can totally tell they love to twirl and flaunt capes on stage. The touches of piano are total ‘60s via ‘80s, like if The Mission were more into Peter Gabriel-era Genesis than the Doors. Tribulation play with a world-conquering gusto here, an attitude that takes them beyond their roots. Below is the new goth metal staple we’ve been looking for ever since Peter Steele passed away and brought an end to Type O Negative. HIM also recently called it a day, and there’s a goth heartthrob void to fill — does the Bam Margera endorsement still carry weight? Tribulation are ready to steal your heart and steal your girl at the same time. They likely already have already made off with one of them.
I’m cheating here a bit, as Olympia, Washington death metal quartet Mortiferum’s demo Altar of Decay came out in June as a self-released tape. However, Profound Lore re-released the demo on vinyl this month, and I saw them level Austin over the weekend with fellow PNW death metallers Fetid. Yes, culture blogger who has to recap SNL, I do have a better life than you. Mortiferum’s guitarists, Chase Slaker and Max Bowman (also their vocalist), both spent time in another Olympia death metal band, the Autopsy-worshipping Bone Sickness. It’s evident in Altar’s filthier moments, like the primitive blasting that forms the rickety foundation of “Blood Chasm.” Mortiferum take that devotion into doomier directions, diving into Mental Funeral’s oozing sludge and capturing its claustrophobic angst. The title track features especially sweet slow-headbang riffs, so punishing and yet also gooey. Dave Chappelle really was right when everything is better in slow motion, and that logic applies double to death metal riffs. Don’t be a loser. Listen to death metal, go to a death metal show.
Agrimonia combines two of Sweden’s best musical traditions, none of which have to do with pop then or now: melodic death metal, bred in the band’s hometown of Gothernburg, and crust punk. (Sorry, I never got ABBA. Eat me.) Awaken, their third record, strengthens the bond between those two worlds, creating an unexpectedly great work fueled by weaving somberness and righteous anger. Its loud-soft dynamics borrow greatly from post metal, but Awaken also harkens back to two Swedish metal bands’ earlier days: Katatonia’s gothic melodies before they became moody preens, and Opeth’s progressive metal when it was geared towards the latter half of that combo. Bassist Martin Larsson also plays in At the Gates, the most crucial name in melodeath, lending an even greater grip of tradition. “Astray” is like Martyrdöd playing through Brave Murder Day; it’s got a punk heart that most bands who work with long post-metal sounds don’t have. Like the melodic crust of Tragedy and the aforementioned Martyrdöd, there’s a hopeful feeling in its abandon, the realization that no one’s gonna save us, so we might as fight to make life worth living. While it strays closer to the post-metal template, Awaken is a spiritual cousin to Sannhet’s So Numb (one of my favorite records from last year), another record that gave post sounds a jolt of urgency. “Withering” and “Sparrow,” which close the record, never feel prolonged or slacking despite taking up almost half of its runtime, a testament to how it doesn’t define genre by length, but by feeling.