This is not the record that I would want to be Tribulation's swan song. However, if that ends up being the album's legacy, I will not be surprised. The group started out as an above-average brigade of blackened rock and rollers with overt death metal influences on 2009's The Horror. Within the next four years, the band would learn to embrace what would become their signature sense of theatricality, first exhibited in its proper form on The Formulas of Death. The template set on that album has worked as a dynamic playbook for Tribulation ever since, allowing them to not only hone and unlock the nuances of their songwriting, but give it unnatural life through truly villainous and vicious performances.
This refinement repeated itself over multiple albums until finally reaching its zenith on 2018's Down Below, a record that captured the feeling of unspooled dread, depthless resentment, and the venom of pure evil that can congeals like a bloodclot within the human heart. Down Below captured the sadistic nature of relationships that characterized many Edwardian horrors and dramas concerning the ascending bourgeoisie and bitter aristocrats of a century pier, and whose chilled wells of black emotions are still highly reflective of middle-class familial relations to this day. It was a perfect album in the same way that a viper is the perfect killing machine- swift, streamlined, single-minded, and remorseless. Both seemingly designed for a singular purpose, to rob others of their lives in order to sustain their own. You really don't get much more black metal than that.
Where the Gloom Becomes Sound is Tribulation's follow up to their summit surpassing performance on Down Below, and takes the band's sound in a logical, if regrettable, direction. Where the Gloom Becomes Sound is still a seriously cool and spiteful listen, but the mood is off. The hard part is explaining exactly how, and further reassuring you, the reader, why this isn't entirely a bad thing. I've really got my work cut out for me, don't I?
It's clear that much of Tribulation's development and artistic direction prior to the release of Where the Gloom Becomes Sound was the product of their guitarist's vision for the group. Jonathan Hultén's songwriting style is unique, even within the world of black metal. He is particularly adept at taking occult imagery and supernatural phenomena and boiling them down to their base sources- the fears and eversions that lurk within the human psyche- and then repurposes them in a way that resonates with the emotionally turbulent waters of the present day. His writing can seem hokey at times, but it's these campy qualities that allow the listener to relax their guard when encountering his music. It is in this venerable state that the psychic miasma of his words can enter the listener and produce in them the intended response- prompting confrontations with the savagery of will, the destitution of discontent, the wild fury of wrath, and the insatiable hunger that drives some men, as if they were a hare pursued by a pack of hunting dogs. Jonathan left Tribulation prior to the release of Where the Gloom Becomes Sound to pursue a solo career, and it's fairly easy to discern why, once you dig into the album. There just wasn't any place for the band's sound to go after this album.
Two things will become apparent upon listening to the first track, "In Remembrance." The first, is that Jonathan's songwriting is as shrewdly perceptive and evocative as ever. The second, is that the band has tightened up their sound significantly since the last release. Johannes Andersson's vocals seem to have acquired some additional melodic range while retaining their phlegmy, goblin-like rattle. Further, the interplay of Jonathan's guitar work with that of Adam Zaars's and Joseph Tholl's can be positively elegant at times. The band have gone from a particularly good black metal band playing small clubs, to one that is capable of enticing and entrancing stadiums filled with adoring fans. It's clear that they're no longer capable of hiding in the shadows any longer, their brilliance and refinement shine like black sapphire in the sand. Weirdly enough, that's the problem. Their sound has simply become too big to properly convey the eldritch qualities of their music with any kind of believability.
I had mentioned before that it is the campy qualities of Jonathan's songwriting that allowed the band's sound to sneakily land with a memorable emotive impact, and I think the band up to this point was capable of complementing his lyrics with a parallel level of winking witchery. This nuanced interplay is broken to some extent by the sheer size of the band's riffs and the overall swell of the album's enhanced production values. What the band is offering is still fantastic in terms of rock music, but to the extent that it's reaching for a kind of funhouse mirror version of U2's romanticism, is to the same extent that they can no longer slip in the poisonous little strikes that made Down Below such an accomplishment. The theatricality of Tribulation's sound necessarily brought them into the orbit of bands like Ghost and Behemoth, and if they didn't cease on the opportunity to go in that direction, there would have always been an open question as to what the limits of their sound and their ability to play together as a band actually were. Unfortunately, Where the Gloom Becomes Sound demonstrates where those limits are, too precisely.
Once you make an album this big, there really isn't any going back either. Anything else you make will always live in the shadow of your one big gambit. Where the Gloom Becomes Sound is a good album, and it succeeds in its ambitions. But like a wish on a monkey's paw, getting what you want, can sometimes cause you to lose what you already had.
Mick is always writing about something he's heard. Possibly even something you'd like. You can read his stuff over at I Thought I Heard a Sound Blog.
6.6 / 10
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