Maybe it’s a Swedish thing, but Tribulation struck me as a strange bunch when I saw them live. They were energetic, creative and interesting in a darkly melodic and progressive way. I liked their album “Children of the Night” (2015), which was released around the same time, and especially songs like the blackly catchy and ghoulish “Melancholia”.

The first thing is that this is recognisably Tribulation. I mean that in a good way. “The Lament” opens proceedings, and exudes life with its infectious rhythm. At the same time it’s shadowy, and marked by the “reptilian” vocals, as the publicity aptly describe them. In spite of the dark element, it’s uplifting and not overdone on the heaviness side. “Nightbound” reminded a bit of earlier Omnium Gatherum. It drives forward energetically. There is a colour and variety in the progressive waves of the instrumentals, which I preferred to the song itself which I almost found incidental. Winds whistle, as “Lady Death” gets under way. The faint sound of the organ can be heard before another deathly melody descends upon us. Tribulation seem to have a passion for the spooky, and combine this atmosphere well with the sophisticated patterns pouring out of the instrumental work. No song stands still. At one brief point I thought I was listening to Opeth, but that’s the thing: there’s a kind of epicness here and there, there’s a deathly underscore and there are recognisable song patterns, but the scene constantly changes so it’s never trite. Indeed its complexity is masked. The integrating factor is the atmosphere, which is always sinister and sometimes threatening. “Subterranea” fulfils all the dark criteria, and ends as if from the crypt, before “Purgatorio” descends into the morbid. Edgy as it is, I was hoping for a return to the more upbeat side of Tribulation, as “Down Below” started to sink in line with its title. But as “Cries from the Underworld” suggests, the atmosphere is akin to darker territories. Injections of a church choir and a keyboard passage reinforce the sad mood of the complex “Lacrimosa” but whilst interesting insertions, I didn’t find them as spine-chilling as I guess they were intended to be. This was more than “The World”, which didn’t for me add anything to the story over its lumbering four minutes. It was almost as if in the search for a single atmospheric dimension, Tribulation lost their way. I continued to look for something epic and expansive but didn’t find it. Instead the album closes with the mid-paced, heavy melancholic “Here Be Dragons”. Half way through it does pick up, and there’s a welcome reminder of the shadowy and vibrant element, which the band bring along. I just wish there had been more moments of excitement like this.

After a lively start, Tribulation direct their art towards the depths, as is their prerogative and might be expected of an album called “Down Below”. Technically and atmospherically, there is consistency and skill and plenty of instrumental creativity, but I can’t say that I found this as engaging a listening experience as “Children of the Night”.

(6.5/10 Andrew Doherty)