By Ian Lemke
CALGARY — “I think the term ‘death metal’ just doesn’t do it any longer actually.”
Guitarist Adam Zaars of Arvika, Sweden-based group Tribulation is referring to the transcendental ensemble’s increasingly undefinable sound. Beginning with 2009’s debut The Horror that brandished an airtight Repugnant-style viciousness, Tribulation shirked the modern Swedish DM stereotype with 2013’s layered leviathan The Formulas of Death. This year’s not-yet-titled follow-up promises a further departure from expectations, though Zaars hardly betrays how.
“It’s more streamlined and goes straight to the point, more ‘Heavy Metal’ I guess. At the same time it might even be more ‘out there’ than our previous albums at times actually.”
Zaars adds that while Formulas… carried a vaguely “foresty” tone with its folky psychedelia, this new release bears the mark of urbanity from being recorded in the heart of the Swedish capital.
“The album was written and recorded in Stockholm, in the city, and I think you can hear that.”
But rather than a conscious contrivance, Tribulation’s aural evolution emerges from an organic reverence to the sacred song writing process.
“It sort of feels like we don’t really have any control of where it’s headed, and then all of a sudden we have an album finished. That’s a simplified answer of course, but we really do intuitively just follow the music and make sure it doesn’t take the wrong turn.”
This free-flowing channelling of ideas has led the Swedish four-piece out of the DM pigeonhole, reaping praise and scorn alike.
“I think it can make us a bit alienated, but I think that it will be the best thing to do in the long run anyway. We no longer step on the very sensitive death metal toes.”
So it goes that Tribulation continue to defy the death metal archetype, a tendency of many of their countrymen including label mates Morbus Chron, with whom they also share a rehearsal space. To that end it’s worth mentioning that Tribulation’s signing to Century Media for the new album follows right on the tail of Morbus Chron’s signing, as well as more retro death metallers Vampire.
“We just realized that after we signed the deal. I guess people will lump us all together at first, but I don’t think it matters in the end.”
This eruption of so many talented and often experimental bands from Sweden (adding acts like In Solitude, Degial, Stench, Black Trip, Kadavar, the list goes on…) begs the question: What’s in the water? Zaars is equally stumped.
“One answer is that we get help from the government to pay for our rehearsal rooms, but I’m not sure that’s it…”
The move to a bigger label is symbolic of a greater attitude shift in the band, who believe their music is finally “good enough for a bigger audience,” a perspective that seems contradictory to the underground, where popularity is often considered a symptom of tastelessness. Tribulation intentionally kept Formulas… on a lower-key label to preserve its personality, but it seems they’ve struck a balance with Century Media.
“It was the right time for a change; we needed something bigger this time. Small labels are great in many ways but they are also limited, and this time we really need that extra push.”
Tribulation’s opening spot on a tour with mainstream giants Cannibal Corpse and Behemoth denote a level of success rarely reached by underground acts, and though they are almost apprehensive of their reception from the “Cannibal Corpse crowd,” Zaars insists their influence was initially more American than otherwise.
“Our very first songs did have Cannibal Corpse, among many others, as an inspiration so at least we come from there. We were mostly inspired by Morbid Angel!”
However, with only 30 minutes to share their subtle and (to some) overly patient song writing a la Formulas…, winning over new audiences may prove somewhat daunting.
“It’s difficult to make a great show when you don’t have more time, but I think we actually manage to make it seem longer, in a good way that is.”
Zaars notes that this tour will be the last time the band will showcase material from their debut, at least for the foreseeable future. Another interesting challenge will be translation from the recorded material to live performance, barring any physical presence of the ubiquitous layers of folk instruments present on their sophomore release.
“It’s still about the four of us as a rock band; we don’t have a Dead Can Dance entourage, maybe in the future,” Zaars laughs.
Tribulation’s outburst from the underground proves that authentic intention can be recognized with wider appeal, for though they are certainly moving up, they are in no way selling out.
“I have never been able to write and record music that I don’t believe in.
“Have faith in the music and it’ll come to you.”
Watch Tribulation on February 14 at MacEwan Hall, opening for Behemoth and Cannibal Corpse.AB, Alberta, MacEwan Hall, Tribulation