Thursday, April 23, 2015

Album Review: Tribulation - The Children Of The Night

From what I've been sensing, the occult rock wave that was sweeping over us has crested, and is starting to wane.  Ghost is gearing up for a new album, but I don't feel nearly as much anticipation in the air this time around, and many of the other bands that followed in their wake have either already disbanded, or are lingering in the background.  Like all fads, the window-dressing that was occult rock can only run its course for as long as the bands are putting out great music, and let's be honest, most of them weren't.  Sure, there were a handful of records that I heard (and even reviewed) that I thought were promising and very good.  But with a bit of time now separating me from them, the only one that I can remember at all is the first Ghost record, which might just be because it was what started this whole cavalcade.

A new wrinkle can extend the life of the fad, and that's what is happening here.  Tribulation is taking the occult rock sensibility, and mixing it with a death metal basis, to create something that is unlike everything else I've heard with that tag attached to it.

The album opens with the weeping sound of an organ, joined by a slight piano figure, before the song turns into something quite unusual. The guitars come in and swell with a riff that I know is death metal, but has a neo-classical, Victorian feeling.  In a way, it sounds like what the soundtrack to F.W. Murnau's "Nosferatu" would have been, had death metal been around in the 1920s.  The vocals are what take the music in a new territory, moving this from normal occult rock into death metal, with the cavernous, reverb-drenched growl of the late 80s.

That first song stands out as one of the weirdest pieces of music I've heard in a long time, which I say in an affectionate way.  It doesn't sound like anything else that comes to mind, which already makes this album stand out.  "Malancholia" keeps this up, opening with a guitar harmony that is equal parts blistering rocker and the theme from The Munsters.  As if that wasn't enough, there's a ringing, echoing guitar part in the middle of the song that is nearly hypnotic.

"In The Dreams Of The Dead" shifts the tone a bit, taking on more of a death-and-roll aesthetic, which gives the record a jolt of energy at just the right time.  The last thing an album that has a bit of a gimmick to the sound can do is let it overstay its welcome, so the bit of diversity is key to making sure the listener isn't being beaten over the head with a dead horse.  As the record progresses, it establishes itself as a thrillingly unique listening experience, with Gothic overtones, a death metal heart, and all manner of weird asides.  Simply put, this is one of those records that it's hard to drift away from, because you're never quite sure what it is you're hearing. 

The problem the record faces is simple; it's long-winded.  At nearly an hour, and with every song clocking in at more than five minutes, there's just too much of this here.  It's such a peculiar sound that I'm not used to hearing that the record begins to overwhelm me near the halfway point.  The songs don't dip in quality, but they begin to get tiring well before the record is done.  Even though this isn't death metal the normal way, the lack of melody in the vocals makes the album feel longer than it is, because that entire element of the music is lacking, in comparison to the depth the instrumentals provide.  If you chopped out the two instrumental tracks, and tightened the remaining songs so the record came in at forty-five minutes, it would do a world of good.

That being said, don't take that criticism as anything harsh.  "The Children Of The Night" is a record that is definitely worth being heard.  Anyone who has ever been a fan of old-school death metal, or just enjoys hearing something unusual, will find a lot to like about this record.  As someone who has been vocal about my issues with extreme metal of all forms, it takes something special to make me stand up and applaud a death metal record.  I don't foresee "The Children Of The Night" making my list of favorites at the end of the year, but I have to commend Tribulation for doing something unique with death metal, and making a record that intrigues me a good deal.  I can honestly say I did not see this record coming at all, and I think that surprise factor is part of the charm. 

Even if it's just for the curiosity factor, check out a song or two.  You won't regret it.

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