Four albums into their career, Sweden's Tribulation are poised to leave their (bite) mark in the neck of heavy metal. They've expanded on the sounds on 2015's breakout The Children of the Night, bridging various schools of metal, serving a bit as a darker version of their countrymates Ghost, with whom they've toured. Down Below, their latest record, is a refreshing offering that caters to the extreme crowd with a taste for classic metal; it's so potent, it may serve as a metal fans who might be averse to the genre's more extreme facets.

“The Lament” opens the record with dreary, barren chords that echo into the distance. A brief silence falls over the song, shattered by a sinister twin lead and upbeat drumming that juxtaposes the tomb-born funereal atmosphere. It’s the best song in Tribulation’s catalog and serves as a musical overture to the album, highlighting the vampiric themes that dominate it.

As the album progresses, it showcases how adept Tribulation are at tempering moods and incorporating different influences (goth rock, traditional metal, death metal, black metal) to craft something entirely unique in a metallic world obsessed with aimless genre-mashing. What helps propel their ethereal sound even in their heaviest moments (such as the earth-cracking “Subterannea,” “Lacrimosa”) is the interplay of guitarists Adam Zaars and Jonathan Hultén. When the rhythm riffing sustains, the melodies interject, leaving Tribulation with the ability to dip back into their early roots without ever losing sight on the present.

The biggest improvement is the sepulchral growl of Johannes Andersson. Extreme metal singers tend to stick to more rhythmic cadences, something that's still in effect on Down Below, but Andersson expertly cuts it with traces of melody, giving it a classic metal feel.

A special note needs to be made about the use of piano/keyboards here; they never become overindulgent. Instead, they slip in and out of songs. If they had been used too much, their effect would be diluted.

Down Below doesn’t represent an absolute stylistic transformation as had each of Tribulation’s previous records (serrated death metal to death-prog to their current sound). The songs here don’t have as much of a unique and instantly memorable identity as the ones off The Children of the Night (it just means you’ll have to listen to it more to digest them), but what they lose in individuality benefits the cohesion of Down Below. It's a 46-minute, slightly cinematic bat-winged journey that closes out with the adventurous seven-and-a-half minute “Here Be Dragons,” the most progressive track of this new era, giving a nod to the winding structures found on Tribulation’s sophomore effort The Formulas of Death.

The Twilight series's transgressions against the vampire theme are unpardonable, having diluting the age-old lore down to cheeky, fang-toothed teenage (blood)lust. Happily, Tribulation is here to restore the ghastly glory of the night realm’s sanguine-seeking shapeshifters through the riff-driven black ‘n’ roll of Down Below. Check your neck for marks, and breathe easy, these guys have made vampires cool again.

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