|Cover art by Jonathan Hultén|
There are a few different types of truly great albums. There’s the ones that initially fly under the radar until dozens of repeat listens reveal their power and significance. There are some that are so ahead of their time that their greatness isn’t realized until years later. And then there are albums that blow you away from the very beginning and you cherish each new second as the recording enters your ears for the first time. This is one of those albums. It’s so good that I’ve been listening to it on a regular basis for six months and have only now been able to put my feelings about it into words. In fact, every time I’ve sat down to write about this record I’ve been so engrossed and distracted by the music that words just seems to escape me.
The relatively dormant Swedes begin their second full-length with the rare instance of an intro track that’s worth listening to. Eschewing ambient noise or the hyper-orchestral build-up, “Vagina Dentata” sounds like a fully realized song sans vocals, plus it has a name that would make any person uncomfortably cross their legs if thought about too much. It sets up the following 70+ minutes flawlessly by presenting the band’s distinct style in an easy to understand burst of energy. One thing to keep in mind is that Tribulation have no qualms about infusing and contorting death metal to the point where it’s almost unrecognizable. This is because the band takes an anything-goes approach to the genre, forging a path in a world rife with maps and pre-defined routes.
The Formulas of Death is anything but. There isn't a single death metal cliche to be found; no gore-obsessed lyrics paired with a guitar tuned to one of the first three letters of the alphabet, and no HM-2 buzzsaw tone or early ‘90s bandwagon hopping. In fact, the simple term Extreme Metal would be the best descriptor to avoid a mass of hyphenated adjectives and subgenre nit-pickery. And Tribulation know the key to extremity lies not in riffs and blasts that scream at the listener to realize how heavy they are, it's rather subtlety and intrigue that draws and holds attention. Destructively catchy riffs are as fleeting as they are numerous as the quintet cycle through a seemingly endless arsenal of head-bangable weaponry.
“Suspiria” is the mid-album, mid-tempo highlight, marking the first time the band has reached into double-digits. It plods through with an impressive groove held up with leads that range from the quietly ominous to bombastically melodic, holding your attention for the next slight turn or sonic deviation. Its almost symmetrical execution shows just why the Arvika natives are such good songwriters; they evolve and add nuance to the song without adding too much experimentation to leave the listener bored. Every song is a highlight in its own way and it’s clear that souls at the very least were signed away to achieve such otherworldly inspiration. Like the first track on the release, the instrumental interludes of the Silent Hill-like “לילה” - Hebrew for “night” - and “Ultra Silvam” aren’t unwelcome and instead add a sense of depth and clarity to the band’s overall mission.
Less thrash-focused than their debut and at more than twice the length, The Formulas of Death is an unusual example of the sophomore self-discovery record that completely transforms a band and launches them to greatness. Its varying styles and nuanced structure provide a hefty dose of vitality into the Swedish death metal scene while launching it into a new era. An era that will be heralded and defined by this release.
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