16. Tribulation, Down Below (Century Media)
As a metal writer I often find myself caught in the middle of two distinct sides. On one side, the extreme metal faction who I have trouble completely relating to, and who probably think my taste in metal music lacks credibility and masculinity. On the other side, casual metal listeners who cannot accept harshly screamed or growled vocals, under any circumstances. I will readily admit there are a lot of bands whose sound is ruined by lazy, monotonous yelling (hello, Deafheaven) but at the same rate, harsh vocals have a place in metal and can work brilliantly. They can either match the aggression of the music step for step (see Pig Destroyer, Meshuggah, Cannibal Corpse) or they can add surprising nuance to metal music that has a more dynamic approach (the most obvious example being Opeth). File Tribulation under the latter category. The Swedish band has been flirting with greatness for years now, and on their fourth album they have mastered the combination of extreme metal and classic heavy metal. I like to compare Down Below to Celtic Frost’s much-maligned 1989 album Cold Lake, albeit a far more successful experiment. There’s doom and gloom in the death-growled vocals, but the musical arrangements are simply gorgeous: if you’re looking for melodies, look to the guitars, not the vocalist. At times Tribulation come close to the same towering theatricality of Ghost, while other moments are more evocative of the groundbreaking gothic rock of Fields of the Nephilim. The musical chops on display are something to behold, and even after multiple listens you can hear subtle nuance in those growls. If this kind of metal is too fancy for your liking, that’s fine. But if melodies in metal are more your bag, I implore you to give this sublime album a shot.