Tribulation
Hamartia EP

When life throws you a lemon, you’re supposed to make lemonade, right? Take a sour situation, and make something sweet. Find the good in the bad. Take an unforeseen opportunity to do something new, different, maybe even exciting and vibrant!

That’s certainly one way to handle life’s curveballs. Probably the healthiest way! But there’s always other options, aren’t there? Some will lead you down a self-destructive path to eventual oblivion or, maybe even worse – perpetual victimhood. Gross. No thank you. Other knee-jerk reactions might feel good, even cathartic in the moment, but do nothing to fill the gaps left behind by whatever’s been taken away. But then, there’s a really simple, if inelegant option: Take that lemon, tear it open, and bite down into it’s raw flesh – embrace the painful, bitter taste that comes with it, and use it to power you forward with a renewed sense of urgency and spite.

This little EP certainly does carry a certain sense of import and urgency, even for a band like Tribulation who, at this point, doesn’t really have anything to prove. It’s seemed that with every new release since the band shifted sonic gears on 2015’s The Children of the Night, comes a new cycle of near universal fanfare and critical acclaim. But now the band forges ahead without one of the biggest creative forces behind that span of records, after guitarist Jonathan Hultén left the band to pursue his own musical endeavors. To be clear, there doesn’t seem to be any love lost or ill feelings towards any parties involved here, so it may seem that my metaphor is left somewhat in shambles, but don’t be so sure. While the parting may have been amicable, the split did bring the band to the very brink of destruction – and yet they persevere, with the forced reshuffling of the deck seeming to have resulted in a reinvigorated commitment to all things gloom and doom, while maintaining a sound that is 100% Tribulation through and through.

Though the band did release an excellent “single” called “The Dhampir” since Hultén’s departure (I don’t understand why it’s not just called an EP since it’s broken up into 3 tracks but… I’ll just leave my old man complaining at the door), it was written by Hultén, so this really is the band’s first true foray into their new era. Of course, the band does have two things going in their favor: For one, guitarist and the other half of the band’s writing room Adam Zaars is still here, so not all of the band’s original creative juju is gone. And secondly, Hultén has been replaced by guitarist Joseph Throll, who you may recognize from a number of excellent Swedish acts including Corrupt, Black Trip/Vojd, and of course, Speed/Heavy Metal act Enforcer. Not too shabby when you can forge ahead with that kind of pedigree added to the lineup.

Even better, the band apparently was more than ready to put the added talent to good use, with Throll getting writing credit on the moody, very Doom and Heavy Metal-forward “Axis Mundi.” Zaars could have very easily taken full writing responsibilities, and instead embraced the new blood – with superb results. Where parts of Where the Gloom Becomes Sound at times carried an uncharacteristic, even-if-only-slight sense of hope or, at the very least, comfortable acceptance – Hamartia and indeed “Axis Mundi” are embracing the cold and bitter darkness as hard as ever. Even with some of the stronger heavy metal riffing at play here, there’s an ever-present sense of intentional discordance that keeps the mood very unsettling, like looking into the face of a sentient robot double of your wife – it may well be very beautiful, but there’s just a certain wrongness about it that makes your skin crawl, even if it is in the best way possible. The end result sounds as if the band got off a heavy listening binge of Ghost and Nite and immediately got to working on new material after, with those influences subconsciously seeping into what is still, at it’s heart, a Tribulation track. The song also gives us a really good look at how the new guitar duo works together, not just through the interplay between lead and rhythm work on the song’s really catchy chorus, but with some fantastic dueling solos on the track’s back-half that continue to show signs that all is well with the band moving forward – so go ahead and breathe easy.

The remaining tracks do nothing to derail this sense of relief, either. Opener “Hamartia” carries as classic a Tribulation Goth-drenched, Black-n-Roll sound as you’ll find anywhere in their catalog, with the band’s signature guitar tones and Johannes Andersson’s trademark barking, sneering vocals still leading the way. Again, the synergy being built between Zaars and Throll lies front-and-center, with perhaps even more emphasis put on the new pairing’s solos than we’re used to hearing with Tribulation. It’s as if the band is making a considered effort not to shy away from its own internal changes, and instead letting them shine – another example of the band embracing their new path head-on.  “Hemoclysm” showcases the band at their very darkest, really reaching in for their innermost witchy, warlock-y vibes for a dose of doom purpose-built for some wild occult sacrifice. I absolutely love the creepy, hollow vocal melodies floating around in the song’s background, creating a sense of some ancient, monastic spirit haunting a great hall – accentuated even greater by the occasional cascading pianos that feel positively otherworldly. It all comes together to conjure such a morose, foreboding atmosphere that can, and will send chills down your spine.

Rounding out the EP is a really great cover of Blue Öyster Cult‘s “Vengeance (The Pact)” that the band actually does a really nice job staying true to, while giving it a little extra flair that again gives it a very Ghost-like quality (in fairness, the song was already about halfway there to begin with). I think all EPs should finish with a cover or two, and this certainly fits the band pretty dang nicely, so bonus points all-around. So at the end of the day, Hamartia is an EP from a band that very much understood the assignment – not only have they reassured longtime fans that despite a major lineup change, Tribulation seems no worse for wear, but they’ve even shown us a few glimpses of the potential and growth the addition of Joseph Throll has provided for the band moving forward. It’s a new day for Tribulation, and despite the fact that it arrives with some truly menacing clouds and distant thunder in the skies – it’s a day worth celebrating. The train hasn’t been derailed in the slightest.

 

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
April 7th, 2023

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