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Tribulation Has Become Life: The Occult Magic of 'Where the Gloom Becomes Sound'

Tuesday, 26 January 2021 Written by Matt Mills

Photo: Ester Segarra

Johannes Andersson grew up in a fairytale. Born in the countryside, a mile away from the small Swedish town of Arvika, he was raised by a potter mother and painter father. There was a workshop in the barn out back and an easel in the master bedroom upstairs. While his parents created, his neighbour would take him fishing by the lake, or he’d pick wild mushrooms.

The people in his village told him stories. He heard about the piper down by the river  who would play for young children only to then drown them. Out in the woods was Rånda, the succubus who lured men away, never to be heard from again. There were tales of fairies and magic everywhere.

But, despite the abundant myths of his youth, Johannes didn’t become a medieval knight or troll hunter as an adult. Instead, he’s the singer and bassist of Tribulation, whose new album, ‘Where the Gloom Becomes Sound’, is fascinated with the same fantastical storytelling he was once immersed in.

“Everything we do has to do with the people we once were,” he says. “My childhood was very idyllic. There were no cares in the world. Now, Tribulation has become life. It is an extension of our personalities.”

Johannes and his fellow Tribulation co-founders—guitarists Jonathan Hultén and Adam Zaars—went to the same school in Arvika. They shared not only a love for folklore (Johannes laughs as he calls Adam a “religion freak”) but also for horror films and malevolent music. Like the rest of its creators’ discography, ‘Gloom…’ is an expression of these long-running passions.

“The occult and magic are present in every Tribulation album, and this record ended up being our classical elements record,” adds Johannes. “We mostly sing about water, fire, earth and air. Then you have the more usual: metal and horror have always married nicely. Me and Adam rented every horror movie in our nearest video store as teens. 

“We were drawn to the Italians and zombies—the more extreme, ‘70s and ‘80s horror. We were obsessed with it and it went hand in hand with a lot of the bands we were listening to: extreme metal and black metal.”

However, Tribulation’s relationship with metal has always been more dynamic than their affinity for the mystical and macabre. Although initially loyalists in the cult of black and death metal, 2015’s ‘Children of the Night’ was a sudden epiphany of eclecticism. Slashed was the commitment to genre-mandated speed, and in its place came vibrant psych guitar leads and swaggering pop drum beats.

After their sound was refined further on 2018’s beloved ‘Down Below’ album, ‘Gloom…’ is the apotheosis of the “new” Tribulation—a Tribulation that has, bar Johannes’s low grunts, transcended the expectations of extreme metal. 

Opening anthem In Remembrance lays down the manifesto. A hyper-catchy goth rocker with virtuoso soloing juxtaposed against a delectable refrain, Johannes describes it as “almost Eurovision”. “It’s practically industrial and the choruses are the most poppy we’ve ever done,” he says.

It’s a left-field commencement for what the frontman calls a “more diverse” album. “Maybe ‘Down Below’ was more streamlined while ‘Gloom…’ is broader,” he posits. Such later songs as Funeral Pyre—which indulges in charmingly kitsch Venom riffing—piano segue Lethe and the slow-groove monster Inanna lend credence to that idea.

A collector of art in his personal life (his flat is full of morose posters with jarring gold frames) Johannes credits the direction of ‘Gloom…’ in part to its album cover, which existed long before the music was even started. That monochrome image of a despondent woman with a halo is as tragic as it is gorgeous: a perfect complement to Tribulation’s music.

“It’s a picture of a sculpture by a Belgian geezer called Fernand Khnopff,” he explains of the arresting artwork. “She was made in 1896. That era itself is one of my favourites: the Romantic, Victorian vibe. It’s very appealing to the aesthetics of Tribulation, and my apartment.”

Johannes originally bought the photo as another addition to his home, but ended up taking it to Tribulation’s recording studio. There it remained for the entirety of the LP’s gestation, making it a shoo-in when it came to choosing what to put on the finished product’s front. “When I tracked the vocals, I saw her all the time and she definitely brought some kind of vibe,” he says. “It was good to have her next to me, and it made more and more sense every day.”

Ultimately, the album’s more extensive exploration of dark soundscapes, from thrash to goth-rock to ominous classical, made it the perfect candidate for the title ‘Where the Gloom Becomes Sound’—a name that Johannes originally wanted to give to ‘Down Below’. “Luckily, that was voted down,” he admits with the benefit of hindsight. “It fits this album way better so I’m happy about that.”

‘Gloom…’ was unveiled in mid-November, but was followed just three weeks later by a revelation much more dramatic: Hultén had left. He recorded an entire album—including seven songs on which he wrote himself—with his band of 15 years, only to vanish and be replaced by Joseph Tholl in the very same announcement. Suddenly, ‘Gloom…’ gained an unfortunate new context: as the swansong for one of Tribulation’s central presences.

“It feels very upside-down,” says Johannes, still caught in the whirlwind just days after confirmation of Hultén’s exit. “But it didn’t come as a surprise. We all hate the business side of being in a band but it’s been more present the last couple of years. We just wanna play; we don’t wanna handle everything else. It’s become way more [about] the business than the music itself. You just have to tell yourself that it’s worth it and I guess Jonathan couldn’t tell himself that.”

The news came just months after Jonathan released his debut solo album, ‘Chants from Another Place’. “That became more and more appealing to him,” continues Johannes. “Both claim all your time and we’re fighting about time. He felt he was at the end of the road with Tribulation and wanted to be nice to us, not some kind of brake pedal because of the difficulties that could come, like tours being double-booked. We don’t want to compete for shows with his solo project.”

Despite acknowledging the “weird timing” of Jonathan leaving, Johannes insists the circumstances haven’t put a dampener on ‘Gloom…’, largely because COVID-19 means the band couldn’t get together anyway. As seems customary for promotional interviews, he calls the album “Tribulation’s best work,” although he swiftly adds a caveat: “For now at least. That could change in a year.”

No matter where it ranks in their catalogue, ‘Gloom…’ has to be the album most representative of Tribulation’s heart and soul. The magic, the horror and the music that defined Johannes’s childhood are all present in an avant-garde collection of morbid pop-metal, expressed via the same creativity accrued from a culture of painters, potters and storytellers. “Tribulation is very rooted in that small town I grew up in,” he concurs. “We are the same people as before, and now we will grow old with the band.”

Tribulation's ‘Where the Gloom Becomes Sound’ is out on January 29 via Century Media.

Tribulation Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed September 22 2021 - LONDON Dome

Compare & Buy Tribulation Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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