"The Formulas of Death"

By Dr. Abner Mality

Very rarely do bands reinvent themselves successfully, especially in metal. Celtic Frost is notable because they did it with great success on "Into the Pandemonium" and then with great failure on "Cold Lake". Voi Vod got away with it several times. Ulver is another name that comes up. Now we have Tribulation and what a stunning renovation they have done on themselves.

I doubt if many recall their album "The Horror" from about 3 years ago. A pretty decent stab at rotten old school death metal with some "regular" metal leanings. Not bad, but not something to stick in  your head too long or capable of topping year end lists. Somehow, Tribulation must have realized the limitattions of that style, because with "Formulas of Death", they have broadened their sound by a factor of about 1000. But they have done this without abandoning their underground metal roots.

This really does sound like a completely different band. Tribulation now uses instruments and techniques undreamed of on "The Horror". It's very hard to describe their style now, but "The Formulas of Death" is a HUGE album lasting more than 60 minutes of avant-garde, unpredictable metal. The compositions are all quite long and involved, going through a virtual labyrinth of twists and turns. But they do keep a lot of speed and rawness in their sound. You know things have changed when opening instrumental "Vagina Dentata" features tambura prominently. From there, it's a real rollercoaster ride that's breath-taking and intriguing.

There are only two areas where Tribulation's ambition slips into pretension and monotony. One is the 10 minute plus "Suspiria", which kind of kills the forward momentum of the album with a long, introspective track mixing melancholy gloom with metal. Hard to believe this is the same bunch that did the ghoulish "The Horror"!. Frankly, "Suspiria" breaks the flow of the album too much and if it would have been left off the record, I might have given this a perfect ten. Although when it comes to length, the album ending "Apparitions" eclipses it. This monster has its moments, but it has so many false finishes and fake climaxes that it becomes rather tedious. This is one track where Tribulation's ambition kind of collapses on them.

Elsewhere, though, the band does nothing less than amaze with tracks like the powerful "Through The Velvet Black", "Spell" and the great opening cut "Wanderer In the Outer Dark". Tracks like "When the Sky Was Black With Devils" and "Ultra Silvam" do a masterful job of mixing gothic and symphonic elements with fast and brooding metal. Even though there are many refined parts here, the band does know enough to keep things heavy and "organic" sounding.

This is one hell of a sonic "head game" to keep the mind and ears busy. If you're expecting straight up Swedish death and thrash, prepare for a shock!