Accuse us of nepotism all you want, but that we view TRIBULATION’s latest journey into the unknown pleasures of heavy metal exploration has little bearing on the fact that guitarist ADAM ZAARS is closely involved with Iron Fist. ‘THE CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT’ is so beautifully conceived, both bold and beautiful, that we forgive him all that time off touring America, where he met up with JOHN MINCEMOYER in ISSUE FIFTEEN to discuss the mysteries within this stunning.
Initially, this interview with Tribulation guitarist Adam Zaars started out as an email interview. For example, one of the questions posed to Adam dealt with the new album’s title,‘The Children Of The Night’. He responded, “It came to us quite late and we had the working title ‘In Illo Tempore’ (In That Time), a term that we translated as a longing for a return to a golden age, a return to paradise. We knew that it wouldn’t work in the end so we had to find something else. ‘The Children…’ came to us when we were looking for cover choices for the album recording and we thought about doing the KISS song ‘Creatures Of The Night’. In all honesty, I think it’s a very shallow title at first glance, but, not on this very album and at this very time. It fits perfectly! We all laughed about it at first and then it dawned on all of us that, no, it’s perfect.” That proved a great answer especially learning that Tribulation was contemplating covering a killer KISS song, but during the process, and with an American tour looming, we decided the interview would be more suitable if conducted in person.
Conveniently, Tribulation was scheduled to hit Atlanta, Georgia as part of the Behemoth/Cannibal Corpse co-headlining tour, and that is how I found myself inside Tribulation’s tour van outside the Masquerade on a frigid, bone-chilling night in early March. “Some of the material is from before the second album [2013’s ‘The Formulas Of Death’], but we started working on the new material, I mean set our minds to writing the new album, just about when we finished the second album,” replies a clearly tired, but pleased Adam when asked when ‘The Children…’ writing process began in earnest. “The most intense period, I guess, would have been the last six months. We really did write this one faster than we usually do, which felt strange. At times the process was somewhat frightening considering the speed in which we wrote, but also exciting. We recorded the album in December and January with producer Ola Ersfjord. Everything was recorded in Stockholm. The drums were recorded in Studio Gröndahl, mostly famous for the various Swedish pop and rock bands who’ve recorded there like The Hives. Then we relocated to Nicke Andersson’s basement and his studio Honk Palace to record the guitars, bass and most of the vocals. It is a small, but cozy studio, and we had a great time there. After that we went into central Stockholm to Studio Cobra where we recorded all the additional instruments like piano, organs, Mellotron, and everything else you can hear on the album.
We would love to go back to that studio again, it was fantastic.” Stylistically and thematically speaking, ‘The Formulas…’ and ‘The Children…’ are wedded, more so than the straight-forward death metal found on their early demos and full-length debut, 2009’s ‘The Horror’. “Yes, they are wedded together, thematically,” says Adam. “Some of the songs on ‘The Children…’ could have been on ‘The Formulas…’, which is a good thing I think because the step isn’t too big. But on the other hand, even though songs like ‘Ultra Silvum’ or ‘Rånda’ from ‘The Formulas…’ could have easily made the new album from a thematic perspective, there’s still something different with the new songs. What I’ve said in most interviews is that ‘The Children…’ is a more urban album, because as I mentioned we recorded it in Stockholm and we recorded the previous one in our hometown Arvika, which is in the middle of the forest. So, I can feel that difference in the album. The forest is still there, it’s always there for us, but the colours I saw on the previous album, well, the specific color was green, and on ‘The Children…’, that colour was just pitch black… with a trace of white. There are differences, but I agree that are some similarities.”
Quite possibly the most striking element found on the grandiose ‘The Children…’ is Tribulation’s continued transformation. Listening to ‘The Children…’ is like watching a beautifully dark (possibly poisonous) flower blossom to sinister maturity. In what is truly a profound artistic statement, Tribulation’s maturation is startling. Obviously ‘The Children…’ resonates on the conscious level, but it also resonates strongly on the subconscious level. At times it as if the darkness is almost beckoning you to dive into oblivion. Although the predominant tones are gloomy, stirring, at times lush, melodicism frequently emerges to create an exquisite harmonious quality. And the Gothic tones – painting with various shadowy shades – evoke early deathrock practitioners such as The Flesh Eaters, 45 Grave and Christian Death. “I must admit I had to Google ‘deathrock’,” says Adam with a sheepish grin. “Christian Death is apparently ‘deathrock’, so I guess there is some kind of ‘deathrock’ influence, but we have the same influences as those bands and we’re inspired by other bands and sounds as well I think, although we have approached this from a different angle and in a different time, but we all ended up in the same place. Well, maybe not really in the same exact place, but in a similar area.”
The beauty of their transformation is that it does not seem in any way, shape, or form to be forced or motivated by outside trends. This is Tribulation – take it or leave it – and Tribulation’s mutability, for a fan and listener, is an exciting and wonderful thing. It may sound utterly cliché, but in looking back they are moving daringly forward, if that makes sense, by challenging comfortable expectations. Without doubt ‘The Children…’ is complex, but there is also a comfortable ease, an ebb and flow, to it that belies the band’s relative youth. In essence, they are working on an artistic level well beyond their years and many of their peers. “That’s maybe the key,” says Adam. “We are not trying to do anything. Of course, we are trying to do something, but it is not planned. Nothing is planned. Tribulation seems like a creature that’s finding its own way. “And yes, what you say about working on a different level I think to develop that question and then the answer, as I previously mentioned, this was the fastest record we have done, but also the most difficult. Because on the first album we wanted to play death metal and we knew our influences. We did something else as well by incorporating elements of horror music influences into our sound because we wanted to sound like Morbid Angel, Kaamos, Repugnant, Watain, and so on, so we knew what we were doing. On the second album we still had that to some extent, but on the new one we were in a dark room trying to fetch… whatever… which was sort of scary at some point because we knew where we were going and realised this was more rock and roll, more heavy metal, more gothic, or whatever you want to call it, but we had no idea where we would end up.”
The different stylistic elements he mentions are important, because ‘The Children…’ is emphatically not death metal, at least in the normal sense. The only “traditional” death metal touchstone is bassist/vocalist Jonka Andersson’s raspy growl, which strangely works even juxtaposed against the graceful, and at times haunting, melodicism. “Yes, I would agree, because I don’t believe we are playing death metal now,” admits Adam. “We are to some extent, because that is where we came from, but I don’t care about that like others seem to care. On the second album we played death metal, but it was not death metal, if that makes sense? Cannibal Corpse are playing tonight and they are playing death metal, and death metal is a huge genre. Necrovore is death metal, Morbid Angel is death metal, and Cannibal Corpse, and you can include us, but I agree that we are doing something else outside of that. It feels disrespectful to the death metal community to say we are playing death metal.”
One major thematic aspect that separates Tribulation from practically all metal acts – a theme which almost hides in plain sight – is an emphasis on the feminine. This is clearly a departure from the standard death metal curriculum vitae, which cares little for such sensitivity. This almost “fragile” touch adds a truly expressive power to Tribulation’s sound that, once again, breaks with convention. “There is a feminine touch throughout ‘The Children…’ as is found in all of our albums,” reveals Adam. “This is especially true for the second album. I guess we’re all feminists in the band, but it’s not really that even. It’s the way I approach the divine… through the feminine side, because that is what seems most comfortable to me. We will always have female characters on the album covers, so it’s not a new thing. Maybe it is a bit more emphasised on this album. That’s it really.”
When asked to explain how this feminine aspect comes out in Tribulation’s lyrics Adam politely replies; “Tribulation’s lyrics are not meant as a message for anyone. They are not specifically the band’s collective way of viewing the world. They are a mish-mash of our ways, and they are not my most personal convictions either. They are personal, but they are filtered through a Tribulation filter So there are a lot of different things going on.” A small transgression, but a transgression nonetheless… that age old maxim had been forgotten: a true magician never reveals his or her secrets. “I wrote most of the music and all of the lyrics on ‘The Formula…’ except for a couple of songs I think, which no one in the band wrote,” says Adam. “They were written by other people actually. But on this album, which is new for this album, although I guess this is the way we did the first album actually, I wrote half of it and Jonathan [Hultén], the second guitar player, wrote the other half. He wrote lyrics to his songs and I wrote the lyrics to my songs, and strangely, well maybe not, they are all about whatever isn’t mundane in this world. It’s about religion, it’s about darkness, whatever darkness means, in this case a feeling I get from the music, and reaching new levels whether it’s spiritual or even in ordinary life. It’s about transcending. We seem to experience limitations that might not actually be there.” When asked to explain the lyrics Adam says with another sly smile; “I won’t do that. I feel that music and lyrics can be interpreted in so many ways. There is not one way of interpreting these lyrics and everyone interprets things differently. I have my way and no one listening to the music and reading the lyrics knows my way – they know their way. Plus, there’s always more for me as one of the creators of the music. It might be a completely different story for someone else. I think trying to explain the lyrics in that fashion would ruin things. This actually makes me think about Cannibal Corpse. I think it was ‘The Wretched Spawn’ and there was an article in Sweden Rock with each song listed and what it was about. And I loved it. I was 16 or so and I thought that was great, but, unfortunately, I cannot do that with Tribulation.” Since that exploration failed to bear fruit I asked for translation help with the titles of the album’s two instrumentals. “Of course,” replies Adam.
I admitted I could not even begin to pronounce ‘Själaflykt’ properly. Adam then attempts, with infinite patience, to talk me through it, and I splutter out something close, but not quite approximating his native tongue. Ever the gentleman, he compliments my attempt and then says with ease, “‘Själaflykt’… It means soul… The soul… And flight, I guess. ‘The Flight of the Soul’ would be the English title.” A song may have never borne a more appropriate title because ‘Själaflykt’ focuses on the ascendant and conveys the idea of transcendence. Airy and disembodied, this beautiful composition shimmers, and ultimately soars as if borne upon pure rays of light. The second instrumental titled ‘Cauda Pavonis’ is more earthlybound and somber yet no less contemplative. The title is Latin, deals with alchemy, and translates (admittedly roughly) to “The Peacock’s Tail”, which led me to ask if there were further allusions to alchemy found on ‘The Children…’. Adam pauses as if reticent to reveal any of ‘The Children…’s underlying symbolism. Then he smiles gain and says, “Yes, that is another form of interpretation, but I can tell you I’ve always wanted to get the peacock in somewhere because I like peacocks. They are extremely symbolic animals, of course. It’s one of the phases of alchemy. There are other references to alchemy throughout the album and not alchemy with the idea of searching for gold, but in the quest for transformation, which is what I think spirituality is – a transformation of the self and the soul – whatever the soul is. I like putting titles like that on instrumental songs because it adds to the mystery.”
Mystery and the unexplained are both important in the grand scheme of Tribulation’s art and when asked about this Adam admits; “The unexplained…? That’s a good and difficult question. The unexplained or the unknown is the one thing that interests me the most, because it’s what I spend most, if not all of my time, reading about and trying to figure out, and it is a big influence on the way we approach things and ultimately, everything we do. “Again, we don’t write about violence, or guns or things like that. We write about the place where the music comes from. I think music is one of the strangest things we have. I mean, everyone knows music, but music is so weird. It’s just different sounds that we make out to be songs. When you start thinking about music, I mean really thinking about it, it is strange… It is hard to describe and much like what I mentioned about the lyrics, everyone has a different interpretation.”
When Adam says this I offer my interpretation concerning their insistence on featuring instrumentals on their albums, which is yet another thing separating Tribulation from their current peers. These instrumentals are not well-trodden “Intros” and “Outros” or mere adornments. In a thematic sense, these are major compositions acting as metaphorical bridges that also contain enough substance to stand alone. The lack of Andersson’s vocals does not diminish their collective impact in the slightest and speaks to their compositional power.
“Yes,” says Adam. “The instrumentals are as you say metaphorical bridges and they do stand-alone. This started on the first album, with interludes and such, which is where the soundtracks come in. One of the biggest influences for us musically are soundtracks for example, Fabio Frizzi, who worked on ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’ and ‘The Beyond’. Then there’s Goblin. And of course, there is the soundtrack from ‘Nosferatu’, which helped to transform Tribulation. We’ve always had the soundtrack thing, which is mostly instrumental, and you find it in heavy metal with Iron Maiden and in death metal with Morbid Angel, they always had instrumentals. I guess, for us, it started out as something you had to do, but nowadays…”
Adam’s mention of ‘Nosferatu’, specifically about its transformative power in relation to the band, piques my interest, especially since a still shot from the film adorns the back of his leather jacket. “That film is always with us,” replies Adam. “What I get from watching that film is hard to describe because it is a feeling that is mine and mine alone. Others might view it differently. I would love it if other people got that feeling from our music. Apparently, some people do and maybe we’ve fooled them into that feeling, but you never know. “Before writing this album we didn’t really know where to go and it felt like we could release a purely instrumental album or maybe a ten-inch and that might happen still. The instrumentals work. And that’s another thing: people always told me that the instrumentals on ‘Formulas…’ were bold, but I don’t think we’re all that bold. I mean we might be stupid. We are just doing what we do and this progression or transformation…we didn’t have some overall plan or an agenda per se, but maybe that’s what you have to do to be considered bold.”
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