Two years ago Tribulation were making a big fish/small pond play at greatness courtesy the (no offense) stunted distribution of Invictus Productions. Proving that the cream tends to rise to the top, the Swedish quartet turned that poorly-heard-yet-well-received sophomore effort into a lucrative contract with Century Media, and on Children of the Night have found the third time to indeed be charmed.
The lyrics are the most weightless thing about Children of the Night, vague paeans to vampirism and nocturnalism acting as mere vehicle for the musical flights of fancy that Tribulation hang their hat on, composition trumping virtuosity and showmanship, clean, unfussy production taking precedence over ambience and mood lighting; in spite of the inattention to gravitas the lyrics betray, this album is very much a narrative prospect, albeit more of a musical one.
Likewise, Johannes Andersson does little to recommend his own vocals, churning out a workmanlike grunt perched somewhere equidistant between standard death metal and a fairly anemic black metal effort. "Functional" is the key word here, as indeed – can't stress this enough – Children of the Night is a top-to-bottom band effort, all hands in on an ethos that values mobility and fluid composition over the niceties of a ripping guitar solo or flashy breakdown.
Unlike 2013's The Formulas of Death, this album favors traditional song length, nothing greatly exceeding seven minutes nor much less than three. Within those narrowed confines Tribulation find themselves getting more done with less; there is effectively no time wasted on placeholder interludes or gloomy ambient builds. By far the least "active" track on the album is "Själaflykt", and even that song has plenty of variation to balance it out, and coming where it does in the middle of the track sequence it acts as a nice oasis of reflective tranquility bridging the busier portions of the record.
I pretty much loathe the toothless genre signifier "dark metal", but if we are acknowledging there to be such a thing without improving upon a name for it, suffice to say that "Strains of Horror" is a near ideal death-informed version of the dark metal template. As well as boasting a funereal atmosphere that King Diamond would be proud to croon over, it's one of the few times that Andersson demonstrates any versatility with his vocals, here wavering between a malevolent whisper and his standard choked corpse grunt.
Not to shit on Andersson too much – again, he more than adequately serves his purpose – but the real stars of Tribulation are the guitarists, Jonathan Hultén and Adam Zaars. Without their ever evolving "greatest hits of Swedish metal" riff writing approach, Children of the Night is a firmly middle of the pack album. With their complement, however, it aspires to a work of timeless near-genius. With all due respect to the auteurs of the genre, sometimes the band that is the sum of its parts rather than a vehicle for a charismatic frontman are the most pleasing and reliable sort.