TRIBUNAL – The Weight of Remembrance (2023)REVIEW

The subject of remembrance has been key consideration in approach of Vancouver, British Colombia-based gothic doom metal band Tribunal‘s debut full-length in the sense that one could spend months picking through the history of gothic metal considering how vast and terribly derivative, cheaply made and bereft of any earnest emotion it tends to be. This core duo’s approach on ‘The Weight of Remembrance‘ is nonetheless quite a bit different for the sake of it being music which could only be produced in hindsight of those follies in the past, there is no obvious nostalgia to it beyond their own personalization and the result is unexpectedly fine for a debut release. Their version of gothic metal has much in common with black/doom metal outliers, a certain era of gothic melodic death/doom metal melodrama, and “occult doom rock” applications which accumulates in application of several generations of gothic and doom metal reverence yet they’ve managed to make it their own by virtue of easily read, easily enjoyed semi-traditional doom metal songcraft which side-steps some of the boring, self indulgent excesses typically associated with gothic metal.

The Candlemass influenced occult heavy metal of Occultation is a reasonable first reference to make when communicating the atmospheric space embodied and the vocal cadence employed within the stark doom metal pacing of Tribunal yet they’ve managed to stretch this tonal reach with a tinge of the post-‘The Angel and the Dark River‘ bandwagoneering across Europe in the mid-to-late 90’s. That is to say dire, somewhat neoclassical gothic doom metal which’d inched away from extreme metal for the sake of commercial value in transit can help us describe the “vibe” of this record to some extent. Consider records that’d sparked up circa 1995 which were a few layers deep beneath the visibility of Tiamat and Paradise Lost clones and arguably bore actual gothic/art music bones by comparison, such as Monumentum‘s revelatory ‘In Absentia Christi‘ (see also: Virgin Black), and the still death metal minded side of things a la Lacrimas Profundere‘s ‘…As the Wings Embraced Us‘ and we find separate traditions of gothic metal and melodic death/doom metal intertwined in uncomfortable union. There was a conflict within extreme metal where the gothic rock/metal fandom emergent found amateurism increasingly undesirable as the nineties burned on towards pop-metal convivence, this is where I’d landed within the face value first impression of ‘The Weight of Remembrance‘.

As a side note, this strange tonal rift and its attempts to resolve lands us upon some of my favorite deep cuts be they early Septic Flesh records or Ashes You Leave‘s underrated ‘The Passage Back to Life‘ but more importantly we get just a bit of this morose, gloriously dramatic feeling from sitting with ‘The Weight of Remembrance‘. If we are to consider the death/doom metal edges of its experience (see: “Of Creeping Moss and Crumbled Stone”) we could point to ‘The Sullen Sulcus‘ alongside a very light nod to maybe the first couple Novembers Doom albums, superficial as the choice of the latter might be. At the very least we can generally sidestep the awful “beauty and the beast” description of Tribunal‘s dual vocal style with these points of reference, since they don’t appear to have any such intent or outcome.

While this mental meandering through a bygone era might not appear fruitful at a glance we have ultimately landed upon what makes Tribunal‘s approach unique and “new” while also rooted in the best traditions. It’d be fair to take ‘The Weight of Remembrance‘ in as a strong study of gothic death/doom metal as it’d been in exodus of the early 90’s but instead of pulling towards progressivity and wretched excess the alternate history provided takes into account occult heavy rock imbued traditional doom metal. To pull this all together in atypical voice the harsh vocals have a blackened, gnashing quality at times which creeps behind the trees and caws out additional curses in support of the greater sorceress spell, if you will. “Initiation” is the most complete example of this dynamic unfolding both in terms of stylistic specificity wrapped up in the feeling of the piece, the doom metal saunter of the main riff, and the effective tonal interplay between vocalists. Bassist, vocalist, cellist and album artist Soren Mourne does a fine job of directing the piece with pensive yet affected eerie, a witching register more than it is a horrified reaction which confidently describes the ritual at hand.

What pulls the greater performances of ‘The Weight of Remembrance‘ into extreme metal cadence and profundity beyond the harsh vocals which first greet us is drumming from Julia Geaman (Alchemy Chamber/Revenger) which sets nicely within the mix, a performance mapped out in such a way that fans of 90’s gothic doom metal will unavoidably feel the reference but not have to endure the thin, compressed reality of the actual thing. In this sense we have to begin considering this a ‘modern’ doom metal record in truth and the gothic aspect comes by way of an olden feeling rather than anything deeply desirous of nostalgia for its influences. The production values speak to this as they manifest a grand cinematic and thundered outward sense of space despite the expectation of introspective intimacy the average gothic death/doom fan would expect. As a result the sentimental, yearning for death momentum found on key track “Of Creeping Moss and Crumbled Stone” is not at all meek but imposing, assertive in its sombre aggression.

At this point in the full listen, nearby the middle or thereabouts the well-attuned listener should’ve already shouldered the initial “I know what this is” hype which stems from average (at best) general aural cognition and begin to hear the unique aspects of Tribunal‘s work more clearly as we approach “Apathy’s Keep”, a very well chosen introductory single which effectively showcases their drum/guitar interplay at its most clever point alongside the epic doom metal sprawl of the guitars in full glory. Some of the more detailed vocal work found on the full listen likewise features here my favorite moment being the bit of disconnected gloom in refrain ~3:49 minutes in which should quickly perk the ear of Occultation fans. The whole of the piece reads as a rant in motion, a passage from misery to listlessness which cannot be bothered to fully make eye contact and perform for the observer. From that point we strike upon what is basically blackened Candlemass with “A World Beyond Shadow” and this doesn’t at all feel out of place per the sort of ‘Tales of Creation‘ jog much of the album presents in general dynamic. Nonetheless, it’d end up being one of the more forgettable pieces on the full listen compared to the two singles that surround it.

With “Without Answer” we get the big cello-grinding, wine spilling, light-shunning personae this type of music certainly calls for and finally a song which embraces the more unique aspects of their sound. It is the one song on the album which, sure, has a bit of the classics under its belt but gives us the greater argument for Tribunal’s standing apart from expected gothic doom metal haunts. It really is the peak of the full listen in terms of bursting open the chest of ‘The Weight of Remembrance‘ and grabbing at the strongest pulse of their gig and I’m glad they’ve produced a video clip which accentuates the moment. It is a shame that “The Path” doesn’t add much more than a bit of a doom metal escalator to finish off the album, doing little more than providing a comedown beyond the peak of “Without Answer” for a full twelve minute dirge. While it doesn’t feel excessive it breaks away from the doom metal character of the album and centers the thread around an atmospheric black metal sized dual guitar phrase which lands in resignation. Fitting or not, it’d lacked the impactful character Tribunal had formed within the rest of the full listen.

Without a stumble in their gait and with all aspects of their creation finely detailed it’ll be hard to deny Tribunal due credit for introducing themselves with this surprisingly masterful, hand-crafted and altogether entertaining debut. They’ve managed to reference the quite easily maligned and distrusted realm of extreme gothic metal and pull the listener into the camp of it all without having to ask for suspension of disbelief with a wink thanks to a well-vested course in somber traditional doom metal architecture. Falling into the moments they’ve created with admirable consistency is easy in the sense that the listening experience flows easily downward and yet ensures there is some genuine “heavy metal” interest in most every piece to keep the mood thick yet mobile in its dreadful rose clutching, veil-wearing prose. That feeling has sustained its potency across roughly twenty full listens to the point that I’ve been impressed and well entertained by ‘The Weight of Remembrance‘ and the shadow these folks intend to cast with it. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
ARTIST:TRIBUNAL
TITLE:The Weight of Remembrance
LABEL(S):20 Buck Spin
RELEASE DATE:January 20th, 2023

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