Interview with Adam Zaars from Tribulation
For some years now, an extreme metal band from Arvika, Sweden, titled Tribulation has been taking the metal world by storm. Though originally formed as a dirty and fast death metal band hailing back to seminal Swedish acts such as Merciless and Nihilist as well as to the fierce storming vengeance of early Morbid Angel, Tribulation quickly shed their more primitive leanings to focus on an increasingly eclectic blend of outside influences. Now with four studio albums under their belts, Tribulation are debuting their first ever live album, and guitarist Adam Zaars was nice enough to answer some of my questions about the band and what’s coming up for them.
You formed Tribulation as a teenager some fifteen years ago. Is there anything you’d change about how the band operated in the early days?
No, I wouldn’t change a thing. It is what it is, and I’m perfectly fine with that. It’s a testament to our vision at that time and I think we managed to execute it in a very pleasing way. I can even be a bit impressed when listening to it considering we weren’t even in our 20’s when recording The Horror. Jakob Johansson’s drumming is insane and we really managed to create and play those intense solos, and it’s all very tight.
The band has had a shockingly stable lineup across all of these years, with only drummers changing out since 2004. How has the band stayed so close together?
We’ve known each other since we were kids and I think that’s probably why. We know each other in ways you only do when you’ve been hanging out for that long, and that really works for us even though we obviously have our ups and downs.
How has Tribulation as a collective handled the changing of vision across the years? Has everyone always been on board with the massive shifts in sound?
Yes, everyone’s been onboard. We’ve never sat down to plan on how the next move is going to be. We come up with stuff and try it out, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. We haven’t really had any big fights about it, and that might be because of the lack of vision we’ve come to have. We all know more or less what works and what doesn’t work, we don’t really have to talk about it.
In an interview, the band gave an oath some years ago to never have clean vocals in Tribulation—but that was back when you were fairly straightforward death metal. Do those strong words still stand with all of the sonic evolution that Tribulation has undergone?
I think that’s still the case, but I’m open to whatever comes our way. If it somehow works in a song, we might go with it, but I don’t see us changing that dramatically in general. It’s difficult to say anything about the future since I really don’t know what’s going to happen. So, I wouldn’t call it an oath, even though I might have in the past (?), but I don’t see it happening. A clean voice, as well as any way of using the voice, can also be seen as an instrument and we’ve used it like that in the past, as on the song “Spectres” from The Formulas of Death. A thing like that might absolutely happen again.
Tribulation has covered a variety of post-punk and goth rock bands in the last few years. Is there anyone else that you would like to cover at some point?
Only time will tell!
Why is now the right time for a live album, and not a year ago, or five years ago?
Releasing a live album after only two studio albums wasn’t something we wanted to do. It kind of feels like that’s a thing that should happen a few albums in, so that people actually want it. I personally like live recordings, but I’m usually fine with a bootleg of something that’s not released officially. Four albums in, like for us, felt like the right time. But it was actually more or less a coincidence since we had already booked the show when we decided to record it! Pretty much everything that you see in the DVD (the host, the two acts and so on) was done before we decided to record it, and since we played a few of the songs for the first time it was a bit of a gamble. But it worked out well! We couldn’t really find any good live clips out there, and since I’ve been and still am a fan of bands, I know that’s what you want to see. Hopefully people will appreciate it!
Will you ever play the old death metal material live again?
We still do occasionally! We still play songs from The Horror every now and then, and this past weekend we played four songs from The Formulas of Death, which would amount to about 30 minutes of that show.
In contrast to your older interviews, you told Bardo Methodology a few years ago that you’re not into death metal aside from individual bands such as Morbid Angel. Has your interest in the genre increased or decreased since then? Do you still listen to any of the newer bands or obscure demo tapes you used to namedrop ten or more years ago?
I’ve never been into death metal in general when looking back at it. Only a few bands. Out of the thousands of bands there are, I really only listen to and appreciate a few. The same goes for black metal and any kind of genre really. I still love listening to old demos of any genre, and in some ways it’s not entirely because how good it is (even though that’s often the case), it can be because of a more nerdy interest in it. In the same way that I enjoy learning about obscure cults and religious expressions around the world, or history or whatever it might be, I also like to know what was going on in the, say, Argentinian metal scene in the late 80’s, or whatever. So, the level of full-time metal enthusiast has in a way decreased because I have other interests that take up a lot of time, but when I get into it the enthusiasm is very much the same. It doesn’t really matter if it’s an 80’s Italian doom metal band or a Russian symphonic heart-aching heavy metal band, it’s still very interesting and sometimes amazingly good. I don’t listen to a lot of newer bands no, turning into a grumpy old man already I suppose.
You recently debuted your first 7” under the name Tyrann with Tobias from Enforcer and Jakob Ljungberg, who is a former Tribulation drummer. How did you decide to start the band and when will we hear more?
It’s Tobias’s band, and he wanted me to play guitar. That’s about it! Since we’ve been playing together since we were teenagers in various constellations it’s always great to hang out and play with the two of them, and since I thought the songs were really cool, I didn’t hesitate when he asked me. Not sure when there’s going to be more, that’s on Tobias!
Though you’re best known for Tribulation, you played in Enforcer for a few years, and did guest solos for Helvetets Port a few years ago. Now you have Tyrann. When did your interest in heavy metal start? Did it come before or after extreme metal, and how does it influence your songwriting in Tribulation?
Yes, it started earlier. I personally got into Kiss when I was about 5 or 6, mainly because of what they looked like. Luckily, I also liked what I was hearing and then the same thing happened with Iron Maiden a few years later. Saw Eddie and was hooked, basically. Then I got really obsessed, almost possessed, with Iron Maiden, and I still am. I basically only listened to Iron Maiden from when I was about 10 to about 13. That’s how I learned to play guitar for the most part. Then it was the usual process with Slayer, Morbid Angel, Mayhem and things like that and the more unusual, at least at the time, Brazilian scene with bands like Sarcófago and Holocausto that really made an impression. We all listened to stuff like Blind Guardian and things like that as well. But my interest in obscure music, and heavy metal in particular, really started when I was around 15 or so when me and Olof of Enforcer always had new discoveries we shared with each other. A lot of NWOBHM and FWOSHM (First wave of Swedish…) as well as bands from the French 80’s scene and beyond! There’s still a lot of archaeology to be made, I think! All of this has always influenced my songwriting. Especially finding the gold in what other people usually discard as “not serious” or downright funny. There’s so many good ideas, melodies and riffs in bands people generally discard!
When did the band’s interest in goth rock and related sounds come into the picture? What led to it being integrated into Tribulation?
The Gothic and Romantic elements have been there since the first album, but generally more in the lyrical themes and the overall aesthetics. But that’s not what you mean I suppose, but I think it’s connected. Growing up in Arvika meant you were exposed, for a week every year, to goths of every kind, in the thousands, because of the festival Arvikafestivalen. It started out as a synth and goth festival but morphed into a more regular music-of-all-kinds kind of festival in the end and it had a big impression on us. I saw The Sisters of Mercy there when I was 11 and watching Slayer in a truck parking lot in your small hometown will always be a weird thing. We had been listening to things like Sopor Aeternus and Fields of the Nephilim for a while and I guess it just snuck into the sound more and more on Children and it fit perfectly to what we were already doing. In a way it sometimes feels like goth bands and Tribulation have been inspired by the same things, but the outcome is different.
The Formulas of Death was seventy-five minutes long. Each of the subsequent albums have been shorter and shorter, with Down Below clocking at just under forty-seven minutes—the band’s tightest album since The Horror. Is the move towards conciseness a conscious one, or a natural result of the band’s songwriting process?
Both yes and no. I like long albums, but sometimes getting everything on one LP rather than have a double LP is just a very convenient thing. That was one of the reasons that both Children and Down Below ended up how they did, we wanted it on one LP, not two. Children ended up being a three-sided album, and finally on Down Below we managed to make an album that fit on only two sides. Sometimes that break when you switch sides, and even records is good, but that’s not always the case. It might be a non-issue anyway since most people probably stream the albums nowadays, me included. That’s the reason! We might do a longer one in the future though.
In a past interview, you stated that while you used to be indifferent to fan response, the importance of good reception and the power of an audience hanging on every riff has been growing on you. Does this ever influence your songwriting or your attitude towards ideas presented by other band members?
I don’t think it will influence the song writing, and if it will I suspect it won’t be a whole lot. We’ve never been a band with big catchy choruses, but I’m not ruling anything like that out. It can work both ways. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing to get influenced by it if the outcome is a great song, but that just hasn’t been our modus operandi so to speak. Whatever works works and we don’t quite know until we have if not all then at least many pieces of the puzzle.
The last couple of Tribulation albums have been surrounded by a small deluge of 7”s featuring cover tracks, advance tracks, and alternate versions of songs. Is this due to a love of the format, promotional considerations from record labels, both, or something else entirely?
Both! We always need some extra tracks, and seven inches are always great. It’s one of my favorite formats for sure!
Do you have any part in writing Tribulation’s lyrics? Involved with them or not, where do they come from, and how do they tie into writing songs? How important are lyrics and aesthetics in music driven by riffs and harsh vocals?
I do. Both me and Jonathan have been writing most lyrics and music. Everything is important, and the lyrics are too. We’re not summoning demons or raising our consciousness, or whatever, with the lyrics, they are really more of an artistic expression that has to fit the mold. Sometimes they are very personal and sometimes they are more about adding the right atmosphere and feeling to the song, trivial as it may sound. We’ve never had lyrics that are meant to convey a message or something like that, but if people find them inspiring then I’m happy. Aesthetically, lyrically and conceptually it’s everything from the Victorian obsession with death and the supernatural, western esotericism in general, medieval Catholicism, medieval Jewish mysticism and folklore, Swedish folklore, the (particularly) Swedish forest, (the idea of) French 19th-century devil worship, the 1960’s witch craze and psychedelia, silent movies, art nouveau, 1980’s black metal and 1970’s and 1980’s heavy metal. For us it’s very important since we’re a band, and one part about being a band is the overall image that you convey to people. The music is the most important part, but the music goes hand in hand with all the rest.
What’s next for Tribulation?
We’re leaving for a European tour with Ghost in about a week, then we’re going to Russia for the first time early next year. Then we’ll focus on new material!
Is there anything else you’d like to talk about or promote, in Tribulation or outside of it?
Check out Jonathan’s solo stuff if you haven’t, it’s great!
Photo credit to S. Bollmann