The new album from Sweden’s Trial, “Motherless”, is one of those releases that will create mixed opinions among the people who enjoyed their stellar 2015-release “Vessel”. It’s certainly more on the experimental side of things, and I guess the fact that I haven’t fully made up my mind about it, suggest that it isn’t the easiest to digest. I guess only time will tell how good an album “Motherless” is. Last time I did something on Trial, I spoke to Andreas Johnsson, and he told me that my interview object this time around, the band’s other guitarist, Alexander Ellström, was partly responsible for him playing guitar in the first place.
– It all happened when we were about 12 or 13 years old. We started to hang out listening to music. Andreas had been playing guitar a couple of years prior to that, but he really wasn’t that interested. As far as I can recall, I picked up a guitar at his place and started playing. From that moment, he kind of got into. At he same time, we started getting into metal as well, Iron Maiden of course, but mostly black and death metal stuff.
How has the fact that you go back a long time helped you develop your playing and interaction?
– It’s been great. We understand each other perfectly. It’s like we got this sixth sense. It’s really difficult to explain. If I play something, he immediately understands what kind of vibe it is to the riff, or where it is going. I haven’t really experienced the same feeling playing with someone else . It probably stems from the period I spoke about, when we were young. We kind of learned how to play metal together, and I wasn’t that into metal before we met.
“Vessel” got a lot of great feedback when it was released. Was it all deserved?
– I think “Vessel” was a little bit naïve, but naive in a good way. We wanted to explore many thoughts and ideas on that album, but we simply didn’t know how to technically do it. You have to remember, that it was basically the first time we were in a real studio, so it was a strange experience. We didn’t know how to bring forth all our ideas, but thankfully, we were under much guidance from both the engineer as well as Andy LaRocque who produced the album. This time though, we knew what to do and how to get there. In hindsight, I wish we were able to put all those ideas into “Vessel”, but the record is, like all records, just a footprint in time. It’s best to leave it like that, you will always regret something. You are never satisfied really.
Was it simply the experience from recording “Vessel” that made you more secure of what to do and how to do it for the recordings of “Motherless”?
– Yeah, absolutely. The experience really helped us. We were kind of new in the business back then, and it helped us understand the segment of recording and how to work on a song in a more broader perspective. We didn’t realize that we lacked it before we went on to record “Vessel”. It was a really mind opening experience for us.
In some ways, Alexander was a bit surprised by the amount of positive feedback the band got on “Vessel”?
– Of course, you never know what people will think about your work, simply because you isolate yourself when you are writing an album. Personally I don’t try to get too much input from other bands, as I feel really satisfied when I work alone or together with the band members focusing on where to take Trial. Motion is important to us. We really don’t want to be influenced by other bands in an obvious way, but we might be in a more spiritual way.
If you look even further back, are you comfortable listening to your demo and first album?
– Of course, there are some highlights to be found. Not so much with the demo, maybe. I don’t know if you have heard it?
Sure, you sent me a copy for review in Scream Magazine back in 2010.
-Back then we really didn’t know what was going on. It was a very early recording, we didn’t know how to do it, and all the songs turned out quite slow. The circumstances weren’t the best really. We did the whole thing really fast, I think we recorded the music over one day, perhaps two, and then Linus came in and laid down the vocals in one day too. In hindsight, we didn’t need to rush it, but still we did. “The Primordial Temple” contains some old songs, written around 2008 or perhaps even in 2007, really old stuff we felt we needed to get out there, but there were also a couple of new tracks we were pretty excited about at the time. If you listen to our next release, “Malicious Arts”, (7″ vinyl) it contains new songs only. This release felt like a new beginning for us, and from that moment, we really started to see where we were heading.
“The Primordial Temple” is starting to get sought after on vinyl and especially on CD, but according to Alexander, it isn’t going to be re-released anytime soon.
– To be honest, we’re not that eager to get it out as of now, but eventually it will get a re-release. Perhaps we could include the songs from “Malicious Arts” as well.
Let’s turn the attention to “Motherless” then. It seems you set out to progress from “Vessel”, and not only to refine the expression you had on that particular album?
– Our goal is always to move forward. Motion is way better than to stagnate. Approximately fifty percent of the songs on “Motherless” were written in the weeks or months after “Vessel” was released, some of them even before the album was out. Then came a period when we didn’t write that many songs, as we focused on playing a couple of gigs and had some other stuff going on. The rest of the songs for “Motherless” were then written a couple of months prior to the recording. Tracks like “In Empyran Labour” and “Juxtaposed” are farily new. The oldest songs on the album are those connected in the trilogy. They were finished before “Vessel” was released actually.
Apart from your singer Linus, all of you have been together for something like ten years now. Is there a general consensus or an agreement that drives you forward or the dynamics of five different opinions?
– At least there is a general consensus that we’re moving in a certain direction. It’s difficult really, but it’s not like everyone interfere with the ideas of others in a way that we start an argument or something like that. We are pretty much open to write whatever we want, as long as it sounds like Trial, and the feeling is there, along with the sound and the atmosphere. If those factors are present, you can include bits from pretty much every genre. I feel we have really done that With “Motherless”, including things like an Indian raga and even some jazz and blues stuff if you listen closely. It’s kind of a black metal record too, as it’s very melancholic with strong melodies.
Even though there are some pretty distinct changes, I was kind of suspecting an even longer jump from “Vessel” to “Motherless”. While listening to the latter, it is quite easy to draw lines back to “Vessel” as well.
– You simply can’t make the change too big at once. Perhaps if we had written all the songs during a shorter period of time, like right before we went in and recorded them, the album would have sounded much more different compared to “Vessel”, and much more progressive than what you can hear on the album. When that is said, this is the method we are using. We always have these songs laying around, working on them for a couple of weeks or months, and when the time is right, we pick them up and finish them.
Speaking about the songwriting, Alexander confirms that it’s still him and Andreas that are coming up with the basic structures for the songs.
– Musically that is. We write all the riffs and discuss where to include them in the songs. Then we take the stuff to the rehearsal room, where everyone have their say. I can have a really strong opinion on how a song should play out, but sometime that doesn’t work, and things have to be changed. We work on the songs over such a long period of time just to get the feeling right. We don’t like to rush anything. We like the songs to lay over a period of time, and if something isn’t right, we have the ability to sense it. Sometimes we skip the whole song, and never do anything with it again, but most of the time, we finish what we have started. It can be really difficult to get all the things right, to get the perfect instrumentations. It’s hard to nagivate through a song together, at least it takes some time.
Is it hard for you to se the basic idea being changed by the opinions of others as you might want to hold on to the original idea?
– Everyone is pretty open to basically every idea we have, so it’s not a problem really. Sometimes I can have a really strong opinion on a song, but the opinion can change over time. It’s a good thing, because sometimes you are just a little too excited about the initial idea. It’s important that you don’t rush things, because then the end result will probably not be optimal.
While the lyrics on “Vessel” were shared between three members, Alex is responsible for most of them this time around…
– “Cold Comes The Night” is the only one I didn’t do, it is written by Andreas. It’s not that I felt obligated by the other members to write the lyrics, more that I felt obligated spiritually to do it. I had these things that I really had to get out of my head, that needed to be examined or explored. Writing all these lyrics, has been quite a trip for me personally. And it wasn’t really clear for me in the beginning that all the lyrics shared something, almost like a concept.
So it’s not just the last three songs that are connected in a way?
– Those three are obviously connected, but every song more or less is. They deal with the abysses of my life, what I feel and what I experience. Also how I see things and how to get there and continue examine everything that is really dear to me. The lyrics are filled with anxiety, but also with love.
Even if the lyrics are personal, Alexander is confident the listener can still relate to them.
– Absolutely. As long as the lyrics are good and understandable, people can read them and try to see what I mean . They can have a look at their own lives, and see how the lyrics relate. A lot of people are having anxiety and experiencing love or hate or whatever. If you can relate to the lyrics, I believe they can help you in various ways, to help scars heal that haven’t healed. I have to point out though, that none of the lyrics were written with the purpose of of other people understanding them. It was more like meditation for me to get it out of my system. In the end, only I can see the real structures of the lyrics, and read into every word what they meant at the time I was writing them, and what they still mean to me.
Did writing these lyrics give you something in return?
– The album is called “Motherless”, but in some ways I have become a father of these lyrics. Their my children now. Writing these lyrics have given me a lot, but they’re also filled with all these feelings I can’t explain with words. You can only try to explain them with words, to help yourself understand the feelings better. Still they aren’t fully explained. You can look at the lyrics and say: “This doesn’t do it for me, and perhaps take another angle and you feel yeah, this really means something to me. This really captures the feeling I have.” The lyrics are very emotional really.
Were you inspired by other musicians that have written similar lyrics?
– Not really. Of course I am influenced by the dozens of bands I listen to, so if you listen carefully, surely you will find something. What I was really influenced by though, is the beat generation, with poets like Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and the likes. I am influenced by how they express themselves, and how they create a new reality by just typing those words. Reading stuff by them opened my senses and my mind to see things a little clearer than I have done before. Perhaps I was also able to be a bit more honest with myself in the lyrics.
Alexander isn’t sure the lyrics feel more like a whole now that he is the main contributor…
– Its hard to say really. I welcome every other band member to write their own lyrics. It’s a personal expression, and if the other guys have something good, they should really share it, instead of keeping it to themselves. For future recordings, I might end up doing all the lyrics, or I might just do one lyric for each album. It’s really hard to predict.
Why is “Motherless” a good title for this album?
-That’s a really good question. You might also have this feeling that you are separated from something, always trying to get back to it. On this occasion, I identify it as being motherless. Not having this cosmic mother that I belong to, not feeling her prescence. You feel that you don’ belong anywhere. It’s some sort of existential anxiety. You need to investigate all the feelings you have and increase the level of awareness. You need to investigate both yourself and the universe. The microcosm and the macrocosm. As above, so below…Its everything.
I remember Andreas mentioning that the different influences all of you bring to the table, is part of the answer why Trial’s material sounds so diverse. What is your influences and the stuff you bring into the songwriting?
– I would say I come from the music back in the sixties. I only listened to The Beatles, The Who, Beach Boys and Creedence before I started listening to metal. It’s mostly the way they thought back then that appeals to me. Everybody was trying to do something new, and to move forward. I might be a little influenced by the music itself as well, but it’s this way of thinking that I mainly get inspiration from. The next step is to try to translate it into what we’re doing and find my own way. I don’t want to copy anything that has already been done. When you are young, you are not aware of yourself in the manner that you can say: I want to do something that’s unique, but as you get older, it gets easier. I learned a lot from this era in music, and I want to create something that I experience as new.
After releasing “Vessel” you had at least one leftover song from the recordings. Did you record anything else this time?
– There was one song that we finished, but didn’t record. In the end we decided that we wanted to make an album that feels like an whole album in the sense that when you listen to it from the start to end, you will get a certain kind of experience. “Motherless” also felt a little too long with nine songs instead of eight. It all comes down to our own thoughts, but the feeling was that it would be too long. The song in question is heavily jazz influenced. Perhaps we will use it later. It’s a song we’re proud of even though it didn’t fit in on this album.
You are on Metal Blade this time after having been on several different labels in the past. What’s most important for you when it comes to choosing a label to work with?
– The most important thing is that the label believes in what we’re doing, but I guess Metal Blade wouldn’t have signed us in the first place if they didn’t. However, I guess there are different levels of “believing in”. We don’t demand that much really, we just want to be able to record whatever we want to record. That’s the basic for us, everything else is a bonus, and it’s here you’ll find the difference between labels. Metal Blade is a big label, and it’s kind of more pressure too. I don’t feel pressure to make good music, but people expect us to feel pressure, I think. It could all prove to be really difficult, because if people hate the album, we will probably not get an opportunity to make another one. It’s hard, but we don’t try to think about it that much. We have a strong belief in our music, and if the right path is thread things should be okay.
Alexander describes Metal Blade as a step up from the days on High Roller, even though he doesn’t say a bad word about the latter either.
– Metal Blade represented an even greater opportunity to work on the songs in the studio. We spent a bit longer time making this album compared to the last, the focus on the songs was really something different and we tried to be thorough with everything. If something didn’t sound good enough, we did it all over again.
The trilogy, consisting of the songs “Birth”, “Embodiment” and “Rebirth” is an important part of the album, to such an extent that the whole B-side on the vinyl version is dedicated to “Still The Stars Dismembers The Void” which is the title of the trilogy.
– These songs are not just about regular birth, regular emobodiment or regular death. You can experience these things on different levels, it could be a thought or a feeling. It can be what comes to mind, and movement also, if you are going through something. It always repeats itself – birth and embodiment, rebirth. You can almost divide everything you do into these three segments. The trilogy is basically an examination of things I have experienced, learned from and tried to understand even more. So I believe that’s the red thread running through these three compositions.
As a listener, I need time to absorb this album. A lot of time, compared to “Vessel”. Is that something you, as one of the main song writers, can understand?
– Yeah, absolutely. It takes time with this record, as “Motherless” is filled with all these things going on. It’s atmospheric as well, and the lyrics have been taken to another level.
I am really impressed with the vocals this time. Having seen Linus Johansson coming into the band, how would you describe his progress?
– He is definitely more confident nowadays compared to what he was in the beginning. We have changed the approach to how we do the vocals a lot. We really worked fast and intense with the vocals at the early stages of our career, and Linus really wasn’t given enough time to focus on certain passages or even capture a feeling in the vocals. As a singer, sometimes you want to scream your lungs out, sometimes you want to do something completely different. This time we had the time to work on such things. Linus and I also spent time before we started on each song to discuss the lyrics. We talked about how I felt about the lyrics, and how he felt about them. We also spoke about how he could read into the lyrics to try to capture the feeling for each segment of the song, so it wouldn’t be a straight line of intensity throughout the track. Some songs are more interesting to listen to when it comes to the vocals, because Linus really captures the listener. He is really theatrical with his vocals, and for sure did a great job this time. Everyone can hear that his performance is mindblowing.
As you mentioned, you had material ready for this album at an early stage. Do you already have songs for the next album?
– When you are about to record, you only focus on finishing those songs, and make them as perfect as possible. Almost instantly after the recording is finished, I get inspired and creative again. I can do next to nothing prior to and during the recording, but after we are finished, I always tend to want to write more stuff. So yes, we have a couple of songs and ideas basically ready, but nothing we are rehearsing right now.
Do you think the next album will be very different from “Motherless”?
– Absolutely. In some ways, but in some ways it could also be similar. Its quite early to tell. We might change our approach in different songs, and that in turn can change the whole perspective of the album. Of course we don’t want to do anything that is too similar to “Motherless”. We want to do something new, but I need to have the whole picture to say exactly how different it will be.
All photos: Anders Skoorell