2015 Reviews

Armory “S.M.I”1426426561_maxresdefault

I never got a chance to listen to “Open Fire” Amory’s first demo released a couple of years ago, but a few weeks back, these Swedish guys did what more bands performing old school heavy metal should do, contacted me to inform about their brand new demo recording. While I had in fact already seen the name around and visited their Bandcamp-site, I needed that extra kick up the arse (By the way,my two year old daughter told me it’s huge the other day) to sit down and actually listen to the four songs on offer.

In the aforementioned conversation, names like Savage Grace and Agent Steel were dropped, and although all four tracks on this demo tape have strong melodic elements, this is not as superbly flowing melodic as these two acts. On the other hand, the way the band mixes thrash way with speed and heavy metal, reminds me a bit of another contemporary band who just released an album, Belgium’s Evil Invaders. Amory is not as good yet, but they seem to base their music around similar ideas and ideals.

While the title of the demo might seem cryptic, it’s all revealed during the chorus of the last track, where Konstapel P. helps us understand that it’s short for “Speed Metal Island”. This particular chorus is also where one of my main concerns about Armory sticks out. I have no problems at all with Konstapel P’s overall approach to signing, but when he wails or howls like he does here, it all sounds a bit silly. I don’t think it fits in with the rest of his aggressive performance, and not with the music either, for that matter. Luckily, this kind of vocal is restricted to a few of the choruses.

Apart from the title track, where the vocals are a distraction (the rest of the song is rather cool), the material is clearly above average. Intense, fast, sweaty and dirty are just some keywords. The songs are intense and compact, the general tempo fast, and the solos even faster, while the overall feeling is sweaty and dirty. The more melodic side of the band is strongest throughout some of the verses, in for instance “Nightstalker” and “Alien Invasion”. While their songwriting is solid, the band should continue working on developing their own identity as there are quite a few bands doing a similar style at the moment.

https://www.facebook.com/armoryofficial

Crimson Storm “Motor City Maniac” (Swords & Chains)crimson storm

The newer Italian heavy metal bands relying mainly on the NWOBHM are often hit or miss with me. I love a band like Ruler (although they have a strong US influence as well), while stuff like Nitehawks and Gengis Khan left me dead cold. Swords & Chains have just released Crimson Storm’s demo “Motor City Maniac” on tape, limited to only 100 copies. Apparently the same material was released on CD by the band late last year, but as that release passed me by completely, I use this opportunity to say a few words about this “Motor City Maniac”.

The quartet, formed in 2009, hailing from the island of Sardinia, is completely unknown to me, but judging from the name, I wonder if the singer Hans Andersen might be Norwegian or Danish. If that is his real name, that is. “Motor City Maniac”, the title alone almost defines the musical content. This is fast, energetic and raw heavy metal, free from other influences, apart from  a little punk, but that’s were the NWOBHM came from, isn’t it?  The vocals are very unpolished and rather wild at times, just listen to the last track, “Heavy Metal Thunder”. None of the four tracks on offer here, are outstanding by any means, but I can enjoy the rocking title track  with vocals that are all over the place. “Saigon Boulevard Dreams” is the song that stands out most, not only due to the title, but also because it is more midtempo oriented, and sounds a little more relaxed and melodic than the rest.

Overall, the guitars are sharp and the overall sound naked and authentic. The band definitely needs to work on their identity, as this material, both riff wise and when it comes to the gang choruses, could stem from pretty much every new straight heavy metal-band out there. There is not a lot about the songs that scream “Crimson Storm”, if you know what I mean.  While I do appreciate this tape as an honest effort,  I don’t feel Crimson Storm is a band that is ripe for a full length just yet.

Death Magic “Too Hot To Roll” (Shadow Kingdom)death magic

This tape contains an intro and four long tracks, ranging from six to around nine and a half minutes. The material on this cassette was recorded back in April 2013, and to be honest it has been available on CD-format directly from the band since later that year. However, this tape only- release through Shadow Kingdom should lead to wider distribution, even though the release is limited to just 100 copies.

“Neverland”, the first real song after the intro, has some nice moments, especially when it comes to the guitar work, but is a bit overlong, and features some predictable gang vocals during the rather lame chorus. The song structure itself, leans towards slightly progressive US metal with some time changes and drawn out, instrumental sections. However, there are some differences, as a lot of US metal bands have a front man with an impressive, high pitched, glass-shattering voice. The vocals in Death Magic is simply not convincing enough. First the voice of Mattia Scifo, even though it is rather high pitched, is flat and unspectacular. Also, the accent is pretty heavy, so without looking at the lyrics (which to be fair, are printed in the booklet) you will have a hard time deciphering what he is singing about. Last, but not least, some of the vocal lines seem rather odd and should be worked on to create more fluency. The line “I Can See Through These…” in “Thunders And Fire” is just one example.

“Street Killer” kicks off with more of the gang backing vocals, and you start wonder if the band should either scrap these completely or work more on them to get them to sound better. The tempo is high, close to what some people will call speed metal, and you’ll hear traces of several US metal bands which in turn are strongly influenced by Iron Maiden in this tune. The title track is closing this tape, and it’s the rockiest track on offer, again with some rather strange vocal lines paired with pretty lame gang vocals.

Although this release is enjoyable to some extent, mainly because Death Magic does things a bit differently from many of the young metal bands coming through at the moment, and because of the shredding guitar work, I feel the band still has a way to go and some work to do before they’re ready to unleash their first full length. I guess the fact that the tape is still available from the label, even though it was such a limited run, somehow underlines my point.

Deathman “3 Track Heavy Metal Tape” (Lockyard)3-Track-Heavy-Metal-Tapeby-Deathman

Deathman is a new metal band from Östersund in Sweden featuring a rhythm section consisting of the Låsgårdh-brothers, Henrik and August, who are both in the thrash metal band Hypertension as well. In Deathman they hook up with singer and guitarist Dennis Eriksson and guitarist Ludvig Gustavsson. The tape has a very high do it yourself-factor, with a hand cut cover and an amateurish and naïve cover art, and also the music shows true passion for the ancient art of early heavy metal.

Musically, the three tracks sound very old school, and bring back strong memories of early to mid-eighties Swedish metal. In many ways it could be some unheard material lifted from an obscure demo released during the golden era.  One element that sounds very Swedish,is the laidback vocals of Eriksson. Overall, the vocals sound a little tired and uninspired, and you can hear he is struggling a little when he pushes his voice that little extra bit.

The music is not very aggressive, and while I would have loved a bit more spark and energy personally, I guess this is the way the band want it. Also, I can’t deny that it all sounds quite charming, and in many ways that little bit different compared to what many bands do today. The songs are a little too similar in atmosphere, as they all have this melancholic touch, provided mainly by the relaxed vocals, but also the melodies. There is not a lot that sticks out here, but the whole affair is enjoyable nevertheless. Swedish heavy metal is mentioned a couple of times already, but of course there are distinct NWOBHM-influences as well, in “Bells Of Doom” for instance. There are no big choruses to be found, but they are all well integrated and functional parts of the songs.

The recording has a varm authentic sound, where things sound crisp, although not crystal clear. The instruments have room to breathe, and the whole thing is in Clear contrast to this massive, overproduced, modern sound that many bands have today. While the three songs on here work rather well together, a full length really needs to be a bit more diverse.The tape was originally released in very limited quantities by Lockyard, but if I am not completely wrong, it will be soon rereleased by the Australia’s Heavy Chains.

Herzel “Unis Dans La Gloire” (Impious Desecration)HerzelDemo

Herzel from France is, along with acts like Terminus, Ravensire and Eternal Champion part of a new generation of epic metal bands. While some of these bands are delivering their epic metal the brutal, raw and barbaric way, Herzel’s approach is more similar to classic acts like Warlord and Medieval Steel as they rely a lot on a majestic atmosphere that is more relaxed and melodic than aggressive and attacking. The guitar melodies are distinct, and sometimes with a little Celtic touch. The guitar work and the sound is quite clearly influenced by Bill Tsamis’ work , with the instrument very much upfront creating melodic leads along those crystal clear, dreamy lines.

“Unis Dans La Gloire” is a brand new tape containing an intro, excitingly titled…”Intro” as well as two quite long songs, the title track, as well as “Nominoë”, resulting in a combined playing time of around a quarter of an hour. Both songs grow with pretty much each listen as they’re not designed for easy and fast consumption. Instead we get two midtempo based, diverse tracks which evolve as they move along without losing the red thread. Even though the overall impression is that this is a rather mellow version of epic metal, without the rough edges of Ironsword or Ravensire, there are still some heavy riffs to be found in both of the tracks.

The lyrics are in French, as they are in pretty much every interesting French heavy metal band, adding a bit of an exotic element. The singer has a mid range voice, but he adds some high screams here and there to great effect. While he works well in these surroundings, he is not destined to floor anyone that listens to these couple of tracks. When he sings, his voice is very much upfront, while the guitar takes a similar position when he’s not singing.

The overall sound could have been a bit beefier and more powerful, but I believe the result the band wanted to achieve, is pretty much what they got. I sense that there is a clear thought behind the way the band sounds. Apart from the fact that you seldom hear French bands with lyrics in French performing this kind of music, Herzel doesn’t bring a lot of new things to the table. But for me that is fine, as long as the music both touches me and nails me to the chair. Herzel is definitely one to follow.

https://www.facebook.com/herzelbreizhsteel

Jet Jaguar “Call Of The Fight” (Roots Active)jet jaguar

Voltax and Split Heaven are two Mexican bands with some moderate success. Especially the former deserves more attention, as their last album “Hiding Into Flames” was simply excellent. Jet Jaguar is another new Mexican hope, and they have put together four decent heavy metal songs comparable to many of the new bands clearly inspired by the NWOBHM. After first being available as CD-R only, the songs have been put out on tape, with the band even adding a bonus track. Musically it has all been done before, and it has all been done by bands with way bigger song writing skills fronted by singers with bigger balls.

There is a certain charm attached to the four songs, but listening to the tape, one song after the other passes by without leaving a real impression. It sounds a little too flat and lightweight and the vocals of Jorge Ramirez are nowhere near strong enough to be the main focal point. There is no real power behind his delivery, and he is not able to take control of the songs and guide them along as an experienced and potent heavy metal shouter would do. His voice is not very prominent in the mix either.

The band should also work hard on establishing a stronger identity. The solos are quite melodic, and overall pretty cool (listen to “The Hunter” for instance), but the energy level should definitely be higher. The band seems to be honest about what they’re doing, but the songwriting skills need to impove, as the title track is just run of the mill stuff, without real hooks. For a demo, the sound is about average, and a bigger production while maintaining the spontaneous feel, should lift an album. I also like how the bass sound, very Steve Harris-inspired it seems. Fave song: “Rockshot”.

Legionaire “The Enigma Of Time”a0313056815_16

I got hold of this demo some time ago, and I have to say it’s nothing less than a catastrophe that I haven’t been able to listen to it in its entirety until now. I understand that “The Enigma Of Time” is the second demo from this Finnish band, and I guess you, as I did, failed to hear the first one when it was released. Unfortunately, the tape version of “The Enigma Of Time” was limited to 100 pieces, and according to the band’s Bandcamp site those have been gone for a while now. As for now, the only way to get this demo (as well as the first one it seems), is to grab the digital version from Bandcamp. You can even name your own price, so there is no reason to dwell on this one, at least if you like fast heavy metal with some blistering dual guitarwork.

The recording sounds very rough, and everyone that owns the full Dream Theater-catalogue will surely turn this off only a few minutes into the opener, “The Guardian”. Musically, this leans towards US metal bands like early Slough Feg (the instrumental “Zeta Reticuli” for instance) and maybe Brocas Helm, but I even hear some hints towards old Helloween here and there. The drums don’t carry a lot of power and the guitar sound is pretty thin, but nevertheless it’s easy to spot the potential and completely impossible not to hear that the guys had a lot of fun when they performed these four very raw sounding tracks.There are a lot of really good ideas here, and when I listen to the demo, I am 100 percent that these guys are into this music for all the right reasons. This is totally uncommercial sounding stuff, played with conviction straight from the heart.

When it comes to the future, I for sure don’t want to hear this band with a polished and sterile production. What the band should try to do next time, when I expect them to step out of their rehearsal space and into a real studio, is to keep the rough edges, but bring the vocals a bit more to the front as they are somewhat buried on “The Enigma Of Time”. To get this to work, I guess Aku’s vocals need to improve. They are not by any means impressive, sounding a little uninspired and flat, but at least to me, they work in context with the rough and raw musical expression of Legionaire.

https://www.facebook.com/legionnairemetal

Lord Vigo “Under Carpathian Sun” lord vigo

This German trio has received many kind words from reviewers, especially in their home country, but I have also seen people in the underground scene questioning the musical content here. So where am I? Somewhere in between, I guess. I don’t really hear anything special here, but at the same time, there are definitely worse demos hitting my mailbox.

The opening song, “Vigo Von Homburg Deutschendorf” has a great, heavy groove, and is overall really catchy, but I am a bit unsure of the self made samplings, sound effects and stuff the band is using. Already in this number, it’s clear to me what should be the band’s main task when it comes to future songwriting: To tighten up their songs, scrap the nonsense and focus on bringing out the very best of their song ideas. And yes, I almost forgot: I am not too fond of keyboards in this type of music, and here they are often dwelling in the background, filling out the sound, but taking away some of the rawness at the same time.

The atmosphere on “Under Carpathian Sun” takes some time getting used to, and to be honest, I am not there yet, and I doubt if I ever will be. Patrick Fuchs, the singer from the extremely mediocre Hammer King is involved, but “only” as guitarist and bassist, as vocal duties are handled by Vinz Clortho who is also the drummer in the band. He has a towering, quite powerful voice that fits the music well, and it should be pretty interesting seeing and hearing him in a live setting.

Lord Vigo is definitely no bleak copy of other acts, although you can hear stuff here that reminds you of epic doom metal giants like Solitude Aeturnus and Candlemass. They do things their own way, mainly by incorporating som pretty unusual elements, not only the standard up tempo heavy metal-parts, but also elements that make you think of…well…gothic metal. I you weren’t able to grab a copy of the tape, don’t worry as No Remorse out of Greece will release these songs along with a couple of new tracks as an album very soon. If the band can steer clear of the spoken parts and and tidy up some of the arrangements, Lord Vigo might be worth spending time with in the future.

Majesty In Ruin “All Light Shall Fade…”(Shadow Kingdom)a1255197284_10

I am a huge fan of Sinister Realm. In fact, I think they are one of the really underrated bands of our age. For some time I feared that the band was history, partly  due to Majesty In Ruin, a new doom metal project featuring the man with the terrific song writing skills in Sinister Realm, John Gaffney. As news of a new album being recorded by Sinister Realm was unveiled a short time ago, it seems like the bands can exist side by side. Fortunately.

In Majesty In Ruin, Gaffney is joined by singer Rich McCoy. I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting this kind of vocal performance. He his voice is towering, crystal clear, and his approach commanding, in the sense that he takes hold of the songs and shapes them with his vocals. On this recording the duo is joined by drummer and former Sinister Realm-member Darin McCloskeyand guitarist Greg Diener (Pale Divine, ex-Beelzefuzz) who is contributing a few quality solos while Gaffney himself is handling the rhythm guitar.

“All Light Shall Fade…” is a very professional, varm sounding recording, packed with heavy, crushing riffs contributing to an epic atmosphere similar to Candlemass or Solitude Aeturnus.  With Gaffney involved, it comes as no surprise that the bass has a rather prominent position in the sound, both when the band rocks out and when things are slowed and toned down for quieter passages.

This demo contains three long songs, with “Remembrance” the shortest one, clocking in at six minutes.  This a very beautiful piece that has slowly become my favourite on this tape. The vocal performance in this one is very emotional and the song more stripped down compared to the two other tracks, but still, some sorrowful, heavier riffs appear in the mid section of this one as well, climaxing in a really beautiful last two minutes or so that recalls While Heaven Wept.

Majesty In Ruin delivers some classy doom metal stuff with dynamic songs containing slow and calm parts as well as heavy rifforama. “Mother Of Desire” is the most powerful song on offer here, with some parts where a bit of pace is injected while “The Lamp Of Invisible Light” seems a bit overlong, although I enjoy the heavier parts of it. Apart from that, my minor criticism is that the sound and songwriting offers very few surprises and that the choruses maybe could have been a little stronger.  I really look forward to the full length!

Powertryp “Endless Power”496993

I originally wanted to order a copy of this demo, as I prefer to check out new and upcoming acts as far away from my computer as possible. When the band insisted on sending it to me for free to get an honest opinion about it, I gladly accepted. “Endless Power” is released as a silver pressed CD in a cardboard sleeve, just like the ones me and fellow writers used to get high stacks of before everyone started doing digital promos. Even though I see the advantages by releasing a CD this way, for instance to keep postage costs at a decent level, the overall impression would have been even better if it was packaged as CD’s usually come, with a booklet and a back insert. Especially as”Endless Power” contains six songs and have a playing time of around 29 minutes.

When I received this demo, I soon realized the quintet had found a fitting name for their band, as listening to the demo felt like journey that really made an impact. The recording sounds very good, with powerful guitar and pounding drums. Played at a decent volume, this demo sounds just as great, if not better than many ordinary CD-releases these days. The singer, Johannes Korda (who sung with Atlantean Kodex for a couple of liveshows some years ago) has a lot of identity, and the steady riffing is quite impressive throughout most of the six tracks. Although there are shorter sequences where you can hear that the band is German, Powertryp seems to be mostly inspired by US metal. However, they sound just as much like something that could come out during the nineties as an eighties band. I’ve seen Armored Saint mentioned, and in some ways the comparison is valid. I can easily see those guys churning out a few of the riffs on offer here, and I have no problem picturing John Bush belting out a few of Korda’s lines either.

Although I am not too fond of “Nail Your Prophet” (a bit too modern riffing) and the aforementioned, short closing track “Burn On”, which both at times feel a little too hectic, there is some good to great material on offer here. The heavy and slightly slower “By My Hand”, with lyrics that seem to be based on Norse Mythology has an excellent chorus , and is by far the best track on the demo. That being said, both the feelgood, uptempo opener “Here’s Control” containing some very catchy vocal lines and “Hotter Than Hellfire” are good songs too. Overall, this demo is a positive piece of dark, up to date (not modern) heavy metal, and should be checked out by everyone looking for new acts that look to do something else than just jumping on the Enforcer/Skull Fist-bandwagon. Contact: info@powertryp.de

Satan’s Hallow “The Horror/Satan’s Hallow” (Swords & Chains)a1749196633_10

A lot of people seemed to love the Savage Master-album. I thought it was more than decent too, but would the band have gained the same attention with a different image? Well, I am not sure about that. Satan’s Hallow is a pretty new Chicago-based metal band, but in its ranks the band has some experienced musicians from the area. The quintet seems to take a different approach than their Louisville-counterparts when it comes to the image and the stage presence. If the early rough footage that floats around is representative for what to expect, that is. For once we have a front woman that seems to rely mostly on her voice, and what a voice Mandy Martillo is in possession of! She proves that as a female singer you don’t have to scream or snarl, even if you sing in a straight up heavy metal-band. Judging from this recording, she hasn’t been doing anything else than singing heavy metal all her life, but I am pretty sure that isn’t the case. Her vocals are never forced, sounding very natural and controlled, adding a nice sense of flow to the two tracks on offer here.

I’ve lost count of how many times I have played “The Horror” and “Satan’s Hallow” since I got my hands on them some weeks back, but I guess it says a lot that I have come to a point where it feels like “The Horror” especially, has been with me more or less since I started listening to heavy metal. What a classic tune! Had this one been penned during the eighties, every  so called metal-DJ would have played it at parties or before gigs, and it would have passed the 100 000 times viewed-limit on YouTube. Joke aside, this song is really a timeless first class heavy metal-ripper. Uptempo, but not exactly fast, with a great, heavy main riff, driving drums, some no frills-soloing and catchy vocal lines. Simply put, this is the stuff we live for, and the stuff we’re prepared to die for. Would it have been as impressive with male vocals? I don’t think so. “Satan’s Hallow” is a bit slower, with yet another heavy main riff. Again we get some vocal lines that really stick in your head, and I’ve grown to like it nearly as much as “The Horror”.

These two tunes, which so far is only released digitally, will soon see the light of day on two different formats. First out is a very limited tape release through the excellent Sword & Chains Records, which granted us some already classic tape releases in form of Visigoth, Eternal Champion and Walpyrgus to name just a few. Then the songs will be pressed on vinyl on the German label, Underground Power. Do yourself a favor and grab one of these!

Listen: http://satanshallow.bandcamp.com/album/the-horror-b-w-satans-hallow

Silverbones “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea”silverbones

While “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea” was released medio December last year, I have decided to include it here among the 2015 reviews. A sorry goes out to the band for taking so long to get this review done. The titletrack starts off this demo with a bass intro so similar to the one in Running Wild’s classic “Conquistadors”that it simply has to be considered a tribute. At the same time it also manifests what is the main influence for this Italian guys. This four track demo sounds a lot like Running Wild. Its all neat and tidy, and if this had been released through the nineties, Silverbones would probably have received some attention, as there weren’t too many bands trying to recreate the magic of Rock’n Rolf and his constantly changing allies.

Today, there still aren’t that many bands citing Running Wild as their main influence, something that is a bit surprising, as the band, at their prime, is close to unbeatable. Just check the picture used at the top of Metal Squadron’s main page to get an idea of how important this band has been for me. So is Silverbones relevant today? Well, with Blazon Stone, the ultimate Running Wild-worship band entering the scene a few years ago, I am not so sure. If some people can question the existence of one Running Wild-copy band, there are certainly questions to be raised about another, and considerably weaker one.

The intro aside, we have three tracks with vocals here. “Royal Tyrants” and “Queen Anne’s Revenge” are both titles that doesn’t weaken the link to Running Wild, while the last track is called “Wicked Kings”. None of them are as speedy as some Running Wild-numbers are, and none of them sound as powerful. Also the vocals are a far cry from the commanding voice of Rock’n Rolf. They are simply a bit to weak to gain complete control of the ship. Containing some neat riffs and melodies, the three songs are not bad, but I think the band either needs to up their game considerably to be considered relevant as a Running Wild-copy band, or drop the most obvious references to the Metal Pirates and start injecting more of their own ideas and identity into the sound.
https://www.facebook.com/silverbones.heavymetal

Warlok ”Summoning Sickness” (Swords & Chains)warlok

Don’t worry, the band name is spelled without a c, and the band is from Oregon in the US, not Düsseldorf in Germany. Yeah, I know I used the word “band”, but Warlok is mostly about one guy, Matthew Edwards.  On this three tracker, recently released on tape by Swords & Chains Records, he is only helped out during the solo of the opener “Night Rider” by Nikki Krimson from Sanctifyre.  A pretty shredding solo, by the way. The song is an up tempo, melodic toe tapper and a great way to start the demo.  Even though the last track, “Judgement Bell”, also have some of those moments, the opener is Warlok as aggressive as they get on “Summoning Sickness, but at the same time with some cool melodic guitar work and a solid chorus.

The second song, “Summoning Sickness” is darker, more diverse and slower compared to the first song, and works well in breaking up the two slightly more aggressive tracks on the album. Well, at least “Judgement Bell” starts out aggressively, but again the guitars are melodic, and the chorus very well done. The songs itself, is also a lot more laidback than the opening seconds suggests. To sum up, while none of the songs will blow your head off, they show consistency and some mature songwriting.

Warlok is all about good, traditional metal, done the American way. As I already said, the material is pretty interesting and fresh, with an emphasis on riffs and strong hooks. Edward’s vocals are controlled, and pleasant, as he operates mainly in a laidback midrange. There is a lot of potential contained on this demo, but better sounding drums should be a priority next time around.  It might mean that Edwards will have to let go of some of the control, but the end result should only profit from it.

http://warlokmetal.bandcamp.com/releases

Zodiac “Stone Command” (Heavy Chains)a2028277886_10

As with Terminus, I was a bit reluctant to review this one, as I had it streaming from my site, and some people could question my reliability. I have decided that I can easily live with that, and most important; this demo deserves a few words. As I will never put something I don’t like up for streaming at my site, you should know by now that my words about “Stone Command” will be positive ones.

The demo contains three songs, and as mentioned in the interview, the recordings were at just meant to be demos for the forthcoming album, but the quality was so good, the band decided to release the recordings to the public. Another reason to get this demo is the fact that the song “The Noose” will not feature on the album after all. For what I know, it might turn out to be exclusive for this tape.

The style is what I would refer to as epic doom metal with a quite distinct heavy metal influence, easily spotted in the guitar harmonies for instance. The recording sounds really massive for what it is, with drums and bass supplying a really heavy fundament for the guitars often belting out power riffs in the vein of Trouble. The songs feel naked somehow, and listening to them is a little like standing in front of the stage watching the band. The leads are literally screaming at your face and the riffs are damn heavy. The vocals of Ben Peters are powerful and have that little bit of weird craziness which give them character enough to stand out, even though I am pretty sure he has listened closely to the vocals on numerous Pentagram- and Saint Vitus-albums.

“The Noose” is the fastest song on offer here, and even if this one won’t feature on the band’s forthcoming debut album, I know that there will be other fast tunes too look forward to. A bit of diversity is something I appreciate on a doom metal-album, and I even think the band has managed to create it here, within the space of just three songs. The tracks are distinctively different, both when it comes to arrangements and tempos, from “The Noose” which picks up speed halfway through to “The Legacy”, which is the slowest and longest song with some absolutely crushing riffs and an atmosphere that reminds me a little of Warning. Not a bad thing, and this little tape is for sure one you should add to your collection. The debut album can’t come soon enough!

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TRIAL (swe): Always in motion

IMG_8999

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.

IMG_9072Is 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.

IMG_9260After 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

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