An Interview with Alexander Ellström of Trial
In which we talk about the band’s history and upcoming album, Motherless.
For anyone that is unfamiliar with Sweden’s Trial, just take a peek at 2015’s editor’s and writer’s Album of the Year lists to get an idea of their sound and audience. Enroached in Heavy Metal’s roots, Trial have been able to expand their sound over the years to include a plethora of influences and are on their way to the metal stratosphere. With their new album, Motherless, on the horizon, I was able to chat with guitarist Alexander Ellström about a few topics that should intrigue many people here.
BtR: Can you run us through the history of Trial as a band? Your first demo was released in 2010 but where were you prior to that?
Ellström: We’ve been playing together in different constellations and sub-genres before we formed Trial. Me and Andreas J played a lot of Death Metal and Black Metal before I joined up with Martin and Andréas O to form a Thrash Metal band. They had been playing in a Death Metal band as well and that’s how we all came to know each other. In late summer 2007, we simply decided that we wanted to play Heavy Metal and to team up with A.J. once again. Linus had played Death Metal and Heavy Metal in previous bands before joining Trial.
Sweden has been a breeding ground for some of Heavy Metal’s finest acts, particularly in the Death Metal sub-genre. Trial, on the other hand, is quite different. Was there any specific scene or movement that helped to spawn the band?
No, we don’t consider ourselves to be a part of a movement or a scene. Coincidentally, a lot of bands emerged roughly at the same time with similar thoughts and ideas that might help fuel the concept of a scene, but all of this happened separately, at least in our case.
One of my favorite aspects of the band is your diverse sound. A listener can hear the obvious Traditional Metal aspects that are the basis of the sound but past that there seem to be many other influences ranging from Power to Black metal. Was this meshing of genres intentional? Or was it the natural flow when the band first sat in a room together?
We try to blend all kinds of different genres we admire and draw inspiration from. I find it more interesting, both as a musician and a listener, to engage in diverse music and other sound-clad landscapes because it makes you gain something out of the ordinary. Music that doesn’t challenge you in any way is music that has become stagnated. It’s music for the non-explorer and the non-thinker. Personally, that’s the worst place you can wind up at.
If you had to give a short list of the most influential bands on Trial, who would you name?
There’s a lot of bands that have influenced us, some directly, and some indirectly. In the beginning of Trial, bands like Iron Maiden, Satan, Sortilége, KD/Mercyful Fate, Venom and Dissection made a huge impact on us to write the music we did. We had a different perspective of how to write music back then. A lot of things have changed since and nowadays, perhaps our influences aren’t just as apparent anymore. But just to name a few more bands/artists that makes their way into our music in some way or another, there is everything from Deathspell Omega, Mayhem, Morbid Angel, Necros Christos to The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Beach Boys, The Doors, Allman Brothers Band, Led Zeppelin and even further to Miles Davis, Jackie McLean and Brian Eno. But even in creating music, our lyrical influences are equally important.
Listeners can hear a clear development in songwriting since The Primordial Temple, you’ve become more fluid and, dare I say it, progressive. While remaining true to the band’s sound how do you push your boundaries from album to album? Is this an aspect the band has set out to do or has it just been natural?
Yes, we’ve developed a more progressive sound for sure. Our attitude towards music has made it natural for us to develop even further. It’s a conscious decision to always try to distinguish ourselves from other bands, both musically and lyrically, but not to extreme lengths. The most important thing is to make music for our own sake, music that we embrace and cherish, and that takes time. That’s probably the key to our transition. If you make too many drastic changes in the band, you might end up losing your very own plot. But that is also the beauty of it. You could break new ground, and lose yourself completely.
2015’s Vessel received positive feedback from everywhere I have seen, even here on the Toilet Ov Hell where it made it into a few of our writer’s Top 10 lists. How have to two year’s since treated you? Are you still happy with Vessel‘s turn out and do you think the album will continue to be successful?
We try not to dwell in the past, but the general consensus within the band is that we are never completely satisfied and that is a good thing because it helps fuel our cause. It also tells you, that you have developed since the last recording. It works on so many levels. Of course, we are proud of what we’ve done before, but the present and the future are what matters the most.
The first song from your upcoming third album Motherless, “Cold Comes The Night” has been released to the public already. The track is simply marvelous. Heavy in every aspect and very tasteful. Is this a clear indication for the rest of the album and current direction?
To some extent perhaps, but not really. The album contains a lot of ideas that aren’t that similar to CCTN. But as the song is a part of the album, therefore it’s also an indication of our current direction in one way or another. You just can not simply put it down to one single song.
Motherless is set for release on April 7th via Metal Blade records. With each prior release, you have moved up to bigger labels. How has your experience been so far?
Everything with Metal Blade has been great so far. They understand what we are trying to do with Trial and gives us their support. It’s a privilege to work with such a label and be added to their ranks is something we could never have imagined when we first started out.
What can you tell me about the new album’s title and story? Looking at the released track list, the song titles seem to have a cohesive theme.
Although not a concept album, it actually deals with the same conceptual ideas and structures throughout the record. Most of the lyrics were born out of despair and anxiety of a great personal tragedy that really set the tone for the record. The lyrics are individual explorations and examinations of the deceiving force that I define as omnipresent. It deals with separation in every form, in which condition you may experience microcosm and macrocosm aren’t connected, that you are motherless, born out of the abyss of the world.
Taking an aside from the music, visually the band has changed quite a lot as well. Your first album had a fairly standard Heavy Metal album cover, a castle with haunting trees. Not that there is anything wrong with that but Vessel’s artwork was far more representative of the band’s sound and lyrics. Who was the artist and was this piece commissioned specifically for the album? Also, what does it mean to you?
The cover and artwork were made by the talented Costin Chioreanu, whom we also worked with on Vessel. He was given all of the lyrics to the album along with some personal notes from me regarding each lyric. What he then decided to create is something that can not be translated into words. I feel deeply connected with his art and therefore I would do his accomplishment injustice in trying to explain it any further. All I can say is that you can find every one of the lyrics in the artwork hiding in the shapes of your imagination.
Now, with Motherless, the band continues the esoteric quality of artwork and has a new logo. Is this shift permanent? Personally, I believe the new logo fits the band’s direction well. Have you had any other feedback regarding the change?
Yes, we felt it was a natural and necessary decision to revamp our logo to fit the current direction of the band. This too was a child created by Costin. A lot of people have praised the new logo, and a lot of people dislike it, which is a great compliment in both cases.
Lyrically, the band deals with very introversive and spiritual topics, dabbling in the occult and the unknown for inspiration. What about these topics drew you in? And do you have a “suggested reading list” for anyone interested in the subjects?
The lyrics are very spiritual, yes, but also very personal thus making it difficult for anyone else to understand them to the fullest. Some lines can only be deciphered by myself. Sure, when I write lyrics, I find inspiration through the aesthetics of the occult, but not every lyric explores this topic. Overall, I don’t see Trial as an occult heavy metal band, although many others may engage in such thinking. There are some books that have made me expand my knowledge and interests, but my lyrics aren’t based upon anything concrete in these kinds of books, at least not anymore. You could engulf books like “The Book of Sitra Arhra”, the Liber Falxifer series, “Qabala, Qliphot and Goetic Magic” and “Fosforos”, but that’s not directly, or at least not entirely, connected to TRIAL. Some of these topics treated in these books have been brought up in a couple of texts, but you have to investigate for yourself.
And finally, what is your favorite Manowar album?
I listened quite a lot to Kings of Metal in my teens actually. A great album with powerful songs, but as always with Manowar, you have these mixed emotions. Of course, there are a couple of other highlights as well.