A genre is lucky if it exists long enough to look back on itself. Metal has spent the last decade or so cranking out throwback acts, and while most of them fall on the spectrum from “passable” to “absolutely boring,” the trend has still produced some worthy bands and releases. Trial’s most recent album, Motherless, differs from most trips down memory lane. Instead of seeing the past through rose-tinted glasses, Trial seems to have taken the most melancholy and desperate sounds of classic heavy metal along with some of progressive metal and psychedelic rock’s strangeness and morphed them into a unique and twisted album.
All the usual influences of classic metal are here: plenty of Maiden style guitar riffs and leads, impressive high vocals, catchy hooks, and even some clean sections. But there’s also some slower doom sections, bizarre psychedelic sections, and lots of progressive metal influence too. Many are quick to draw comparisons between Trial and King Diamond and this is natural especially considering the occult inspired lyrics and the similar ranges of Linus Johansson and Diamond. Listen closer and this comparison becomes solely surface level. King Diamond is a great metal act but his cheeseball theatrics are nowhere to be found in Trial. Their chord progressions, their tendency to let their progressive, experimental, and often very dissonant side show, and the absolute forlorn tones that Johansson achieves echo much more of 80s era Fates Warning and fellow prog/power acts of that time.
Regardless of their main influences, Trial seriously succeeds on this album. There is plenty of variety between the epic and faster songs like the title track or “Cold Comes The Night” and the slower burn type songs like “Rebirth.” The guitar writing matches Johansson’s emotional intensity with technical solos, creative riffs, and stormy chord choices all played with a clear but still overdriven tone that allows the listener to fully understand everything they play while still adding a sinister, hazy quality to it. The rhythm section keeps things tied down with small moments of glory here and there. The seemingly aimless bass lines especially come out when the guitars play the clean and acoustic sections.
The album’s first side runs more or less like a typical metal album changing the pace back and forth between faster and slower songs. There’s plenty to love on the A-side especially for fans of classic metal that’s a bit on the weird side. “Juxtaposed” is a wandering, longing song that features a lot of independence between the instruments. On “Aligerous Architect,” Johansson goes so high for so long, it’s easy to forget how high he’s really singing. It’s not that this A-side phones anything in; Trial is simply doing what they do best and not veering too far in any direction. That first half contains enough good music to justify listening to the whole album, but the second half makes an attempt at conquering new ground for Trial.
The B-side makes up a small three part suite. The first track, “Birth,” is a haunting ceremonial drone piece that sounds like King Diamond on acid until it builds to a triumphant climax that transitions directly into the next song, “Embodiment.” This track is more or a less a mid-paced, marching ballad until about the 5 minute mark where another strange, ambient break happens. The song slowly fades back into the foreground, continues where it left off, and fades into even more reverby filler. It’s here where Trial’s new experiment becomes tiresome and the simpler, but more effective A-side becomes much more appealing. Finally, the last track on the album, “Rebirth” kicks in and after about a minute and a half of simple chord outline on clean guitar, the vocals start, the bass starts meandering, a lovely string quartet joins in, and for a brief, shining final moment, the groove that the album achieved on the first half is back.
There are many great moments on this album. When Trial doesn’t hold themselves back and lets the music flow, they are unmatched by any traditional metal act of the day. However, their ambient and psychedelic experiments inspire more track skipping than they do active listening. The highest points of drama and tension are achieved when the band is left to their masterfully playing and exceptional compositions, not with sound effects and drones. Trial may not have met the greatest of their last album, but they still made another album that’s head and shoulders above their peers. You can buy it on April 7th on their bandcamp page.