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Trial's Alexander Ellström: "Our musical progress is just that, a progress, meaning, we have no idea where it will take us next"

Interview with Alexander Ellström from Trial
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 05 October 2022, 11:21 PM

A time to take a different step, to pursue other paths in order to reach a common goal, all in the name of devotion, to keep the flame burning. That flame still burns, as it seems, and quite brightly, in the heart of the Swedish Heavy Metal band, Trial, but not just within their hearts but for plenty of Metalheads. After a crucial lineup change, a new future opened up for the Swedes, and part of it can be heard and felt on their new album, "Feed The Fire", released via Metal Blade Records. Steinmetal had the pleasure to talk with guitarist Alexander Ellström about the new guy in the band, the album's experience and more…

Hello Alexander, it is a pleasure to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how are things going on your end?

Hi, thanks for having me! Everything’s fine here, thank you.

It has been five years since the release of your previous album “Motherless”, I presume that it was a time well deserved between the album, especially since we had a pandemic on our hands, right? Would you say that it let the band recharge properly and work on new material without stress?

We’ve taken these five years to reenergize for sure. After MOTHERLESS we parted with Linus, and in the midst of writing new material with Arthur, the pandemic happened. That made us reconsider in what would be the next step for TRIAL. We knew we wouldn’t be out playing for some time and if we were to release a new record, we wouldn’t be able to tour. So, we decided to record the SISTERS OF THE MOON EP instead to present Arthur to you all. It also made us feel there were no immediate stress to put out a full-length album in the near future. It bought us some time to write even more new songs and put aside those who weren’t good enough.

Talking about the pandemic, going a little back in time, and since Trial remained an active band, how were you able to preserve the chemistry within the band, and of course, how were you able to sit still while culture came to a close?

Except for Arthur, the rest of us have known and played together since we were kids. I think that made us keep the chemistry within the band. We grew up together, playing, going to concerts, doing whatever during our formative years, so we never really grew apart. It always felt that we had the same vision for the band during all these years. With Arthur joining, there was a risk the chemistry would change. But now when he’s been in the band for some years, I can only say that the chemistry somewhat improved. We all feel he fits perfectly into the band.

To be exact, Trial did actually release a small token last year, a kind of single, with two covers, titled “Sisters Of the Moon”. I presume that it was your gift to your fans for waiting all this time? Also it gave you a proper chance to debut your new vocalist Arthur W. Andersson, who joined the band’s fold back in 2019.

You are correct. It was a mix of everything. We wanted to show you all our new singer but at the same time, the circumstances weren’t optimal to do a full-length just yet. We just wanted to put something out there because it been a long time since the release of MOTHERLESS.

Linus Johansson was your vocalist since the beginning of Trial, if I am correct. What happened between yourselves and him that relations were fractured with him leaving the band?

Yes. We didn’t have a singer for the first two years, so when he joined in 2009 he became our first singer. Around that time, he moved cities for work, so he never really lived close by to the rest of us during all these 10 years together. I think him not being able to rehearse on a regular basis and somewhat not being as invested into the band as everyone else eventually took its toll. After we finished the ROADKILL TOUR with RAM and PORTRAIT and we started working on new material, there wasn’t any real desire from him to join us in the process. We finally set up a meeting with him and together concluded that it’s best for him to not be a part of TRIAL anymore. It was a tough decision but there was no fixing the situation at that time. We just couldn’t continue working like this together.

Onto new beginnings, and possible new triumphs, you unleashed your new album, “Feed The Fire”, once again through Metal Blade Records. First, I have to comment about the beautiful artwork, made by Costin Chioreanu. I have known Costin’s works for years, also since he gave my previous band a great service, and it is spectacular. What am I looking at here? Is this sort of a literal fire feeding right there? In your view, what does this artwork symbolize?

Working with Costin, we never really give him any directions on how we want the artwork to turn out. The only thing we purposed to him was that it would not be the same color scheme as MOTHERLESS and SISTERS OF THE MOON. We wanted something more colourful and brighter. Other than that, it’s completely his own vision, based on the pre-production demos and lyrics we sent him. That’s what I love about the artwork. I don’t need an explanation of the artwork, because I want to find the clues in there myself. He never did explain the meaning behind it, and I think sometimes art is best left unexplained. When you read the lyrics, there is some obvious clues in the artwork. Costin really put a face to our music, as he always does. He’s incredible!

After dwelling on the compelling artwork, let’s dive a little into the title of the album. From what I understand it is about dedication, but without knowing what this form of dedication, and even sacrifice, will do to you. It can be interpreted as pure love, but also can be rendered as addiction. What is your view on that?

Yes, absolutely. Almost blind dedication to what you need to keep the flame burning. The adoration is blinding, and it allows me to make the sacrifices needed. I always envisioned the song to be a canticle of a goddess. All I give, I get more in return from her. I give her my life.

I trust that the album’s songs cross within the subject that we just talked about earlier. In your opinion, are there any forms of morals to what the songs depict? What do you think that listeners can understand, learn or take from the lyrical aspects of the songs?

I think everyone can find some meaning in the lyrics that moves them spiritually. The basis of the songs is simple. You must make sacrifices to grow. Those sacrifices have to be true to yourself and stands above any morals. Make those sacrifices suitable for your own path. Many times, it’s not even a conscious decision you make, but the more thought you put into it, the clearer your goals will be become.

Several bands over the last couple of years exemplified the future of NWOBHM, by taking it steps forward, sometimes even without knowing. Listening to “Feed The Fire”, your perception of the British kind of vintage Metal is quite interesting. There are great energies, classic twin guitar melodies, intriguing song structures and what not. Would you say that “Feed The Fire” is pinnacle in the band’s musical progress?

I always felt that’s an element we’ve had. FEED THE FIRE might be more traditional than VESSEL or MOTHERLESS, but we still wanted to make it an atmospheric album. The most complex stuff we’ve done is not found on FEED THE FIRE but the songwriting has matured I believe. That being said, there is still a desire to break those rules. Our roots are within Black and Death Metal and mixing all these genres together has always been our goal. Our musical progress is just that, a progress, meaning, we have no idea where it will take us next.

From what I read, there are plenty of thanks to go around for the change within the band’s music to your new vocalist, Mr. Andersson. He was able to take your image and music back to the early 80s. Needless to say that the album’s sound complements his voice as well. If I am not mistaken, I believe that I heard him in the past as part of your country comrades Air Raid. How did this relationship start, between Andersson and the band?

We didn’t know him before he joined the band. We only knew of him. When we parted with Linus, we jokingly said to each other that we should contact Arthur because we knew he was not in Air Raid anymore. When we finally put out the word that we were looking for a new singer, Arthur wrote us, showing some interest. After some mail conversations we decided that he would come to try out some songs with us. It didn’t take long before we knew he was the right one for the band. During that first rehearsal, it eventually felt that we already were friends. It all felt very natural to us.

You said that Andersson’s voice ignited something in you that indulged you to write something different, and from where I am sitting, there is a shower of old school Metal right there. What did you find in Andersson’s voice that inspired you? Was it mainly his range?

I’ve always been the one crafting the vocals lines for the band. After a while, I noticed that my style of writing, is not what brings out the best out of Arthur’s vocals. Eventually, I got to learn Arthur’s voice better and know his strengths as a vocalist. When I figured that out it became much easier to craft the vocal lines. Arthur plays a big part as well. He comes from an old school type of singing, so he naturally can change some of the melodies, so it feels better for him to sing them. That’s what he did to several songs, just altering the melodies very carefully to make them more powerful. It would be fooling not to use Arthur’s strengths when writing the new songs.

Let’s talk about the album’s songwriting, what can you tell about the process and how it was done? What lessons of the past were implemented in the progress of the songwriting?

Not much have changed except for working with Arthur. 15 years ago, we used to work a lot more together in the rehearsal place, coming up with parts on the go. Nowadays it is not possible to work like that. When we were 16/17 years old, we could spend 5 times a week at rehearsals but now as adults it is just not possible anymore due to other commitments. To process mainly consist of me and the other guitarist Andy coming up with some parts on our own. Whenever we are at rehearsals, we take some time showing the ideas to each other. If we decide on something, that’s when I continue arranging the parts at home, and if best, I can present something next time for the band. Also, we record some pre-production demos separately and send back and forth if we already have a clear vision of a song. Usually, we only rehearse the song when it is completely finished and arranged. The simplicity of being able to do a home recording of something and show everyone has increased our way of working so much.

I noticed the phenomenon in several bands in the past several years, playing classic Heavy Metal, and all of a sudden growl vocals coming out of nowhere. You brought in, as guest, the mighty Tomas Lindberg, from At The Gates, to sing for a few on the song “Snare Of The Fowler”. I wonder, how did Lindberg’s voice fit the profile of the band’s music, and of course the song itself?

We’ve always wanted to include some growl vocals in our songs, but we never felt the time or part was right. That was until, our producer Per Stålberg suggested Tompa to do a guest part on our record. They are very good friends and we got in contact with Tompa when he and Per were holding a quiz in Gothenburg, to which Per invited us too. After the quiz, Per and Tompa joined us at the table and we asked Tompa if he was interested. He agreed, and some days later he showed up at the studio to do his parts. The part on SNARE OF THE FOWLER already had lyrics and a vocal melody but during the pre-production stages we couldn’t just get the melody right for that part. Before entering the studio, we decided that the part would be instrumental instead. When the opportunity arose, that Tompa could be a guest on our record, we immediately thought of that part we removed the vocals from. I remember I showed him how the original idea was. Then he said, “what if we do it like this instead?”. To our amazement, he nailed it instantly. We were completely blown away by his sheer brilliance. The part he contributed to coincidentally fitted perfectly, as it is a very melodic Death Metal sounding-riff.

You had quite the team working on the album’s sound, producing, engineering, recording and mastering the journey. The end result for “Feed The Fire” was enormous, an old school Metal album, sounding both vintage and modern at the same time. How do you find the sound of the band in 2022? What do you find in this sound pattern that makes you tick?

We were very satisfied with the recording process and the direction of the sounding of the album. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, the mixing process got halted and in the end very stressful. We simply didn’t have time to review and calibrate those tiny details we wanted to change. Overall, we are satisfied, but listening back, there is some stuff that should’ve been adjusted. I think that’s how we all feel, including the producers. Anyhow they did a great job and it was a pleasure working with them.

I had an internal argument with myself as the album’s finest track, but for me it concluded with the self-titled, “Feed The Fire”. The tempo contributed to the initial hype, crushing main riff and the sheer atmosphere generated by the melodies did it for me first. Afterwards, Andersson’s singing, and peak performance on the chorus sealed the deal. This tune is bound to be a classic one day. What is your opinion about this track? What can you tell about the writing process of this particular number?

I agree. The reason we decided to call the album FEED THE FIRE is because of the song. When finishing it, we all felt that it is the song that set the direction of what the album would sound like. Before finishing the song, we had more diverse material and didn’t know if we wanted to do something more towards a continuation of MOTHERLESS or something else. I remember Andy came up with the intro-riff and had a different chord progression in the beginning. When me and Andy played it, I helped him change some chords to make it feel a bit more natural. The next part that was finished was actually the chorus along with the vocal melody. I was sitting at home when trying to come up with a riff for the verse. When I got the melody in my head, I was actually quite surprised because I felt it really had something special. Some melodies just feel stronger than others and the FEED THE FIRE chorus was one of them. The whole middle section with the chords and melodies is something we just worked out in the rehearsal place together. I wrote the solo at home and refined some parts.

The trickiest part of the song was to come up with the verse I believe. It took a while before we felt it fitted the song. I remember we went through a couple of not-so-great suggestions for the verse. The ending came naturally when we took the idea of the intro-melody and translated it to the melody of the chorus. Then there is a canon thing going on between the guitars. That’s something I came up with years prior, that was written for the band HYPNOS in which Linus played at the time, and I briefly played drums with prior to the recording of their latest album. The lyrics came about rather quickly I remember. I had a strong idea of what I wanted to do with them. All I can say, there are some biblical references in there too if you look for them.

Looking at your schedule for the remainder of 2022, what is predicted for Trial going forward in time? How will you be supporting “Feed The Fire”?

We are currently working on going out on tour, though it would most likely be next year. We have some shows coming up but they are not official just yet. All I can say is, stay tuned and fortunately very soon we can share some good news with you all.

Alexander, many thanks for your time for this conversation, and also a wholesome of thanks for the amazing new album, I wish you guys all the best, cheers

Thank you for the interview. I really enjoyed this one. Hopefully we’ll talk some more in the future. Cheers!


 



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