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Vessel Dean Brown , January 23rd, 2015 13:14

With the sheer volume of new bands – good, bad and average – that have formed in recent times that are completely beholden to the galloping classicism of the NWOBHM, it's easy at this stage to form a mental buffer to block them all out. But that's the same with any trend, whether revivalist or from the combination of two or more subgenres: There will always be bands that will take traditional styles of music in interesting directions and then there'll be the coattail-grippers, content to copy a formula in order to join what may even be a regressive movement without creating anything relevant. Every genre has experienced this, and sadly it is, and always will be, part of music culture.

Swedish bands of late have been enraptured by the past work of King Diamond and Mercyful Fate, with In Solitude and Portrait now well-established on the international scene. But where In Solitude had the sense in 2013 to fully break the oath on their modern classic Sister, Portrait seem content to chase the Danish King to a creative halt on 2014's Crossroads. Up until this point you would have to put Trollhättan's heavy metal five-piece Trial in the same category as Portrait – though they're not as well known.

Trial formed in 2007 and released an underwhelming demo in 2010 followed swiftly by their 2011 debut The Primordial Temple, an album that did little to distinguish them from the growing pack of occult-centred, trad-leaning, twin-guitar heavy metal bands. The high-register vocals of Linus Johansson were technically commendable but his melodies didn't resonate, and the music, while far from what you might describe as heavily flawed, did little to hold the listener's attention outside of lead guitarist Andrew Ellström's striking solos. So, in the past, you'd be forgiven for tarring Trial as being just another derivative disciple of the Horned One (See: the promo pictures of the band basking in blood-red light and holding skulls as an offering).

It wasn't until late-2014, however, that Trial began to show their potential, when they released a 7" for the song 'Where Man Becomes All', which turned the heads of the few familiar with the band's German label High Roller (known amongst underground heavy metal aficionados for its quality releases). The vocal hooks of 'Where Man Becomes All' sounded primed, as Johansson took to the microphone with more authority than he did in the past; his stinging falsetto rife with power metal bravado. While the proto-thrash riffs and pounding drums propelled the song forward with a sense of purpose not heard from the young band previously, and Ellström's wailing leads rose like flickering flames amongst the melodic twin-guitar interplay.

But while 'Where Man Becomes All' confirmed the band had now sharpened the songwriting and grown in confidence as composers, it did little to prepare for how well written, musically varied (though within the remit of metal), and riveting Trial's second album, Vessel, is. For 51 minutes, the Swedes provide the necessary escapism missing from a lot of modern metal albums. They draw from a wide range of metallic influences not just limited to the greats of the NWOBHM and the solo work of King Diamond and his former band Mercyful Fate: There is just as much classic doom, power metal, and even some sub-zero guitar harmonies taken from Dissection's lauded discography. Yet while the incorporation of various styles into a metal album isn't all that special, it's how Trial integrate all of their influences impeccably which makes 'Vessel' a fantastically dynamic, fully realised record from start to finish.

The title track's neo-folk opening strains give way to the kind of esoteric doom rock The Devil's Blood created on The Thousandfold Epicentre (2011). Here and on the expertly paced, almost progressive movements of 'Through Bewilderment', Johansson's vocal melodies search the same otherworld as former The Devil's Blood siren Farida Lemouchi, and that ritualistic yearning is something Trial's previous material certainly lacked. What's even more exciting about songs like 'Where Man Becomes All' and 'To New Ends', however, is not the use of classic heavy metal arrangements that highlight a studious appreciation for the songwriting of Iron Maiden et al, but the fact that Trial add an extreme metal edge to the traditional gallop and clatter; the twin-guitars overlapping brilliantly rather than battling as the song shifts between heavy metal, Dissection-esque black/death, and American thrash metal. Meanwhile, after its quasi-death metal intro, 'Ecstasy Waltz' takes a more sombre, doom-laden approach for its verses, with Johansson drawing the listener into the intoxicating sway before blasts of double bass and regal riffs rise and the song continues on through numerous gripping transitions.

Without taking away from the nimble yet emphatic rhythm section of drummer Martin Svensson, bassist Andréas Olsson, and rhythm guitarist Andreas Johnsson – these three players are essential to the drive and core-power of the music (Svensson pushes the band to breaking point with his propulsive double bass during the fastest track, 'A Ruined World') – the most remarkable members of the band are undoubtedly Johansson and Ellström. The consummate melodic lead work of Ellström marks him as a new force in modern metal, and his bold playing style really intensifies Johansson's storytelling – Johansson's timely use of his piercing falsetto is also magical throughout. Second album Vessel therefore outshines Trial's past material on every single level; the Trial of 2011 would be no way equipped to write an epic 13-minute song like 'Restless Blood' – a thrilling summation of everything explored earlier in the album but taken to a higher plane with the raging solo section that stands as a hair-raising highlight. Surely, then, Vessel will become the breakout moment for Trial, because the level of songwriting talent and musical flair and nuance on display throughout these seven songs speaks of great things to come from this Swedish act who have just found their own voice.