Thrash ain’t doin’ well in 2013. I mean, if you’re really into retro-thrash, there are a bevy of bands that have been producing records that will make your tight pants and oversized shoes excited, but I suspect that even the most tightly bepantsed will admit that’s getting pretty stale. For the most part, modern thrash metal has basically gone the way of the dodo—serious attempts at thrashing our socks off with groove and cranky screams have fallen deep underground or have become so simplified that they’re boring. And why don’t we have a better modern thrash scene? I blame metalcore. One of the things that’s started happening is that every time someone hears a thrash band that has a slightly screamy vocalist, they say “wow, that’s pretty corey,” which leads to bands that probably don’t deserve it getting called core, especially if there are clean vocals. There are major examples of this (God Forbid) and minor ones, too. Some might be fair, but many are not.
But for those of us who still want something post-Pantera that doesn’t wish it was pre-Pantera, modern thrash lives on in the form of bunch o’ FIBs1 called Trials. Trials is a Chicago-based thrash band that really does just play a riffy-as-fuck thrash metal with our very own Fisting that Andrew Guy rocking the vocals and the axe. Now a lot of people are probably going to be skeptical of me for reviewing the record of my own writer. It’s totally true that I would never have listened to this album if FtAG didn’t work here, largely because I have been checked out and busy. But I did listen to it and I even liked it. A lot. Like a lot, a lot. And for a lot of good reasons, this is one of the best straight thrash records I’ve heard in a long fucking time.
What Trials does well is… pretty much everything, but the two big things are that they have mastered the art of the riff and they make that work with slick-as-shit songwriting. The record bursts out the gate with “Conjoined,” which is actually kind of a weird opener, but it shows off a bit of a progressive tendency before dropping into a great chorus that wraps back around to the beefy riff that blew the doors off the beginning of the album. The track has a bridge that sounds like it was written by Abbath and is oddly catchy. After that, the hits come quickly: “Believers in Black” gives a deep nod to Morbid Angel while “With Only Sorrow Now” reminds me of late ’80s Testament. Tracks like “Ancestor” and “In the Misery Machine” rock extraordinarily groovy riffs that actually do remind me of God Forbid at their very (very) best.
And the whole record is really a tour de force of heavy, groovy thrash metal that isn’t anachronistic in the least. The riffs are immense, the songwriting is smart and refined, and vocalist Mark walks the line between thrashy barker and clean vocalist in a way that doesn’t feel cliché and that never makes me think of Killswitch Engage (but does remind me of Dark Tranquillity‘s cleaner records…). Instead, I’m reminded of the classic era of late ’80s thrash metal that we all grew up on and love. It’s heavy, but it’s also unafraid of melody, and the line is walked with tremendous skill. At the same time, the performances are great. The guitars sounds fat, and while the bass is too buried (a consequence of DR6 mix…), the tone hits you right in the gut. The drums are thick and sound great, and it shouldn’t be taken for granted that drummer Adam and bassist Usha deliver immense performances that help give this record the heft it needs to be successful.
So if you love groove and you love thrash, you will love Trials. In the Shadow of Swords is a triumph of riffing and deserves to be considered as one of the best records of the year. It flows from open to close (and rocks a great Judas Priest cover!), and feels like a complete album—a rarity in the age of iTunes shuffle. I could use more bands putting out stuff like this.
Or maybe I should just quote what I wrote about them earlier: “Chicago’s Trials is the best thrash band you’ve never heard of and their new album In the Shadow of Swords is out now and awesome. The reason you haven’t heard of them is because they don’t wear tight pants and high tops and rip off Voivod, not because they’re not talented. They didn’t get picked up by a label hopping a bandwagon, and the chick in the band plays an instrument instead of singing.” Huh. Pithy.
Songs to Check: “Believers in Black,” “Upon this Day,” and “Embracing Nothing.” Here, let me embed the whole playlist.