It’s fair to say that there is a good chance that most people might have ignored Trials by Birmingham sextet Shady Bard when it was originally released in October last year. Now, in a period when big releases are quite thin on the ground, this is good a time as any to try again and have another crack at success of some sort.
This new version of the album contains two discs. The first is the original LP. Its bold narrative theme is based on the 2007 forest fires that devastated parts of Greece and claimed the lives of 84 residents and firefighters. The second is entitled Retrials and contains alternative and orchestral versions of songs from the record.
The main feature, as it were, is an intriguing proposition and should be at the very least admired for what it sets out to do. The tone ranges from dramatic to poignant but never feels overdone or disrespectful given the tragic subject matter. The opening post-rock-esque title track slowly ascends to an emotive peak before its gentle descent whilst Volcano! is more conventional in structure but no less affecting. This is then followed by Night Song and its gorgeous outro, The Dream, which perfectly showcase the contrast between Lawrence Becko Vasiliadis’s low-pitched lead vocals and the angelic backing harmonies.
The rest doesn’t quite match up to the same standard as these opening 15 minutes but that isn’t too much of an issue. As a concept album it hangs together remarkably well and it’s refreshing to see such an LP exist that doesn’t resort to elaborate and over-the-top excesses. As the tale concludes with the heartfelt In Memoriam it’s hard to see this as anything but a fully realised and well-executed idea.
The bonus material, on the other hand, may well be a draw for fans but theis material doesn’t reveal anything extra about the original concept’s background. The seven subdued tracks come across as nothing more than musical sketches that, ultimately, aren’t anywhere near as compelling. The Boy Who Cried Volcano! is perhaps the only standout due to its vastly different arrangement and shows, no matter how they performed it, that their songwriting skills are very strong.
There is no reason to own this again if you were one of the few who discovered Shady Bard last autumn. The extras that come with it may be worth a cursory listen but chances are you won’t be in a rush to hear them again anytime soon. However, this release does provide a much better opportunity for Trials to find a bigger audience, providing there are people who want to give it a go. Selling 40 minutes of music based on the Greek forest fires of 2007 is tricky, but those who are curious enough to give it repeated listens – it’s not going to grab you instantly – will be won over.