Guitarist Dirk De Strooper tells the story of Belgian band Trial
The Belgian heavy metal scene back in the 80’s wasn’t as big as the English, German or Swedish one. The Belgian bands neither managed to be successful, nor to leave their mark on the scene, but they managed to produce some cult records, let we think of e. g. Acid, Ostrogoth, Killer or Crossfire. A lesser known outfit was Trial, who released only an EP, titled Scream for Mercy in 1985 and begun to record a full length, that unfortunately never saw the light. In this interview former guitarist Dirk De Strooper, aka Cliff Marauder told us the story of the band.
Dirk, do you remember how and when you discovered hard rock/heavy metal? What was so exciting about this music?
My older brother played hard rock music through cassettes when he was 16/17 years old. Van Halen later picks up UFO and Y&T. There was a lot of comment on this at home. He bought the first guitar because a friend of his had it, too. Of course I also started playing that guitar when he was not at home.
At what point did you decide to play an instrument and become a musician?
When I was 16, I bought my first guitar with my vacation pay (Flying V).
Did you choose guitars right away?
Yes, because of my brother’s influence.
What were the musicians, artists, records, etc. that had the greatest influence on you?
The first group was Van Halen, then UFO and Y&T.
Was Metal Breaker your first outfit you were involved in? How did the band get together and what was the line-up? Were you all good friends, did you know each other before?
We meet at school and in small squares and so Gunter bought his bass and Patrick bought his singing installation. Metal Breaker started but there were changes of both drummer and guitarist. These were replaced by Mark and on guitar Jan. Through these changes we are making which steps forward in music. Too bad for Jan but we had to make the switch with Chris, he was a good friend. The reason we changed guitarists was simple. Chris was a really good guitarist and Mark came on because the previous drummer wasn’t a hard rocker.
Have you recorded material as a Metal Breaker? How would you describe the music?
The music of Metal Breaker was very quickly adjusted to a louder level and this time it was really rehearsed up to 5 times a week. Our rehearsal room became a meeting place where we came without rehearsing.
When one of your guitarists and drummer left, Patrick „Pat Savage” De Wilde on vocals, you, Dirk „Cliff Marauder” De Strooper on guitar and Gunther „Metal Gunny” Poppe on bass went looking for other people for a new band and with the addition of drummer Marc „Mike Thunderstick” Vereecken (R.I.P.) and guitarist Jan „Angus” Theus, the line-up was complete. How were they recruited? What about their musical past? Was it difficult at the moment to find suitable and enthusiastic members for a hard rock/heavy metal band?
The hard rock world in Zele was very small and everyone knew everyone. With Marc we immediately knew that it would be okay. Marc also had the perfect rehearsal space at his home. Jan was too great a friend and too little music, a pity and painful.
You changed your name to Trial and still played Metal Breaker music for a while?
With the name and especially Kris World Cup qualifying match, a new wind is blowing immediately.
What about your nicknames?
Our names had to be changed for the EP, the names were derived from the Dutch language to English: Patrick became Pat, De Strooper became Marauder, Gunter became Gunny.
In the late 70’s/early 80’s the N.W.O.B.H.M. was made in the UK; did this have any effect on your musical taste at the time? Have you settled into the underground scene?
I think there were very few bands back then and all of them influenced people’s opinions to a greater or lesser extent. When I received a cassette from Metallica (demo) I immediately knew that this was going to have a mega influence.
Would you say that a great metal explosion happened in Germany at the same time?
The German groups were less known and smaller to me.
What about the Belgian scene as a whole? Which bands were pioneers in the Belgian scene?
Ostrogoth and Killer have a record deal and were much stronger. Trial was a group that was one step closer. At the time, it was everyone for themselves. Our system for being on the podium was better. There were few groups and we handled things well. We offered to play for free with a popular band from another region. But we asked them to play for free in our region, so we quickly became known in different regions in Belgium. At one point we had a festival we organized ourselves with Iron Gray and Explorer (my brother’s group) with 1000 spectators.
The Heavy Sound was a metal festival that took place three times in the early 80’s, in 1983 in Bruges and in 1984, 1985 in Poperinge. Did these events help a lot to put Belgium on the heavy metal map and thus keep the country on to the international bloodstream of heavy metal?
Heavy Sound was a dream, there was the first meeting with the young guys from Metallica. Groups like H-Bomb and Baron Rojo were also a discovery.
Were these events as famous, legendary as e. g. the Reading festival?
They were the little brothers, but the setup was the same.
What can you tell us about Trial’s very first originals? How is your own material written?
Ideas came from Kris and me, Marc also had strong opinions. Gunter and Patrick also provided vocals and lyrics with Marc.
Do you mind that you have consciously deviated from Metal Breaker’s approach and that you have started moving in a heavier, faster direction? Have you started finding a direction in your sound after a hard, traditional metal sound?
Our music gradually evolved faster and louder, but we stayed with ourselves. The first performance with Metal Breaker (4-5 songs) was in room Bart.
The very first performance of the band was on March 11, 1983 in De Stube in your hometown Zele. What are your memories of this show?
The sound was very hard to get right, people were asked to give feedback and Pat had a really hard time with that. For us, Pat was the right singer and the future showed it made sense.
Instead of Jan Theus joining Kris „Slake” Van De Vijver. What was the reason for this change: did you choose him right away or did you audition with other guitarists as well?
Kris was a much better guitarist. Jan was a good friend of Mark, but that was in the long run. not enough.
What kind of musical background did he come from?
Kris was a true Judas Priest fan. He had no experience of playing in a group but had a lot of good musical ideas.
The first performance of the band with this new line-up was on October 22, 1983 in the Gildenhuis in Zele, in support of Thor. How did this show go?
Thor was the result of our exchange project. We were very surprised by the large turnout, it was also the big breakthrough in Zele because the press was suddenly present.
From then on Trial started to participate in a number of talent shows: you even won the Press Prize during a Sporthal Van De Velde in Lokeren on November 11, 1983 and on March 30, 1984 you even won the talent show at JGM Esmoreit in Gentbrugge. Did these events help to expand your fan base, to make a name for the band?
We wanted to perform every week and so looked for talent shows to do this. We were always the one and only hard rock band on these talent shows. It seemed hell every time that the audience suddenly woke up. Through the talent show in Ghent, Bruges, we got in touch with the record boss, Marc Van Beveren.
What was your opinion on the Belgian scene at the moment, when newer outfits appeared such as Black Shepherd, Cyclone, Lightning Fire, Brain Shake etc.?
I think these were good bands in their here. The big problem was getting press coverage.
How do you think Belgium spawned countless obscure, lesser-known acts – some very good, but none really successful or internationally recognized –to the extent of some of their contemporaries?
Hard rock has long been labeled as marginal, violence and stupid people. We rockers stood out too badly in a negative sense.
Under what circumstances did you sign a deal with Marc Van Beveren’s Color Records?
Marc had seen us at the talent show and approached us to record an LP. Completely outside his home he was the producer of Isabelle A, a Flemish singer.
Perhaps other labels were interested in the band, such as Mausoleum, Roadrunner, Rave-On, etc.?
No, not that I know.
What do you remember about the band’s performance at the first Hard and Heavy Festival at the Gildenhuis in Zele on March 23, when you were headlining Exocet, Explorer and Iron Gray?
Milestone in our existence: 1000 people and not only from our native village.
Was this show recorded and distributed in the underground (fanzine/tape-trading network)?
That went like now the internet is. Someone indicates that, and without us knowing it, many fans had that at home on a cassette.
Another line-up change followed, as Kris left and Freddy „Bruce Denner” Van Dender came into the picture, but unfortunately at that point he was in the middle of his exams and couldn’t learn Trial’s repertoire right away, so as a result the band was forced to do a few more gigs as a quartet, but it never really felt that good. What are your comments about this?
Without Kris I had to change guitar parts, luckily I had practiced all guitar parts thoroughly in the studio. But it was completely different live.
How much material have you written at this point?
Kris and I wrote most of the music. Usually an idea was adapted so that everyone was satisfied.
In July 1985 you went into the studio to make your debut, which eventually became an EP. What prompted you to make pre-recordings?
We were totally unexperienced and didn’t want to make fun of ourselves.
Do you want to gain recording experience and be prepared for the upcoming studio sessions for the band’s first vinyl release? How did the recording sessions go?
The recordings went well but we didn’t get much help, all ideas came from ourselves. Mark Van Beveren was not a hard rocker.
Is it true that you only had two days to complete the material?
The LP was paid in full by ourselves, some band members had no work so they saved on everything.
Can you tell us about the EP?
In retrospect, it is a shame that Kris left the group. I think the EP would have been even better with him.
Are simplistic riffs, drums and youthful aggression on offer? Do you think it’s a pretty good debut effort?
Despite our limited budget, this EP has been well received. People still want this EP in their collection.
Trial was part of the Giants Of Metal festival in Zaal Lux in Herenthout, after that you played together with Battlecry and Explorer at the Gildenhuis. Were these shows in support of the album?
Performance suddenly changed, fans meet us at every concert and sang our songs.
At the beginning of 1986 you had written new things; were you continuously working on songs?
1986 when Hans came he had new matirial. Hans was a good player buy for me it was not a click.
In January 1986 you played live in De Split in Koekelare and on that occasion a number of new songs were played such as The Innocent, Hot Lady and Devil’s Court. Was it the first time you performed these tunes?
This was the first time live for us.
Was it a good opportunity to test the new material?
The songs were ready so it had to be done and as a music side you want to show what you have made.
Also in the beginning of 1986 Trial signed a record deal with the new Belgian record label Whiplash Records. What kind of contract did they offer you?
I was already gone, so I can’t say.
The band’s debut LP would be recorded in August or September of that year. Everything was recorded, except for the vocals, but unfortunately Whiplash Records turned out to be not financially stable at all and soon went bankrupt, the band would have to pay for the studio time themselves. As a result, the second release of Trial has never seen the light. Singer Patrick De Wilde had left the band at the end of 1986, but the other members continued to rehearse for a while. Finally, the band came to a complete stop in July 1987. What did you do after you quit?
I joined a hardcore band Mind Ruin and won another talent show. Then I went with the Metal Breaker drummer and we started a rock band. After this episode I went back to play with a hard rock band with Brian who a very good guitarist.
Were you involved in other outfits later on?
Yes, so unfortunately several recordings have been lost.
Are you still showing interest in what’s going on in the metal scene these days?
I fear I’m still stuck at that time. My brother recently went back to play in a band with Günter and Jan (Explorer) and they are very good. I myself have been in contact with Kris and we have found a drummer but COVID-19 ruins everything.
Dirk, thank you very much for your answers! What are your last comments to our readers?
Once bitten by this kind of music you know that this is more than music but one way of thinking and living.