Trial by Fire’s debut, Ringing in the Dawn, comes in a fast-firing package reminiscent of Bad Religion’s equally quick and exciting classic Suffer. And like Suffer, the tunes are far from diverse but they contain enough fury to survive the 25-minute dash from start to finish. The beats speed quickly enough for you to lose your breath, yet guitarist Colin Barth maintains relative control over Mike Sneeringer’s explosive drum kit. Trial by Fire is a blender that purees elements from the last 20 years of punk onto a record that sounds superb (as do most things coming out of Brian McTernan’s studio these days). With Ringing in the Dawn, the band is already vying to join the company of current punk powerhouses like Dillinger 4 and Avail. (Although comparisons to Avail might be the only dark cloud over the band’s freshman picnic, the similarities between the two are difficult to ignore.)
Unlike most punk bands, Trial by Fire is often critical of its rebel comrades rather than the establishment. In “Point an Inward Finger,” singer/guitarist Jason Yawn endures a bit of self-critique: “Too late to turn around and clean the slate, it’s lying in pieces/The truth will rear its ugly head again/And we fucking deserve it!” His willingness to admit the shortcomings of radical (in)activists will likely earn him the listener’s trust and an inkling of contempt for shoving a mirror in front of the more-anarchist-than-thou far left. But not to be mistaken for a perpetual naysayer, Yawn also plays cheerleader, with slogans likely to be heard at the next peoples’ protest: “Blow it up, start over again/Free yourself” (“Pilot Light”); “You call this treason/I call it allegiance/To an ideal, not a system/To a vision of redemption” (“Steps of St. John’s”). His lyrical ambiguity plays well over the single-minded passion of the music, giving the album dimension without sacrificing urgency. Trial by Fire, like its logo (torch constructed of a flame sitting atop the stars and bars of their hometown District of Columbia flag), is both the inferno of current destruction and a spark of hope for change ahead.