Thesis: This will be part album review, part opinion blog about the band that released it. Just know that. I’m gonna be rambling a bit. You’ve been warned.
I’ve always enjoyed Trivium a great deal, but I need to be perfectly plain about something, and let there be no mistaking it. Trivium can be a weird band. Really fuckin’ weird. And not strange in the ‘I need a kazoo in this mix,’ kind of way . . . But just . . . strange. They’ll play a song and nothing about it will be particularly offensive or abrasive, but the chords and the pentameter will just be estranged. Drifting and *without connection*. This usually happens in a Trivium album after track 5. It might sound like I’m off on a tangent here, but there’s a method to my madness, and I am making an overall arching point, I promise. So, just stick with me, give me a paragraph to make it clear and let me explain.
I’m speaking purely from my own subjectivity and personal opinion, so know that. But, for me, over the years, a typical Trivium album will be sort of like this:
Tracks 1-4: Fucking brilliant. I’m incredibly excited for the album, it’s potential legacy, it’s sheer epic metal power and vision.
Track 5: Doesn’t quite match the virtuosity of the first four tracks, but still incredibly solid, and beyond 98% of metal bands capabilities for melody, precision, execution, and ideological expansion.
Tracks 6-10: A complete disconnect occurs and the songs sound out of place, estranged, wandering and entirely adrift and separate from the direction and precision of our first five tracks. Somehow, this mid-album to album’s conclusion seems to swing just as hard as the rest of the album, it just fouls off some pitches, never quite puts them in play, then eventually strikes out. The swing still looks good, they just never quite connect again like they did on their first five swings at the listener.
Final Track: This one usually catches a really great lead somewhere in the track and tries to expand it, to varying results. There have been albums through Trivium’s career where the album’s final track matches back up with the momentum of the first five tracks, but this ingredient tends to sway by album. Some entries into their discography are more effective at this than others. Just depends.
So where does that leave us? I’m in a place where when I come to a new Trivium album, I expect the first 4-5 tracks to blow me away, the following 4-5 to sound ‘alright,’ but ultimately will be very forgettable, then the album ender to be a toss up. So I feel like I always get half an album from Trivium (usually scoring 5-6.5/10) Why does this happen? I can only give my opinion, and I won’t present it as fact, but I *think* it’s because Trivium is a band that never really found out who they were and what it was they did that no one else could offer; and that makes it difficult for them to focus for a whole album. Over the years, they kind of do everything. Very good at everything, but master of none. So, when the albums usually disconnect, there’s no central core sound to fall back on in order to maintain momentum. There’s no ‘old reliable’ for Trivium. A pitch that always works no matter how deep in the count you are.
Trivium albums always do a lot of different things, and that variety is a beautiful thing . . . When it works. But when the songs begin to disconnect from the overall direction of an album, it’s difficult to reign back in. Once the engine begins misfiring, it’s hard to ‘reconnect.’ That’s always been my issue with Trivium. I’ve never gotten a complete album from them. I feel like, anyway. And please . . . don’t let me grieve about how great I think Shogun could have been with some songs cut and one or two more bangers in the mid-album tracks.
Here’s how I mean; the first five tracks of that album are one of the greatest runs any metal band has been on. Fuckin’ ever. You cut four tracks out of the original 11, that leaves you with 7. You swap out “Calisto” with “Poison, the Knife or the Noose” (which was an unreleased track from the deluxe release and fit the album much better), then you have Shogun, which was a great closer that Trivium got right. 8 tracks, all solid, all ten dollar songs. Album never loses momentum, it unfolds smoothly and with direction and excellent execution, never loses the thread. Nice and tidy. All solid, all badass, no misfires or empty swings. But, oh well. I’m not in Trivium, and maybe I’m just too much a product of the old-school 8 song album, which I think is a perfect number of tracks. Now I’m a rambling old man and I’ve even lost your attention. My mind wanders, too, it seems. I apologize. Anyway . . .
So, here we are with Trivium’s newest release What The Dead Men Say All told, all things measured, I was excited to get my hands on this from SUPER METAL WORLD. They asked me to review it, and of course, I was honored. Let’s get into this.
There’s an instrumental interlude that starts the album and flows into “What the Dead Men Say,” which is the second track, but the two tracks collectively are the opener. Very solid, very clean and gripping work. I’m used to seeing this from Trivium and I’m always happy to see that some things never change. Trivium has always had a propensity for engaging and memorable album openers, and this one does not disappoint. I really feel like we glance over some things in music because we’re used to seeing them, so I want to be plain here. This is a great way to open this album, and I’ll admit I was very excited to hear it. It’s a great one that I’ll be jamming quite a bit once the album actually drops. The chorus is infectious, the harmonies and melodies simply sublime. Fantastic work. Couldn’t have been better.
I did take a second to look at the track listing after those first two. I did a head count, and there were 8 songs left, the first two tracks combining into one movement leaves with a total album tally of 9 songs. I am now listening . . . intently.
The following run was also familiar for me to see, with my same excitement attached to it. “Catastrophist,” “Amongst the Shadows & the Stones,” “Bleed Into Me,” and “The Defiant” are a great, great run of solid songs that all offer something entirely different; though, at the same time, utilizing the same scales and modes in the solo passages as well as the same blend of sharp percussive thrash and soaring interludes. Lyrics and pentameter never seem awkward or off. All separate shades of the SAME painting, nothing ever disconnects.
To be perfectly plain, each of these songs are entirely solid and any band would be proud to have them. There’s a straightforward quality that was shaping up to this album that I really enjoyed. It didn’t seem to ‘put on.’ The songs seemed very natural in their correlation to one another and they flowed seamlessly one into the next with a unifying identity. Could this finally be the band that Trivium always wanted to be? It took 9 fucking albums, and maybe here we are finally? And, to be fair, they were SO young when they released Ascendancy that what we’ve seen is a band grow up before our eyes. And when you’re into so many different things like Matt Heafy is, it can be difficult to find your true colors amongst the facelessness. The solos are beautiful, the guitar work impeccable, and there’s a source of dirt and grit to Matt’s cleans and his gutturals. There’s age here, wisdom, a hardness of heart. “Catastrophist” is a sprawling emotional epic, “Amongst the Shadows & the Stones” is an absolute ripper with one of my favorite lyrical deliveries of the year thus far in the opening. Heafy comes out spitting fire as he howls:
“BLOODY CORPSES, BROKEN BONES REVEALED!!”
I’m an absolute whore for just such openings delivered by a man as hardened as the grunt he summoned to invoke it. “Bleed Into Me” and “The Defiant” is a one-two punch of visceral and honest emotionality, a total oneness of melodic unveiling that any band would be jealous of. Quite frankly, I wish I wrote those songs. Fantastic work and delicious fare for the melodic death metal kids in the crowd.
Now, as great as this all had been, and as delicious as it was for me to experience, I was waiting for Trivium to . . . well . . . be Trivium. I was waiting for the off note song, the one that disconnects from the rich vein we’d been tapping together as artist/listener. The song that puts the album off course and keeps it from ever really reconnecting on the rails. I was waiting for it, and I feel it did happen with “Sickness Unto You.” The song isn’t obtrusive or obstinate. It isn’t bad music, it isn’t a ‘what the fuck?’ moment. It just seems out of place and pretty forgettable. The melody and tambor of it even reaches into a tonality that we don’t explore in the rest of the album.
Speaking plainly, and just my opinion again, but this song could have been cut and probably should have been. The same with “Bending the Arc to Fear.” The titles are weird, the songs are kind of weird in comparison to the rest of the album. And maybe they just don’t turn with me, but I just don’t think they work here.
But. I will have this said. Those two tracks are the off notes for Trivium on this release, but I think two decades of making this mistake with their albums has made them very wise. The two tracks are a sort of distraction in an otherwise great run of songs, but it’s only two tracks, rather than four or five. They come and go and you don’t notice them, and they’re split up with one of the largest stand outs from any band in awhile, for me anyway. “Scattering the Ashes.”
I really can’t say enough about this song. It harkens back to the 80s feel for ballads and rock n’ roll soul. This thing feels vintage, but not dated. This is how Trivium does a ballad, and it’s really refreshing to hear such honest emotionality and croon without it being overly sappy. It’s a ballad that came honestly and easily and organically. THOSE are the tracks that haunt you, especially if you can connect with the source material that spawned it. I can connect with it, and it reached me on a very deep level. Not to mention Heafy’s vocal melody, which is totally 80s croon, but done very very well in the chorus,
“A father, and son . . . Tonight, they’ll come undone . . . “
And everyone sing with me now,
“So, toniiiiiiiiiiiiIIIIIIIIIIiiiIIiIIiight . . . !”
And goddamn you if you didn’t fucking sing or were ‘too cool’ to get into it. But that’s okay, you can sing it to yourself when you’re alone in your car and no one can see. We won’t tell. I imagine that Trivium will probably catch shit for this song from metal toolbags, and that’s unfortunate, because this is a great song, a great hook and I believe him when he delivers it. Fantastic work. This is the beauty of musical catharsis. Unfortunate for them, fortunate for me, I guess. Because as a fan, I get to have this moment with the band in a collection of very good ones from a band who feels like they’ve finally found their beat in complete totality and practice.
And of course, the album ender is always a toss up with Trivium, and this one lands. “The Ones We Leave Behind” is a great track and concludes things beautifully. It feels appropriate in tone, sound; all that. And the repeated theme that plays out on the dual harmonized lead ends the entire album to stoic and resolute affair. This is a great one that the band should very proud of. A great moment to take their leave and ride off into the sunset. Very Iron Maiden, and when considering the totality of the album’s leads and fretwork, there are more than a couple classic Iron Maiden passages that feel so organic. Which, when considering TRIVIUM’s love for melodic death metal, really makes sense. Because I will fight anyone that tries to tell me that Iron Maiden isn’t responsible for the bands that took their licks, pushed them to volume 10 and gave genesis to melodic death metal. Classic gallop, beautiful movement, brilliant execution, the guitars singing as if they were vocalists themselves. And on this album closer for Trivium, I felt that they had a great deal to say, and they left me feeling incredibly satisfied.
This is a very good album. A great one? I’m not sure. But you know what? With every band seemingly after their Master of Puppets, it usually only occurs when you quit trying to seek it out so desperately. It usually happens organically, naturally, without much conscience effort. A coming of age into your own style where you become so adept at doing what YOU do better than anyone else can do it. And I feel like THAT is starting to take shape for Trivium. One of my notes on all three listens was that there didn’t really seem to be an ideological direction for this album, that it was simply a collection of (mostly) great tunes. And that was refreshing to hear.
Grip and riff, baby. Grip and riff.
There are a few missteps and off tunes, which Trivium is known for, but it is reigned in and edited. They stub their toe, in my opinion, on “Sickness Unto You” and “Bending the Arc to Fear,” but it isn’t egregious. And with the summation of great tunes throughout, it would be a fucking shame to discount the rest of what this album accomplishes. A fucking shame, or it would just make me a close-minded metal douche. And these days, as I grow older, I try my hardest to stay away from both those things. Metal has enough of it, and I won’t contribute to it.
Two skippable tracks, the rest is very solid to fucking awesome. Solid metal, brother. Solid. And having been someone who grew up with this band, maturing at the same time they have, I say this with heart. . . I am proud of Trivium. I can’t wait to see them in Minneapolis (hopefully) in October with Lamb Of God and In Flames.
Favorite Song: “The Defiant,” “Scattering the Ashes,” and “The Ones We Leave Behind”
Release Date: 4/24/2020
Label: Roadrunner Records
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