(Disclaimer: I worked for Trivium‘s label, Roadrunner Records, from 2011 to 2014, writing and editing copy for their website and creating social media content. I worked with Trivium a lot.)
For virtually their entire existence — twenty years and nine albums, counting their latest, What the Dead Men Say — Trivium have existed in a strange sort of purgatory. They were tapped early on as one of the next generation of big, traditional-but-modern metal bands, destined to seize the limelight when Metallica, Megadeth et al. eventually yielded the stage. They were younger than peers like Mastodon and Lamb of God, but that was a point in their favor. But the old bands never left, and the music industry has been collapsing in slow motion for at least the last decade. This combination of events has put Trivium in permanent arena-opener/club-headliner limbo. When bands were still touring, they were playing venues that held a couple of thousand people, and when they hit the European festival circuit every summer, they were pretty high on the bill, but not the headliners. That was a precarious place to be at the best of times — they’ve tried to break through at radio, but it’s never quite happened, mostly because they insist on remaining a metal band rather than going straight-up hard rock. And for the past few years, they’ve had younger bands chasing them, angling for those same middle-tier opening-act slots.
For the time being, though, Trivium are still here, and still making good music. Their lineup has remained largely stable; they just swap in a new drummer every few years. This has allowed the three core members — singer/guitarist Matt Heafy, lead guitarist Corey Beaulieu, and bassist Paolo Gregoletto — to evolve their style organically over time.
Their first four albums charted a course from metalcore juvenilia to New Wave of American Heavy Metal riff-and-scream to elaborate prog-metal shred-fests. On 2011’s In Waves, still their best album, they made a major leap forward, combining original material that was both melodic and modern with enough rawness and fury to cover Sepultura‘s “Slave New World” and make it work. On 2013’s Vengeance Falls, they enlisted Disturbed frontman David Draiman as producer, but only a few songs were aimed at hard rock radio; some of the others were among their heaviest, most aggressive material. On 2015’s Silence in the Snow, they explored their progressive and power metal side again, and the result was unexpectedly turgid and boring. They regained their footing with 2017’s The Sin and the Sentence, the first album to feature current drummer Alex Bent. His background in death metal bands like Battlecross and Brain Drill injected rocket fuel into the music, and the new songs were hyper-aggressive, rifftastic and pummeling.
What the Dead Men Say is a solid holding action after the retrenchment of Sin. The songs are fast and thunderous; no ballads, nothing melodic enough for radio. The title track, which comes after the intro “IX,” features a few ideas that could have been stolen from Slipknot, and an anthemic chorus, but it’s just too jackhammering to click with the average listener. Bent’s drumming is an avalanche, pounding the music straight into the ground and forcing the band to scream louder and riff harder. Gregoletto’s bass is louder here than on any previous Trivium album; he opens “Bleed Into Me” in floor-shaking fashion. Heafy’s voice is strong — he’s balancing his theater-kid clean vocal style with his aggressive roars more convincingly than ever before. And his and Bealieu’s guitar playing is as powerful as ever, mixing hard-driving post-thrash riffs with screaming, ejaculatory solos.
Trivium are never going to be the superstars they were tipped to be when they started out. They’re not cool — Heafy’s kind of a nerd, and the other three are semi-faceless bros, though Beaulieu and Gregoletto (I’ve never met Bent) are extremely nice guys — and they’re not angry enough to be underground. They’ve spent twenty years working toward a goal that seems to have vanished. Their 2020 touring plans included more time in the opening-act trenches, supporting Megadeth and Lamb of God. But if they had been able to get on the road in support of this record, they’d likely find their medium-sized but loyal audience very excited to hear this new material, which is modern metal at its best: heavy, aggressive, and anthemic.