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No Way Back, Just Through: Trivium on Ceaseless Evolution and 'In the Court of the Dragon'

Friday, 08 October 2021 Written by Matt Mills

“Sabbath…Maiden…Metallica…TRIVIUM: The hottest metal band of the century.” These were the words emblazoned on the cover of Kerrang! magazine in July 2005. It was an incendiary statement at a time when the influence of rock’s print press was yet to be pillaged by the internet—and one the world was not ready to read.

Sure, Trivium were hot shit. The Orlando rabble’s breakthrough second album, ‘Ascendancy’, had turned countless heads, brutally welding thrash and melodic death metal together. Denizens of the UK fell even deeper in love after a mighty Download Festival set, which somehow invigorated 110,000 hungover moshers at 11am on a Saturday. But, really? Black Sabbath? Iron Maiden? Metallica? The titans of heaviness sharing their pantheon with some upstart 19-year-olds? People weren’t convinced, and the youngsters were ostracised for years as a result.

Smash cut to 2021 and plenty of us owe Trivium an apology. Although they’ve weathered their own peaks and troughs, the four-piece today stand among the biggest and most revered names in all of metal. Plus, they’re in the form of their lives.

Released in 2017, ‘The Sin and the Sentence’ was a career-reaffirming comeback that ended years of volatility: a celebration of metal at its speeding, riffing, growling best. Three years later, ‘What the Dead Men Say’ was even more extravagant, somehow furthering the “we are metal and metal is us” completism everyone loved about its predecessor. And now, capping off the hat-trick is ‘In the Court of the Dragon’: the best album of Trivium’s career.

Progressive and battering yet catchy as hell, ‘...Dragon’ is everything you want an unabashedly metal band to be in 2021. Its creators find beauty in seething dissonance on the opening title track, as frontman Matt Heafy slings a majestic chorus over incessant blast beats. Single The Phalanx is a three-movement monolith with strings by black metal royalty Ihsahn, while Feast of Fire and No Way Back Just Through prove radio-friendly anthems needn’t ever pander. 

It’s such an exhaustive dive into its genre’s strengths that it feels like an apotheosis nobody even knew their career was building up to. “I think this album’s definitely the ultimate of this version of Trivium,” concurs bassist Paolo Gregoletto. “Of the last three ones, it’s definitely the tightest and most focused.”

A child of the Covid-19 lockdown, the conception of ‘...Dragon’ began almost immediately after ‘Dead Men...’, which dropped in April 2020. As well as writing new material, the band also mined prior successes for inspiration. While the aforementioned No Way Back Just Through dates back to their previous LP, The Phalanx’s history extends even further into the past: the demo was originally intended for Trivium’s 2008 prog-metal giant, ‘Shogun’.

“The problem was that the middle section of the song became the middle section of Torn Between Scylla and Charybdis,” Gregoletto reveals. “We had to write a whole new section to make it work, so we had to tune out of our heads that the original ever existed and make something completely new.”

The catharsis of Trivium’s latest triumvirate only intensifies the longer you’ve spent on their bandwagon. Between the immense promise of their early work and the consistency of their current-day output, there have been undeniable mistakes. In response to the sensational feedback enjoyed by ‘Ascendancy’, 2006 follow-up ‘The Crusade’ peddled clean-sung speed metal in a controversial left turn.

Although the maximalist ‘Shogun’ and 2011’s ravenous ‘In Waves’ proved redemptive, the band began shuffling through drummers faster than playing cards. Nick Augusto replaced co-founder Travis Smith for two albums; Mat Madiro replaced Augusto for one; then Paul Wandtke replaced Madiro for zero, lasting 14 months.

“We just didn't stop touring,” remembers Gregoletto. “So the first two changes were just, like, taking the guy that was there at that moment. We maybe should have given ourselves a little more time to make a big decision like that. With Paul, it was more of a session and on-tour thing. I think after those last two situations, we knew what we were looking for and that wasn't the situation we were looking for.”

More disastrous, though, were the events of the Rock on the Range festival in 2014. During what should have been a bog-standard daytime set, Heafy blew his voice out: the culmination of almost two decades of an incorrect and destructive screaming technique. The band subsequently cancelled their remaining US dates and the singer had to completely rebuild his voice from the ground up. Trivium’s following album, ‘Silence in the Snow’, remains their only one without any form of harsh vocals—something Gregoletto and his bandmates regret.

“In hindsight, we all agree that we should have done something,” he says. “We should have had at least Corey [Beaulieu, lead guitars] scream on it. In a weird way, it really helped us as songwriters: ‘We have to have the singing and it has to be interesting.’ But it was missing the one element that it really needed, which was the screaming. It’s like Coca-Cola taking out an ingredient that’s always there; maybe it makes a good drink, but it's not the same.”

Tides began to shift when Trivium put Alex Bent behind the kit. Formerly of speed freaks Battlecross and once a ghostwriter for thrash icons Testament, the technical rampage of his playing laid the groundwork for ‘...Sentence’. The album also marked the return of Heafy’s screams, to the relief of many.

The four years that followed have been, quite simply, unfuckwithable. With Covid mercifully slinking into the rear-view mirror, the band have just wrapped the self-labelled Metal Tour of the Year, supporting Megadeth and Lamb of God in the States. Gregoletto eyes a UK trek as soon as possible, which will be promoting both ‘...Dragon’ and ‘...Dead Men’ simultaneously.

“It's a weird experience having two albums to promote at once,” he admits. “So many people probably don't even know we put out a record last year, so we view it as a blank slate. We can get up there and just play whatever!”

‘In the Court of the Dragon’ is out now via Roadrunner.


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