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That is my first thought whenever I start listening to Trivium: "Why?" I ask myself why this band receives so much criticism from the average "trve" metalhead. Fact is, this one of the only "metalcore" bands (and I am hesitant to even apply that term to them) that I still consider good to this day.
I am hesitant to apply the term "metalcore" to this band because they honestly seem more like heavy metal or thrash metal with the majority of vocals growled. There's no mind-numbing breakdowns and no insipid emo screaming. What there is, however, is a plethora of excellent guitar work. This shows up the greatest in guitar leads, which add perfect harmony to their songs (see: the chorus of "Drowned and Torn Asunder" and the leads after the chorus in "A Gunshot to the Head of Trepidation," among others). These leads typically pop up and add a lot of delicious melodies to choruses in the album.
In fact, I think that is what makes Ascendancy the album it is: the plentiful well of melodies, and it's not just the guitar leads. Every single chorus in this album is catchy, but without being generic or "poppy." The vocal lines are well done and consistently make me want to sing along with them. In truth, these guys have a knack for forging addictive, catchy choruses (something I believe they manage in each of their albums); without them, they'd lose an enormous fraction of their charm. Of course, these choruses are dominated by Matt's vocals, which may have been at their peak here. Unlike latter albums where Matt adapted an abrasive, thrashy singing style, his singing here is the very foundation for the melodies that keep me coming back to this album.
Though the album excels in guitar licks, the riffs are not bad either. They're never complicated, and they sometimes fall generic; overall, though, they're entertaining enough. From what I noticed (though this is not always the case), songs that deliver powerful leads seem to lack in clever riffing, whereas songs that lack leads have better riffs ("Rain," "Pull Harder on the Strings of Your Martyr"). "Like Light to the Flies" is the major exception; it has good guitar work all around and some of the best vocal lines in the album. As such, it is the major highlight. Ultimately, though, this album is dragged back considerably by the fact that some songs have great riffs, while others seem to exist entirely for the sake of the choruses.
Nonetheless, the good here (again, namely the melodies) works enough to drown out segments which are less worthwhile. With that, I see no reason for Trivium to receive the negative reception among the metal community they always do. This really isn't much like metalcore - and even if it is, this is almost the best metalcore one can possibly get. I still view their pinnacle to be Shogun, but this is only a few short steps backwards.