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"Really? What'd he say?" "I don't know, he was going on about how the fans aren't all that smart and maybe following your own path is wiser or something, then he hung up fast. I don't know, let's just finish this already."
A while back, I had considered Trivium to be one of my favorite bands. Their breakthrough release, Ascendancy, was the type of album to leave me completely floored for a year straight, and their highly underrated follow-up, The Crusade, repeated the flooring process with much more force and a longer duration than before. While Ascendancy was a great communion with metalcore and thrash metal, The Crusade was something of a half-complete departure from their -core roots, what with its straightforward movement and near lack of overly melodic vocals/melodies. Hell, the breakdowns on The Crusade actually seemed like opportune tempo changes and not just jerky stumbling in the writing process. At first, I had come to dislike this change in music. After all, everything I had loved about the previous release had been discarded in favor of a more edgy style closer to older thrash bands. But as time wore on, and the CD gained more revolutions, it dawned on me that the near abandonment of the metalcore influence was a smart decision in the long run, as it provided more solid and heartfelt music for personal enjoyment. Sure, the song formats were almost all the same, and the lyrics had suffered a huge blow (Not as verbosely overblown as in Ascendancy, but there are more creative ways to describe atrocities and the end of mankind.), but the overall tight feeling exceptional skill displayed in the music and compositions provided a more satisfying experience that can still be felt years afterwards, something I can't feel anymore for Ascendancy. All in all, it felt like The Crusade is what Trivium truly wished to create.
Then Shogun was released.
And I personally believe that Trivium should have just stuck to 80's thrash worship. Granted, everyone is entitled to flaunt their own unique qualities, but sometimes, you must question whether said qualities are actually better than certain others. I had read that their move to reinstate metalcore into their writing process was a conscious one, that the band themselves had decided to use this once more, but I personally believe it was fan-based pressure that swayed their decision into metalcore territory. Why make such an assumption? Do you realize that the number in favor of Ascendancy is higher than for the Crusade, and that those with the former view the latter as a half-hearted failed attempt at a thrash revival? I'm not stating this to sway your own opinion regarding the releases, I'm just stating a few observations I've made along this musical progression.
But I digress. Shogun was released and eventually purchased.
Beginning with the acoustic melody you will hear later in the title track, Kirisute Gomen soon hits you hard with intense tribal percussion, soon followed by a rather 'corey' guitar melody that, strangely enough, work to set the mood for the rest of the song, as it's both intense and mystifying simultaneously. Then Matt kicks in with his thrash-like vocals to round out the melodies, and after a few lines, his screams come into play to add to the change in riffs with satisfactory results -- the song flows through its motions quite nicely, and the notion that a half-thrash, half-metalcore band such as Trivium may actually know what they're doing enters the mind.
Then the chorus hits. And you're treated to an incredibly silly and weak breakdown that'll prevent the chance that anyone wanted to give them from reaching them. The bridge is not much better -- at least Corey and Matt's solos are amusing -- and after the brief return to their successful musical mixture, they jump right back into the idiotic chorus and end with it.
I make a special mention of this song because this is how the rest of the album feels. You're going to experience moments of musical greatness mixed in very badly with moments of musical gaucheness. Some of the better tracks would include the following track as it feels like each musician is attempting to insert his own creative input into the song and the change in time is actually welcome as it doesn't sound like a 'corey' breakdown; Like Callisto to a Star in Heaven sans chorus because the more evident thrash approach to the crunch is welcoming (and, to be honest, I like the overly melodic chorus myself); The Calamity if you don't mind just how good metalcore can be; and several other select parts. As it stands, Of Prometheus and the Crucifix is what is probably the best track on here as it is the most consistent -- the entire song rushes by in a melodic whirlwind of 'corey' riffs and lackluster imagery that at least sounds like a completely finished product, as opposed to the huge amount of hastily assembled ideas that are all over the album; this finished feeling suddenly raised my interest and, eventually, liking towards the song in spite of its metalcore influence.
The reason I can hardly name other high areas on Shogun, however, is that, in their attempt to make a concession to their older style, they have made a quite forgettable album as a consequence. I don't mean that it's complete tripe -- it's that, after many, many listens, there aren't too many parts that can be recalled easily. It's as if the album still needed a certain 'polish' that prevents it from really 'shining.' Throes of Perdition has an exceptionally weak chorus which brings down the rest of the song (as do several other tracks), Down from the Sky is not interesting in the least, He Who Spawned the Furies contains practically no energy at all, and the title track is just awful, a pointless, excruciatingly slow trudging through a thick marsh of bland melodies and unnecessary ideas that do not mesh together in the least. Christ, I could have done without that track -- I am not opposed to slow tracks at all, but when you have an album like this, that revels in its hurricane riffs and unique mixtures (Admit it.), if you're going to attempt to pull a Candlemass on your listeners, then you'd best to do it right. Separately, the sections of this song may work -- both slower sections give off the aural aura of misused potential, as they do contain enjoyable pieces such as the chorus melodies of Matt's vocals, the slow guitar solo at 5:45, and the sudden transition into speed at 7:50 (Sue me -- I like my Trivium fast. Besides, it's probably one of the audibly appropriate parts of the song, this abrupt 'breakup', if you will.), but much of the rest fails to provide a worthwhile experience as the other title tracks have done.
(Fortunately, I had the insight to order the special edition of the CD, which comes with three extra tracks, and if you're going to order Shogun, I suggest you do the same, as the following songs are refreshing after the disappointment of the title track. While Poison, the Knife or the Noose is okay but forgettable enough, Upon the Shores is almost completely metalcore with the exception of the VERY low and pleasantly surprising growls during the pre-chorus and bridge, as they provide probably the only truly fresh element on this album, and as such, makes it one of my personal favorites on the album. The Iron Maiden cover is probably the heaviest thing you'll hear on this release, as it's a straight thrash cover of a great song and a MUCH better closer to the album. If you choose to purchase this version, add another fifteen percent to the score -- I do honestly believe that these three tracks alone do a great job of rounding out what is otherwise an underwhelming release.)
Why The Crusade received such mixed reviews and unfair comparisons to Metallica, I'll never know. (I personally cannot hear Metallica in Trivium, especially since Hetfield and co. released their own full-length earlier in the same month, and side-by-side comparison, or rather subsequent listening of one and the other, has yielded little in the way of results.) Their attempt at a more focused thrash outing with The Crusade seemed like a more suitable path for them to follow, as it seemed like the band had evolved far enough in their sound to ensure cohesion and security in their product. But with criticism comes possibly unconscious pressure (I'm assuming the fans weren't alone in their persecution.), and the sound had loosened up once again to provide a somewhat sloppy outing that does little to recapture the same spark that had been ignited with Ascendancy (and nearly gets redeemed by the extra three tracks, should you heed my advice.). While Shogun is not a terrible record, it does not meet the same caliber of its previous releases, and anyone still interested in purchasing this should approach with caution. Not so much caution as, say, Black Tide, but it would be wise to remember why it is that Trivium is regarded with contempt in certain circles.