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I should start by saying that although I'm a huge Trivium fan, I suffer no delusions when it comes to the quality of their albums. So before I continue with this review, I'll reel off the negatives, such as they are. It would have been nice to have to have had lyrics in the booklet, especially for the killer Down From The Sky or the epic Shogun. Paolo's bass is virtually non-existent. Some of the tracks took me a lot - and I mean a LOT - of listens to fully appreciate, which may or may not be a bad thing. Finally, at times the riffs do seem somewhat borrowed/ repeated from other songs.
This being said, I am in no way negative about this album - far from it, I consider this to be Trivium's finest release to date. The biggest issue the album faces is not the quality of songs, it's Trivium's general controversy. Since their meteoric rise after Ascendancy, the band has polarized metal fans and left half singing their praises and half cursing their existence. Because of this, reviews tend to ignore the middle-ground and take the extremes. However, I believe that in this instance, an extremely positive score is warranted.
What strikes me most is that each song has been crafted with purpose, not cobbled together in jamming sessions. Whether it's the Japanese percussion at the start of Kirisute Gomen, the soaring choruses of Throes of Perdition or the simple-yet-powerful riffs of Down From The Sky, every track blazes with a different hue. That's not to say everyone will like every song, but equally I think there's so much on offer in terms of variety that it would be hard not to be impressed simply by the creativity displayed by the quartet.
Heafy's lyric-writing has once again run rings around contemporary metalcore bands - drawing on both Japanese and Ancient Greek mythology, as well references to the atomic bomb, the standard has clearly improved from the radio-friendly news-citing of The Crusade without slipping into the verbosity of Ascendancy. This being said, Heafy's vocabulary still shines through, marking the lyrics with his usual flair. This would be nothing, however, if the actual vocals were sub-par. Thankfully, this is not the case - the screams are back from their hiatus, and much more practiced than on Ascendancy. The clean vocals are equally magnificent; work has gone into making the more melodic sections sound less forced than on The Crusade, whilst simultaneously allowing for more biting tones if necessary. Possibly the best addition has to be the death-grunts and deeper growling, present more poignantly on Down From The Sky and two of the bonus tracks. These lend the darker riffs the killer edge they need, and ensure that those listening will be worked up into a frenzy.
In terms of the fretwork, Trivium have really matured. While Ascendancy has been applauded for it's uncompromising riffs and The Crusade was noted for its technicality-for-the-sake-of-technicality writing, Shogun delivers a far more balanced array of the heavy-hitting and the melodic. Solos are perfectly executed, harmonies are excellently orchestrated, and the whole album effortlessly shifts from soul-rendingly beautiful to chair-throwingly aggressive. The tremolo-picked intro to Torn Between Scylla and Charybdis belies the 7-string hammer-blow that follows, whilst Down From The Sky (as has been noted) is effective in its stripped-back simplicity. The title-track is the coup de grace, sending the album off with a little bit of everything - clean, heavy, melodic, epic, and what many consider to be perfect. This is the song that sums Trivium up; it may well be their magnum opus.
A special note must be made for the bonus tracks on the Special Edition as well; the two originals, Upon the Shores and Poison, The Knife Or The Noose are among the finest tracks on the listing (begging the question why they were not included on the standard album), unleashing 7-string fury and riffs that feel as brutal as they do melodic, somehow bridging the gap deemed insurmountable by many; likewise, the cover of Iron Maiden's 'Iron Maiden' is fantastic, though perhaps not quite as polished as the Master of Puppets cover from the Ascendancy SE.
But the most important feature of this album is one too many people ignore, caught up as they are in the metalcore/thrash debate or the 'why are these guys popular?' controversy that plague the Orlando quartet. That's the passion. Metal isn't about having the highest production values or the most complicated solos. It isn't about writing songs that will win over everyone, and it certainly isn't about slagging people off for liking something or slagging them off if they don't. It's about the brotherhood, the unity of the pit, the throb of the beat, the skin-tearing essence of what you're listening to. This album is one that can show you that, and so much more. The lyrics and hooks on Throes of Perdition can make the heart sing; the breakdown of He Who Spawned The Furies causes even this normally zen metalhead to desire carnage and violence; the mastery of the title-track causes a feeling of awe few songs can hope to match as it swoops and cascades, judders and cuts it's way through 11 minutes of exemplary musicianship.
This is a band whose potential has only just been tapped into. If the critics will focus less on the band and the comparisons other people have made to thrash titans Metallica, and look harder at what this group has achieved in a relatively short amount of time, they'll find a wealth of creativity, a veritable ocean of talent and an unflinching attitude to criticism masking the future of metalcore - and of heavy metal as a whole.
This is an example of what ignoring what's popular, and making what you want to make instead, can create; an album that astounds and engages from start to end. An essential purchase