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Before delving into my review of Trivium’s latest release, Shogun, a couple of things should be made clear. Firstly, unlike the vast majority of users on this site, I do not abhor Trivium. I find their music quite enjoyable, I’ve seen them live and had a great time, I appreciate the talent of all four band members and I own all their releases. I – brace yourselves – consider myself a fan of the band. That’s not to say I’m oblivious to their shortcomings and failings, however. The pseudo-thrash shitfest that was 2006’s The Crusade sickened me, I hate the band’s cocky attitude and metaller-than-thou image, and I fully acknowledge the fact that originality and creativity are not Trivium’s strong points. This balanced attitude of neither all-encompassing love nor hatred for Trivium enabled me to listen, and subsequently review, this album with an entirely open mind. I am neither hell-bent on demonizing the band as posers, nor am I bigging them up to be a revolutionary metal band whose critics are simply jealous of the quartet’s prodigious talent.
Secondly, this album can only be realistically enjoyed when the listener is prepared to hear this album for what it is – a metalcore release. Bizarrely, Trivium have been promoted and marketed as a thrash metal band ever since the release of second album Ascendancy took them to the forefront of the mainstream metal scene in 2005. With the band’s sound neither matching up to their thrashy declarations nor justifying tours with acts such as Metallica, Annihilator and Slayer, much of the metal scene, perhaps understandably, refused to give Trivium a chance and slated the band’s alleged ignorance and pretensions. It’s a shame, really, as had Trivium stuck to their metalcore-ish image, forgone inane and contradictory declarations such as ‘Fuck metalcore, we’re for real!’ and declined the opportunity to wank over Dimebag Darrell’s signature guitars, they arguably would be much more respected than they currently are; as, as Shogun proves, they are more than capable of putting out a thoroughly enjoyable and solid metalcore album.
As soon as opener 'Kirisute Gomen' kicks in, one can tell that Shogun is Trivium’s best effort to date. All four members are on top of their game here, and sounding truly bombastic thanks to Nick Raskulinecz’s organic-sounding production. Apparently the band overlooked Pro-Tools and a ‘cut and paste’ style of production in favour of a more traditional play-till-you-get-it-right approach on this album, and their hard work certainly paid off. I don’t think I’ve ever heard such a live-sounding studio album - apart from maybe other works Nick R produced. Every vocal line, beat, and note on this album sounds energetic and authentic, a welcome change in comparison to the monotonous, sterile sounding production so common in today’s metal releases.
As the opening song continues, and as we are treated to a wide range of vocal styles, impressive soloing, heavy rhythm riffs, melodic leads and historical/mythological lyrics, it is abundantly clear that Shogun is a marked improvement on The Crusade, and a natural step in Trivium’s evolution from Ascendancy and Ember to Inferno. The elements that make 'Kirisute Gomen' such an appealing opener continue on the remainder of songs on Shogun, with a perfect balance between melody and heaviness, great guitarwork and some almost NWOHBM-type choruses present throughout. Gone are the days of every song being comprised of octave chords and lite- At the Gates-type riffs(Ascendancy) and entire sequences of music being plagiarised from the back catalogues of other bands (The Crusade). Nor are the riffs and solos here difficult and technical for the sake of being difficult and technical. Corey Beaulieu and Matt Heafy received unadulterated praise for their fretboard skills in the aftermath of Ascendancy, and, as a result –IMO at least – became so absorbed with impressing guitar players on The Crusade that the songwriting on that album greatly suffered. This is not the case on Shogun, however, with the band getting their priorities right, focusing on writing good songs regardless of how difficult or easy the guitar tabs are going to look. 'Down From The Sky' provides a perfect example of Trivium’s increasingly mature attitude to writing songs, with an incredibly basic (but incredibly effective) intro riff repeating endlessly before an aggressive (but equally stripped down) verse and bridge emerge, forming the basis of one of the best songs on the album while still being the most simple. That’s not to say that guitarists will be disappointed with this release, as there are plenty of shred-tastic and technical moments (see the title track’s final solo and the tight-as-fuck intro to 'Torn Between Scylla and Charybdis' for proof), however the technical moments are there to add to the songs, as opposed to just being there for the sake of being there.
On the subject of solos, Beaulieu and Heafy’s shredding efforts on this record also represent a dramatic increase in musical awareness and maturity, with almost all the solos on Shogun perfectly fitting the songs on which they are present. 'Down from the Sky', an ominous, dark song with a quirky rhythm riff exhibits an ominous, dark, quirky solo which mimics the rhythmic pattern it is played over, yet still deviates at times to provide some contrast. Similarly, the solos on the almost progressive-sounding 'He Who Spawned the Furies' are in perfect harmony with the rhythm backing track and the tempo changes present throughout the song.
Matt Heafy has surely silenced many detractors with his vocal and lyrical output on this album, both of which supercede his previous efforts. The abstract, intangible lyrics of Ember to Inferno,the angst-ridden rants of Ascendancy and the cringeworthy poltically-correct lyrics to The Crusade have been replaced by well-told depictions of Greek and Japanese mythology, war, rebellion, and the apocalypse. The aforementioned three-way (Trivium ;)) style of vocals have been honed and practised to perfection, with the core screams harsher, the melodic singing less adolescent-sounding and the in-between type vocals more discernable and deeper than previously.
All of these thrilling components culminate in the title track, easily Trivium’s best song thus far. Lasting eleven minutes long, 'Shogun', the song is, like many professional reviews have stated already, an example of everything that is great about Trivium. Heavy, melodic, clean, distorted, technical, simple, gentle, aggressive, quiet and loud, this is the song that could transform Trivium from being metal’s laughing stock to a genuinely lauded and respected bunch of musicians. Shogun as an album would have been impressive enough had the title track never been created, but it is a fitting end to hugely enjoyable and worthy album. Note to fanboys : Forget 'Departure' and 'Pull Harder', THIS is the song to use if you feel compelled to try convert people to Trivium!
However, very few albums are perfect, and Shogun is no exception. There are a few flaws here that prevent this album from being one of the great releases of 2008, the main one being that a lot of the songs sound very similar. 'Torn Between Scylla and Charybdis', 'Throes of Perdition' and 'The Calamity' all have very similar legato-onto-open-string intros that all mush into one another after a few listens. Similarily, 'Kirisute Gomen', 'Into the Mouth of Hell We March' and 'Like Callisto to a Star in Heaven' have a similar tonality, pitch and feel to their intros. Furthermore, while having three vocal styles throughout the album is hugely beneficial to keeping it fresh, having an almost perfect and equal ratio of growled:screamed:sung vocals on every single song is a bit irritating. There are some songs here (perhaps 'Kirisute Gomen' and 'He Who Spawned the Furies') that could have done without sweetly sung harmonies, as they are naturally agressive songs which could have benefited from more screamed vocals. By the same token, 'Of Prometheus and the Crucifix' is a melodic and classic-metal influenced song which is completely ruined by screaming. While I stand by the fact that the band’s songwriting has matured, it does seem that they were determined to incorporate every vocal style into all the songs on this record, without taking into account of what type of vocal suited which song. I’m sure I’m not the only person who would have greatly enjoyed an entirely screamed song or an entirely sung song, or whatever. My final nitpick with this album is that the second riff of the opening song and the bridge of 'Insurrection' sound akin to parts of 'Symbolic' by Death and 'One by One' by Immortal, respectively. However, I know that riff ‘borrowing’ is not limited to Trivium, and with so many metal-influenced bands out there now, it’s somewhat inevitable.
To conclude, this is a great metalcore release, and definitely Trivium’s best album so far. All the tracks are excellent, however my personal favourites include 'The Calamity' for its excellent vocal lines, 'He Who Spawned the Furies' for the versatility within the song and the title track for representing everything that is good about Trivium. Shogun is not without its faults and will surely be marketed as a br00tal thrash album, bringing more scorn upon the band, when the listeners realise this isn't exactly Sodom-meets-Overkill stuff. However, if the listener wants metalcore (dare I say progressive metalcore?) with plenty of influences from other metal genres, you can’t go wrong with this. It’s not a Bonded by Blood or a Ride the Lightning, but it is up there with Fortress (Protest the Hero) and Threads of Life (Shadows Fall) as a top-notch metalcore album.