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Album review: Trivium – What The Dead Men Say

What The Dead Men Say is the quality, defined record that Trivium fans have been waiting for since 2005’s Ascendancy

With 2005’s potent ‘Ascendancy’ – their second full-length album and first for Roadrunner Records – Trivium were poised to become the ‘next big thing’, and critics, magazines, and fans waited with bated breath to see what their journey would look like. Unfortunately, the next five years and two releases were met with confusion and showed very mixed results, and it would take time and evolution to find themselves as musicians and as a band.

Their biggest issue, it would appear, was that they simply didn’t have their own voice – they spent far too much time trying to ape their heroes and please fans, all the while losing themselves. From Matt Heafy attempting to become a poor man’s James Hetfield vocally to overly long and pointlessly technical songs that just didn’t go anywhere (but looked good on paper), everything was bloated and lacked substance. Granted, their young age and sudden thrust into the commercial limelight through a major metal label were partly to blame, but Trivium as a band were losing their footing almost as quickly as they took the first step.     

Their next four records were an imbalanced scramble to solidify their identity, with mixed results from simplifying songs to a myriad of vocal strategies that kept their core audience for the most part but still left a lot to desire musically. With this new album, ‘What The Dead Men Say’, it seems as though they have identified who they are, and it’s actually quite simple – Trivium are a band that suck in all their inspiration, add in their individual strengths, and pour out whatever they find. They fit into no specific box or style, and the only basic descriptor would be that they are ‘metal’. Not heavy metal, not thrash metal, not prog metal, just straight-up, take-us-or-leave-us modern metal.

With that tiring elephant finally out the room, the exploration on this new disc is rewarding in a way that we haven’t seen since 2005. At just over 45 minutes, the songs get in and do what they need to with as little filler as possible (their editing process being one of their previous hurdles), and the impact is immediate – there’s very little flash outside of the strong, shreddy guitar team of Heafy and Corey Beaulieu, where the solos are still an obvious and entertaining highlight, and the days of duplicating huge, intricate monoliths in the style of ‘…And Justice For All’ are thankfully eradicated. 

The title track bursts in after a moody intro with all guns blazing, riffs hitting you like a barn door to the face and a chorus earworm that gets in deep. Speaking of earworms, this is the true strength of ‘What The Dead Men Say’ – they have clearly spent a great deal of time constructing the melodic and harmonic qualities of the choruses and most of the vocals in general to give us the optimum sing-along hurrah that will make their future live shows bloody huge. Songs like Amongst The Shadows And The Stones and Catastrophist are equally thrashy in feel, built up with strong rhythms and interspersed with black metal tremolos and necessary breakdowns, and elsewhere we see a Slipknot-esque dedication to creating atmospheres within the music to give us dynamic pieces that don’t lose any of the intensity by falling into baseless power balladry.

Heafy relies mostly on his clean voice that has weathered nicely with experience, the bass is high in the mix and gives off a meaty heartbeat imbued with interesting fills, and Alex Bent utilises his kit admirably with precision skin-work and furious blasts when the songs call for it. The production is clean and exposed without losing any of the heaviness, and even though it might be a little to sparse, works beautifully with the material. With all this said, there are still some speed bumps on the new road: Heafy still falls into saccharine/emo voice from time to time which is a little too modern and ‘easy’ to be taken seriously (although there are a great number of fans that lap that up); there is still room to trim a little fat off a couple of songs that go on a little too long; with an actual direction at play, there is a feel of instrumental sameness throughout; and the lyrics are overly intellectual and clinical (a long-time issue). But these are kinks that don’t detract much from the album as a whole and, after all, this is The First Day Of The Rest Of Trivium’s Life.

‘What The Dead Men Say’ is the record that Trivium fans have been waiting for, in that it has a singular direction and fires on all requisite cylinders. Everything hopeful, they will use this as a blueprint for further releases to take the quality and songwriting to new and exciting heights, because this is as solid as solid gets.    

★★★★✩  

FFO: Metallica, In Flames, Machine Head 

What The Dead Men Say is out now via Roadrunner

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