Trivium have had a colorful career. From blowing up in 2005 with their sophomore release Ascendancy to creating a widely beloved genre-defying masterpiece in Shogun, they’ve known various heights of acclaim. In Waves is also generally quite well-lived, but then things got a bit shakier. They went through various drummers, frontman Matt Heafy had problems with his voice, and some of their albums weren’t as widely appealing as their older work. To some, this might sound like the story of a band past their prime. That’s not necessarily true, as none of their albums in this period were bad per se, but the reception from the fans was more mixed. Every new album would get compared to heights of previous releases.
All of that changed in 2017; things took a turn. With the release of The Sin And The Sentence everything seemed to align and bring the band to new heights. They found a new drummer that elevated their sound in Alex Bent, they found a new sound that elevated their recent trajectory, and Matt’s Twitch streaming career took off, growing the band’s audience in new ways. Of course, with every major milestone album in a band’s career, one question lingers: What happens next?
What The Dead Men Say has tough shoes to fill. In a way, this album is make-or-break for the new era of Trivium. Was The Sin And The Sentence a fluke, or the new baseline? Even if it’s not a fluke, will the band just get comfortable and reiterate the formula from 2017, or will they push further and deliver something even more ambitious? Well, it seems like WTDMS is practically the best case scenario for fans given these options.
While TSATS was a great album, it didn’t really call back to Trivium’s history in an obvious way. The first thing that WTDMS does as an addition to its predecessor is incorporating sounds from previous eras of the band. “Amongst The Shadows And The Stones” calls back to the darker and heavier sound of tracks from In Waves, with more screaming than singing, fast drumming and ominous riffs that are constantly moving. There’s even an instrumental break that could fit right in Ascendancy.
Here we start to see the second big thing that WTDMS brings back to the table, which is a variety in song structures. Another common criticism of post-IW Trivium is that they tended to rely on simpler song structures, going verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-chorus. On many of the tracks, the song structure is a lot less straightforward, which makes the album much more rewarding to listen to on repeat. “Sickness Unto You” evokes fan-favorite long progressive tracks like “Shogun” and “Caustic Are The Ties That Bind” with its progressive structure and prolonged instrumental break that ramps up to a climactic ending. Additionally, the songs all sound fairly different from each other, which gives the album variety and more energy.
Speaking of energy, the next thing that’s great about WTDMS is the intensity. This is an album that never stops. Every track is dense and constantly moving. There are no dead sections, no bits that kill the momentum. Additionally, most of the songs bring back intricate verse riffs, be it the aggressive metalcore style of their older era in “The Defiant” and the thrashier bent from Shogun or The Crusade in the closer “The Ones We Leave Behind”. It’s not just callbacks though, as they introduce new blackened elements in the title track or “Bending The Arc To Fear”. Additionally, there is a lot more screaming on this album, with several tracks having an equal balance of singing and screaming. Even when singing, Matt’s voice is often much more aggressive. “Sickness Unto You” and the closer have him bringing back some of the thrash style he employs, and he goes to new places for his voice in many sections throughout the album. Alex’s drumming is fantastic of course, and he takes things to the next level here with the addition of blast beating to at least one section in most songs. Basically, this album is the dream of most long-time fans who have asked “but are they bringing back this element?”
Is there anything about this album that’s not great? Not really, there aren’t a lot of major gripes to be had with it. The songwriting is the best the band have done in a long time, the production is fantastic (even a step up from the previous release), and everyone is at the top of their game. They’ve managed to take the successful new sound they established, bring back almost every single thing fans have been asking for, and augment it all with some newer elements that keep things fresh. The songs where they do the fewest of these things are the ones that stand out the least – “Bleed Into Me” and “Scattering The Ashes”. These are the clear radio-friendly tracks (does anyone actually listen to radio anymore? Perhaps a better description would be arena-style tracks), and they lack the momentum of the rest of the tracks. They’re not bad songs, just not as ambitious and powerful as the rest. Fans who enjoy this side of Trivium will surely find something to take away from these tracks, especially the vocally-ambitious latter track.
A potential point of contention for fans could be comparisons to TSATS. Some might feel it’s too similar, others might feel it’s not similar enough. However, these opinions are likely to be in the minority, because the album takers the best aspects of its predecessor, and merges them with classic elements from throughout the band’s discography. Ironically, the only thing lacking about this album could be its length – it’s shorter than the previous by a few minutes. Despite being shorter, it doesn’t feel lacking though, as the album is generally so dense that it still leaves one full at the end, and another song could have made it feel overwhelming.
Is What The Dead Men Say the best Trivium album? That’s hard to say, they have a lot of fantastic albums. Is it one of their best? Definitely. If one doesn’t like Trivium, it will be unlikely to move the needle. But for fans, especially long-time fans, this album will be very satisfying. It’s a love letter to fans, it’s the honing of an established formula, and it’s a look into the future. Rarely does one see a band on their ninth album come out swinging this hard, but that’s Trivium now. The Sin And The Sentence was not a fluke, and What The Dead Men Say is great.
What the Dead Men Say is available April 24 via Roadrunner Records.