At this point, Trivium should need no introduction. The band have had a career that has had several highs, from their early days of being one of the youngest acts to play at Download Festival, contributing to Roadrunner Records’ 25th album as a core writer, to eventually being trailblazers in streaming, making every show they play available through frontman Matt Heafy’s Twitch channel. If anything, they seem to be in a new resurgence, as the pandemic is changing how people interact with music, and the band still being more willing than any of their peers to engage as “content creators”.
It would be easy to think that, given wide online success, the band would want to take it a bit easy, focus on streaming revenue, and perhaps have the core music take a back seat. In The Court of The Dragon is, after all, their tenth album. Trivium are not that band though. They’ve always been old-school metalheads at their core, and instead they’ve doubled down. They’ve embarked on the biggest metal tour since the start of the pandemic, and they’re putting out a new record just over a year after the previous one. What’s even most impressive is, though, that this release is perhaps their most ambitious since 2008’s Shogun.
Many long-term Trivium fans tend to consider said fourth album to be their magnum opus, and quite a few fans still hunt for the white whale that would be a Shogun 2.0. That’s perhaps not a healthy expectation, as not only the band but the entire world has changed fundamentally since then. And making something that’s basically a rehash of an -admittedly incredible- 13 year old release would likely not capture the same storm in a bottle. It’s not like Matt, Corey and Paolo haven’t added a few new tricks and a whole new drummer in Alex Bent to the mix since then. Instead, the most interesting thing they could do while also satisfying both long-and-new-term fans would be to take the essence of what Shogun did, and apply it to their new sound, creating a best of both worlds, looking forward while simultaneously digging deep. And that’s exactly what they’ve done here.
The lead singles “In The Court of the Dragon” and “The Phalanx” may have already clued listeners in, but this album is something quite special. Not only are the band now experimenting with synth elements (provided by friend of the band Ihsahn), they’re also pushing every existing element of their sound to a new level as well. The drumming is more intense than ever, with the highest amount of blast beats on a Trivium album, while still knowing when to apply them and more importantly, when not to. Matt does something new and different with his vocals on every song – “Like A Sword Over Damocles” brings back the raspy thrash yells from the band’s earlier releases, and other songs show even more different textures to his voice. More prominent bass, more interesting vocal trade-offs, and some of the best guitar work of their career make the moment-to-moment of this listening experience very satisfying.
Part of where some more recent releases have faltered, though, has been in how the sum of these parts comes together. A consistent complaint of fans since In Waves has been that song structures have become simpler over time, with a simple verse-chorus-repeat-interlude-chorus pattern encapsulating almost every song. Finally, the spell is broken, as the band’s progressive influences that they had on display during Shogun are incorporated yet again. Almost every song has a different structure, with three of them clocking in at over seven minutes. “The Shadow of the Abattoir” is a power ballad, hearkening to Blind Guardian and Iron Maiden, while turning into a Crusade-style thrash fest midway through. “Damocles” is just a ferocious prog-influenced thrash song like those on Shogun. “A Crisis of Revelation” is a throwback to the title track of Ascendancy, with galloping riffs and fast drumming. “Fall Into Your Hands” is a gloomy melodic death metal piece that Matt improvised partially on his stream. “The Phalanx”, reconstructed from bits left on the cutting floor of Shogun, with some new sections introduced by Alex Bent, comes closest to recreating the elements that many fell in love with with the 12-minute closing title track of Shogun, not only giving fans what they’ve been asking for for over a decade, but also opening more doors to the future.
In The Court of the Dragon is simultaneously one of the band’s most dynamic and consistent releases. It’s hard to say if it’s their best, as the band have always pushed in different directions in each release, but it’s definitely in contention. The fact that 10 albums in, Trivium can simultaneously surprise and feel familiar is no small feat. One of the best-constructed albums of the year and their career, current or lapsed fans of the band will definitely have much to return to here, and naysayers may even find themselves tempted. Most importantly though, for those who have stuck with the band since the beginning, and have a Shogun shaped hole in their hearts can finally rest easy, as the day has finally come. And it is glorious.
In the Court of the Dragon releases on October 8th. You can get it…I mean you can get it everywhere. Go get it.