The beginning of August saw the release of some pretty polarizing records. Obviously, you had Kanye West and Jay-Z’s titanic collaborative album, Watch the Throne, with which many a self-proclaimed critic had great fun running through an argumentative strainer. And you also had the comparatively silent release of the fourth Gucci Mane product of the year, the collaboration with the equally contentious Waka Flocka Flame, Ferrari Boyz. Listeners tend to either love or hate the music that comes from both of these artists. I happened to mostly enjoy the former. The latter? Well, you can read my review for it farther down the page.
But another polarizing release that came out within that two-day period was the long-awaited fifth album from Orlando metalcore outfit, Trivium. From their first release, the quintet has always found themselves in the company of Dream Theater in terms of how people view them. Either you’ll refuse to listen to a thing they release or you’ll follow them to the ends of the Earth. Such ire has mostly originated from the negative stereotypes of the genre from which the group spawned, and Trivium have never been able to shake them. Nearly a decade into their career, there are still people who refuse to give their music a chance.
I know this because I was one of those people back in 2006, when The Crusade came out. However, with 2008’s Shogun, I found myself completely switching sides as the group embraced a melodic prog sound that featured as many hair-raising musical turns as the group’s forebears they have often been accused of copying. It was a transformative record, and one of the best metal releases of that year. I’d argue that it moved the group from a hyper-localized kiddie genre to a more assured national stage, raking in additional fans no doubt.
So, three years later, the longest time span between the group’s albums, Trivium are at a pivotal place. What made Shogun so reassuring was that it struck a perfect balance between the ragged metalcore of the group’s first two records and the poppiness introduced with The Crusade. With that already established, Trivium could have leant heavier in either direction with their newest record. I can’t really remember the last time I was this mystified before hearing a new album.
And? Well, it’s fantastic. With In Waves, Trivium keep a solid footing within the fundamental songwriting chops of Shogun and introduce a new, surprisingly aggressive sound that almost circumvents heavy metal and dives into that of the death variety. And the group makes no bones about it. After an extended introduction of distorted piano and militaristic snares, lead singer Matt Heafy bellows the album’s title as the first vocals on the record. It’s a stark contrast from the even crests of Shogun, and Heafy’s harrowing performance rivals the breakdown in “Down From the Sky” as the heaviest moment in the group’s career. In Waves, as a whole, is similarly a darker release, for sure, but one that also retains an air of assurance, as if the depths provide the warmth through which the group can continue to impress.
Fans of the much more streamlined nature of The (still awful in my opinion) Crusade will invariably be put off by In Waves. It is hostile, belligerent and only lets up its tremolo-picked onslaught for a few moments. Whether it be through the enticing blastbeats of “Inception of the End” or the reverbed screams of “Black”, In Waves takes a definite step away from the opaque poppiness of the two albums that preceded it. Instead, an argument can be made that the album takes more influence from the progressive death metal pioneered by groups from Scandinavia than anything else. “Dusk Dismantled”, for example, doesn’t even feature sung vocals. The screams of the chorus are differentiated by a layered bellow in a lower register, a standard technique used by death metal groups to make their rough vocals that much more Hellish.
These injurious moments are, by far, the most interesting parts of In Waves, but, if you want to get technical, the album’s highlights are when the group borrows equally from the already-established balance of Shogun and this additional crudeness within the same song. For the most part, the title track interchanges between that first line that there’s no way the album’s not going to be famous for (“IIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNN WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAVES!”) and a sung pseudo-chorus. However, the track’s formula observes such a brilliant contrast, it immediately becomes an album highlight. Similarly, “Watch the World Burn” employs one of the biggest choruses the group’s ever written to make a single-ready pop metal hit without resorting to the disingenuous tropes of The Crusade.
Inversely, it is when this shifting of the aggression spectrum is discarded that In Waves loses its momentum. Trivium can and often have gotten away with more grit than melody, but it has always been in the inverse that they have fumbled the most. It is apt, then, that the balladry that comes at the end of In Waves not only feels awkward within the album’s context, but also disrupts its manic flow. Like “Shogun”, “Caustic Are the Ties That Bind” moves into softer territory in its middle, but its inclusion feels tacked on, especially when Heaffy’s chorus simply interrupts it when, in “Shogun”, it built up to a logical conclusion. “Of All These Yesterdays” is a bona fide ballad, the first Trivium have written since The Crusade. And, while not particularly horrible, the track also does not feel like a necessary stab at commercial appeal, let alone an appropriate album closer. As the track literally recedes into nothingness in the addendum, “Leaving This World Behind”, it ends the album anticlimactically when it would have better suit the group to end with the same lightning in a bottle with which they began.
But, to be honest, I find the message of In Waves to be more compelling than the appeal lost to those qualms. As an introduction to metal with screams, you’re still not going to find anything better than Shogun, but In Waves is just if not more important. With it, Trivium have figured out what about their sound is worth keeping. Like Avenged Sevenfold’s surprise triumph, Nightmare, the album sacrifices flashy guitar work for deeper sonic textures. It’s a sign that the group has established a workable dynamic. For the first time, Trivium are reliable, which cannot be said for literally any of their metalcore colleagues. With In Waves, Trivium start a new chapter as an established metal band. In other words, I can’t wait for what they come out with next.