Between extensive touring, befriending numerous other bands, and making their new full-length, this young, Orlando-based quartet have barely had a moment’s rest since their exceptional breakthrough album, “Ascendancy,” arrived in stores in March of 2005. And to make life even more difficult, they decided to have the new album ready in time for a late 2006 release date (less than nineteen months after their previous effort was released). I don’t know how they did it, but Trivium managed to find a way to write, rehearse, record and release the new record (entitled “The Crusade”) in time, and they were even able to make it even better than “Ascendancy” (more unique, music-oriented, expansive, and complex). In fact, come year’s end, it won’t be at all surprising to see this C.D. near the top of more than a few “Best Of 2006″ lists.
Every aspect of Trivium’s music has matured and improved by leaps and bounds. In fact, instrumentally speaking, it doesn’t get much better than this in metal nowadays. The guitarists stitch together gobs of unexpectedly excellent, professional riffs, strong, propulsive leads that evoke Metallica’s heyday (somewhere around 1984’s “Ride The Lightning” and 1986’s “Master of Puppets”), and they even come up with an abundance of technical, ripping solos. The drummer (Travis Smith) is more remarkable, too, because his beats appear to be getting more complicated and energetic.
Trivium’s twenty-year-old frontman, Matt Heafy, probably saw that his band had made some significant improvements, so he, in turn, honed his own skills. His previous vocal style (prototypical metalcore yells) has been almost completely abandoned in favor of a new, low singing (almost crooning) voice that vividly brings the Metallica frontman (James Hatfield) to mind. Heafy also took time to become educated in and inspired by world events, and as a result, his lyrics on “The Crusade” are about a hundred times more intelligent, poignant, and thought-provoking. Several songs here take on political or taboo (and extremely morbid) subjects, such as governmental leaders and war (of course!), the spread of the AIDS virus, killing for honor, a nameless woman (Andrea Yates, maybe?) who takes her childrens’ lives because she thinks they’re possessed, Matthew Shephard’s murder, being “Hellbent” on world domination, and police corruption (more specifically, the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo).
But perhaps what’s most impressive about this record is that Trivium are capable of wearing their influences on their sleeves, but they never come across as a terribly unoriginal band. The music evokes thrash’s glory days, but it also features a noticeable modern-sounding side (which is apparent in the acoustic mid-section of the opening track and the faint commercial appeal of songs like “Contempt Breeds Contamination.”) As a whole, “The Crusade” sounds something like Metallica’s guitar chops wrapped in (old) Testament’s melody and topped off with Megadeth-style hooks (circa the “Rust In Peace” era).
The album opens with five killer cuts. The first two, “Ignition” and “Revelation,” combine to produce a great, memorable one-two punch. Crunchy, punching riffs, pounding drum beats, and pulsating rhythms abound here, and the two songs also share five wailing guitar solos. “Entrance of the Conflagration” is an intense thrasher that bolsters fiery, dueling guitar leads with busy double bass work. Next, “Anthem (We Are The Fire)” is very impressive in how it builds and gains momentum. Much of it is occupied by busy riffing, thumping drums, a propulsive bass line that makes the listener wonder if Dave Ellefson secretly joined the band, and a catchy (though somewhat brief) call-and-response part. The song’s climax, a series of mazey solos, is also quite cool. Lastly, “Unrepentant” keeps the energy flowing with forceful machine gun drums and more propulsive, twin guitar fireworks.
The next two tracks, “And Sadness Will Sear” and “Becoming The Dragon,” are fairly slow, but “To The Rats,” which is a breakneck roller-coaster ride of blistering riffs, kicks the album back into high gear. Track twelve, “The Rising,” is also of note for its laid back tempo, melodic leads, irresistibly catchy, lurching rhythm, and powerful, fist-pumping, softly chanting vocals. The lyrics to this song, which deal with unity and rioting, prove to be very inspiring and memorable (they might bounce around your head for a couple days).
Finally, the last track, the title song, almost deserves its own review. It’s an intricate, brilliantly written instrumental piece that symphonically intermingles numerous different tempos, moods, rhythms, and guitar styles (including fast leads, heavy and melodic riffs, a bass solo, and slow strumming). Some truly stellar musicianship is heard throughout this song, making it a perfect way to end the album.
At this point, you might have the impression that “The Crusade” is a flawless, timeless classic. Well, it’s not — not quite. One thing that it could have benefitted from is having at least one more explosive, unrestrained, attacking-the-jugular climax. Next, while these guitar solos are generally impressive, they’re never very long (twenty seconds is as long they get). And finally, Trivium couldn’t fully extinguish every metalcore cliche: the soaring chorus in “This World Can’t Tear Us Apart” is sweet and heartfelt, but it’s just too trite and unnecessary to work.
Is it the next “Master of Puppets?” Nah. Is it even the best metal you’ll hear this year? Probably not. But you can bet your bottom dollar that “The Crusade” is a great, entirely solid album (easily Trivium’s best to date), and that it will probably be one of only a handful of “metalcore” era discs that you’ll still be listening to in ten or even twenty years. It’ll likely take several listens before you start hearing this album’s genius, but a lot of great albums take time to fully appreciate. This is a realized, well-played, nearly epic release from a talented young band that’s clearly just beginning to scratch the surface of its full potential.