Trivium are a controversial metal band to be sure. Fans of the band cite their musicianship and songwriting ability as a testament to the band’s talent at such a young stage in their career while their detractors focus on what essentially amounts to their mainstream appeal as a calling card for “false metal.” With Shogun, their fourth full-length album and third for Roadrunner Records, Trivium had a lot to prove: could the band outgrow their sometimes derivative (but still very good to these ears) past work and forge a sound all their own while retaining their mainstream metal appeal? The answer is a resounding “yes;” with Shogun Trivium have truly found themselves. The vestiges of metalcore and Metallica-isms haven’t left Trivium’s sound completely but instead have seeped into the band’s being in a more organic way. Trivium now just sounds like Trivium, and Shogun — though not without shortcomings — is the culmination of the sound they’ve been building towards throughout their whole career.

Shogun is guitar-driven from start to finish. It’s a veritable riff-fest, with riff after riff after riff never missing the mark. Matt Heafy and Corey Beaulieu have taken it to the next level guitar-wise, melding neo-classical NWOBHM guitar harmonies with big, bombastic riffs that crush and hit that sweet spot that gets your fists pumping all the same. But what’s most commendable — and Trivium have always been stellar in this regard thanks to Heafy’s knack for songwriting — is that the riffs are never elevated above the overall structure and import of the song as a whole. Though the guitars are often front and center, Trivium never lose sight of the bigger picture that’s gotten them this far, and their songs never feel like a collage of mis-matched guitar histrionics.

Did I mention riffs? This album’s got ’em in spades.

And that’s not even to speak of the lead work by Monsiers Heafy and Beaulieu; double solos punctuate nearly every song. That these two are A-grade shredders is well known, but that their style and technique continue to evolve is notable. Leads artfully dot the album in more than just the traditional role of guitar-player-on-a-pedestal soloing, locking in with the rhythm guitar riffs and even underneath Heafy’s vocal lines in many of the choruses. The twin-lead intro that opens “Torn Between Scylla and Charybdis” is a scorcher worthy of Maiden that gets me going every time; my only complaint, that they don’t bring it back again until the end of the song.

Vocally, Heafy’s performance is true to what he told us when we interviewed him and Beaulieu this past summer; it’s a mix of Trivium both old and new. His Hetfield scowl is still present; and for what it’s worth, in 2008, Matt Heafy imitating James Hetfield is better than the real thing. But this time around Heafy has brought back his growling from the pre-Crusade era and improved upon it mightily. Scowls, barks, and even bowel-inducing death metal rumbles complement his natural Ascendancy-style growl. It all fits in seamlessly (read: not forced) with his clean singing style, which itself rings clear and sounds distinctly Matt, always with grit and never in the overly polished style of the day (for the record, I really, really like the nuance and quality of Heafy’s clean voice). Heafy has grown leaps and bounds as a vocalist on Shogun, and it’s obvious that he’s really put the extra effort into making himself a complete metal vocalist.

I have major issues with drummer Travis Smith in the live setting; he’s constantly ahead of the beat and seems unable to keep up with himself, by far the weakest link of the band’s show. But at least on this album, in the do-it-until-you-get-it-right studio environment, things sound OK and his performance is admirable. Hopefully it’ll translate to the live setting. As for Paolo Gregoletto, I guess he plays bass on this album, and in a way that’s really the highest compliment you can pay to a bassist of a guitar-driven band.

But the songs, and not the musicianship, are what Trivium live and die by, and fortunately here they’ve delivered. Album opener “Kirisute Gomen” is a fierce thrasher perfectly suited for the introductory role; the aforementioned “Torn Between Scylla and Charybdis” follows it up with another facemelter that morphs from riff to riff, section to section with perfect ease. “Throes of Perdition” is another riff-fest with a chorus that forces your fist to the sky, and as is the case on most of the album, just because it’s supposed to be the catchy part doesn’t mean the riffs abate. The album is decidedly dark in tone and unrelentingly heavy even when it slows down a notch as on the mid-paced rockers “Down From the Sky” and “The Calamity.”

And, oh yeah; riffs!

If I have one criticism of this album it’s that Shogun is definitely front-loaded with all the good tracks; those on the proverbial “Side B” don’t have the gusto or chutzpah of the first batch of songs and are ultimately way less memorable. The 11+ minute self-titled album closer seems unnecessary and over-ambitious, unlike previous album-closing epics “Declaration” and “The Crusade.” Furthermore, Trivium aren’t reinventing the wheel here so much as just making a damn good one; the band hasn’t forged any new ground but they’ve damn sure made the already explored territory all that much more pleasant to walk on.

The knock on Trivium spouted by the band’s critics has always been twofold: that they were sceney metalcore or that they shamelessly recycled Metallica riffs. On Shogun, neither is the case. Traces of these influences are still present but instead they make up the patchwork of what is now distinctly a Trivium-branded sound rather than showing themselves in ways that could be derided as derivative. After all, a band’s influences are what guide them to become what they are and ultimately lead every single band down their own path to greatness. Shogun might well end up Trivium’s masterwork, and at least for now, it seems to have silenced the haters. There is no denying that this band has arrived.


PS: Riffs!

(four out of five horns)

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