Horror fans worldwide know of Clive Barker’s story “In the Hills, The Cities” where traveling cities made of their writhing inhabitants fight to the death. This gory gladiator display of visceral megazords is exactly the Frankenstein of modern metal Trivium achieved with their behemoth entitled What The Dead Men Say.
Released via Roadrunner Records, the intense follow-up to 2017’s The Sin and the Sentence is a double-edged sword that only kills enemies. It not only is released the same year as the fifteenth anniversary of their meteoric chart debut Ascendancy, it is also the first album of theirs with a returning drummer. Alex Bent demonstrates why he earned his tenure with his surgically-cutting technical prowess and also his absolute strength of drilling snare and double bass, beginning with the fuzz chord/china fire of the track “IX”.
From the genesis of the album, you will already know that whatever Trivium struggled with in their past in the eyes of jaded fans or critics has been long forgotten. Matt Heafy and Co. are Lot and his wife escaping Sodom and Gomorroah with their nods to Viking metal, thrash, power metal, groove metal, 8-bit cameos, and their own dark dealings. It’s a testament to evolution and the reignition it can bring to a veteran metal band.
“IX” would be Metallica’s wet dream, as a poltergeist of clean guitar looms over the oncoming march of the theme song to the newest Mortal Kombat DLC game (out soon). It’s a bolt of instrumental lightning that splits the curtain into the eponymous track of the album. The siren call of “What The Dead Men Say” leads into Matt Heafy’s descendency; his power metal-esque narration of dark visions and peril ringing out over the flurry of beats and crunching guitar. If you watch the music video, you will also catch the end sequence where the person holding the spirit board slowly turns to reveal it is a rotting corpse. Resident Evil fans everywhere will recognize this Easter egg as the first zombie reveal from the first game. Matt’s gaming soul starts to show.
The pendulum swings toward full-on mass hysteria and aggression in their heaviest track “Amongst the Shadows and Stones”. The staccato strikes of prog give way to a delivery of brutality by the band, almost as if they are cornered by hunters. Their bear trap rage lashes out with a flashy twin-axe assault by Matt and fellow guitarist Corey Beaulieu.
Another bow to video game culture and a rumbling bass sludge make the spaced-out “Bleed Into You” a refreshing palette cleanser, as well as the pillaging Amon Amarth influenced track “The Defiant”.
Matt Heafy admits in an interview the album has “a little bit of everything, similar to the Shogun era”. I mean who’s ever heard a Norse raider swing an axe to a melodic metalcore riff?
Their exploration is evident in the zeitgeist-risque titled song “Sickness Unto You”, which features a Latin metal passage near the end of the song. A searingly piercing breakdown cracks the curb to round it off. They also delve into emotional territory as well with the poignant and solemn “Scattering the Ashes”, based on Corey’s grandfather passing.
What Trivium does defiantly well is if they can’t see the trail of their path, they flow into the directions they wish. They not only now have the emotional maturity in their repertoire, they know how to master it. The last two songs are a point/counterpoint of ferocity and hopeful rebirth.
“Bending the Arc to Fear” is a contorting frenzy of harmonics with Alex Bent’s Opeth-style of crushing drums being the coil upon which the riffs slither to strike. It sounds as if they are rushing through an autopsy, searching for the cause of death. The song batters the listener down alley fight style, and when it smashes them to pieces, the last song “The Ones We Leave Behind” asks “If you could breakdown and put yourself together, then would all the pieces fit the same?”
By breaking the listener down and building them up into personal gods, the band ends the album with an exhilarating amalgam of a fresh foundation and future. If this is what defines Trivium, then we are close to seeing their terrorizing final form.