It’s difficult to think of too many bands who’ve had such an uneven career path yet are still viewed as resoundingly highly as Trivium are. Even in their most recent run, that’s been the case; 2017’s The Sin And The Sentence was viewed incredibly highly upon release, mostly due to being just a really solid metal album, but also presumably because it was preceded by 2013’s mostly forgettable Vengeance Falls and 2015’s entirely forgettable Silence In The Snow. Maybe that’s why Trivium have become such high flyers in modern metal; at their best and when it’s required of them, they’re capable of some truly great music, and that automatically rises to the top in overall estimations. What’s more, when those peaks mark out distinct eras in their own right, that can raise the pedestal even higher in terms of what they’re doing within the band’s overall discography. Albums like Ascendency and Shogun have opened the doors for Trivium to be seen as white-hot metal upstarts and steadfast players within the mainstream scene’s upper echelon respectively, and a similar case can be observed with The Sin And The Sentence as a band who can far more confidently compile all of their influences and stylistic movements into a more definitive sound. It gives a lot of hope for a follow-up in What The Dead Men Say, not only from early reports that it’s even better than its predecessor, but because the path that Trivium are currently on earmarks this current phase as one that’s more readily consistent, both sonically and in quality.
That seems to be a rather fair assessment too, as What The Dead Men Say is indeed better than The Sin And The Sentence, and as far as exemplifying where on the metal landscape Trivium currently are, it exudes confidence and comfort that feel both justly earned and realised. While the importance of some of their earlier albums isn’t being impeded upon, there’s still a magnitude here that feels powerful; by throwing everything up to now in the mix and sifting out only the best, what’s left is an album that zeroes in on Trivium’s best traits and runs for miles with them. Or to put it another way – for a band nine albums deep to have the best straight-up metal release of the year isn’t something to dismissed.
And as has been quite regularly the case with albums like this, the standout features of What The Dead Men Say almost wholly stem from how far Trivium as a band have evolved. They’ve always had talent, right from the earliest days, but there’s something here that makes it feel more compacted and capable of more pound-for-pound. The band themselves have described this as a dense album and that’s definitely apt; songs here will orbit around or completely surpass the five- and six-minute mark, but never feel overextended or as if they’re here to fill space. There’s a leanness in execution that mightn’t necessarily match with the actual material on offer, but sheer proficiency and a sharp but consistently crushing production job give it the impression of tightness. As for the actual music itself, that’s never been an issue, even of Trivium’s weaker output, but it’s definitely possible to see how the melding of ideas has done a lot to bring up the vibrancy and vitality of What The Dead Men Say. Technicality plays a huge role from every member, as Matt Heafy and Corey Beaulieu’s guitars feel just as at home with extended, layered shredding on the title track as they do with sharper arena-metal enormity on The Defiant; there’s a nice presence to Paolo Gregoletto’s bass that especially comes into its own on the menacing stabbed intro of Bleed Into Me; and Alex Bent’s drumming is a real high point for how versatile and textured it can be, even moving into borderline blast beats on Sickness Unto You and The Ones We Leave Behind. It’s all wrapped up in a real sense of bombast and grandeur that’s always been a strong suit for Trivium, with Heafy’s vocals having enough in both regality and brutality to sound really great and consistent throughout.
Honestly, this feels like a standard-setter for modern metal in terms of execution, given that barely a moment is wasted and Trivium are able to put their skills and acumen as a band to almost consistently stellar use. It’s all done with a familiarity that keeps it relatively accessible as well, something that’s true on almost every level. And yes, that could be seen as criticism of writing that, in the exploration of the grander metal pantheon, mightn’t be all that novel – Catastrophist serves as a criticism of zealous capitalists destroying the planet; the title track and Scattering The Ashes touch on various aspects of death; and The Defiant is pretty self-explanatory – but they aren’t exactly problems when they feel so well-integrated. Themes like that need grandeur and power to get the most from them, and What The Dead Men Say is not an album lacking in either of those. Even if it isn’t pushing boundaries, even ones that Trivium have previously set up themselves, everything falls so well into place and comes together so smoothly that that generally doesn’t feel needed. It would be nice to have it, but the calibre with which everything connects puts this album at a high enough standing to where it’s not all that necessary.
But even among all of that, this isn’t a case of Trivium resting on their laurels. There’s something so meticulous in which parts of their discography they’ve chosen to weave together for this album, and when the end results are so concise and well-crafted, the impression that this is a band looking to ascend even further couldn’t be clearer. And What The Dead Men Say is the sort of album that could make that a reality, in which an already great band has isolated their greatness even further to capture what does stand among their best work. It’s not the best mind, simply by virtue of those albums at the very top holding a reverence within 21st Century metal that’s going to be hard to top at any point, but getting this close never seemed all that likely, especially from the position that Trivium have run up to it in. But they’ve pulled it off here, and have come closer to capturing the fire that originally earmarked them as something truly special than they have in years.
For fans of: Killswitch Engage, Lamb Of God, Machine Head
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘What The Dead Men Say’ by Trivium is released on 24th April on Roadrunner Records.