Review Summary: It sounds good at first, with lots of positives, until you realize the songs all fade together and play repetitively.
Trivium may qualify as one of the worst metal bands of all time. In a league of actually talented metal bands, they stand out as the band that rapes every other metal band's ingenious little aspect and conforms it to an ugly smashed-up cock rock fest. Metal is unfortunately a dying breed, and Trivium have done little to help that fact-until Shogun. They tried too much to be like Killswitch Engage, and tried to much to be like Metallica. Both times, they utterly embarrassed themselves and proved that they were just a bunch of kids trying to play with the big boys. However, Shogun proves that there is a glimmer of hope burdened among the trash, and proves that if they would just grow up and stop trying to rip what was popular, they'd be successful. Because despite it's major issues, Shogun sounds like a band is finding their sound and showing potential.
I was expecting Shogun to be "UBER PRETENTIOUS DRAGONFORCE RIP-OFF", because Trivium tends to sound like what's popular at that moment. Who's popular right now? DragonForce. So Trivium would naturally sound like DragonForce right? No. Instead of losing his testicles like ZP Theart, Matt Heafy sort-of found his testicles and grew some hair. From the opening thrashes of Kirsuite Gomen, Heafy roars with the most aggressive tone, screaming in throaty glory, something that actually dare I say it-sounds unique. The riffs? Quick sped riffs with fast rhythms. A very gothic, crunchy tone enters next, as the double-bass barrels on. Instead of the Metallica-less riffs of per se, Shogun rears off with speeding guitar solos with plenty of wah wah and plenty of fury. And then it goes into a traditional Trivium breakdown (ugh), before it ends and you ask yourself, "Damn. Am I really enjoying a Trivium song?"
And you might find yourself asking that very question often. And it's all something you should be asking yourself. Instead of trying their best rendition of Master of Puppets, Trivium have brought about an exotic, gothic tone with plenty of crunch-and a sound that is closer to Testament than Metallica. Guitar harmonization shows a bit of instrumental improvement, (yeah, no more ripping Slayer and Children of Bodom) and there's plenty of speeding solos. There's a nice smoothing blend between what seemed promising in Ascendancy and The Crusade, and thus is kind of what Shogun is. Not to say it's a collaboration between albums, but what makes it stronger is the addition of actual instrumental talent, some actually challenging song structures (which don't seem so challenging by the end), and some new riffs that are original (or, so we know now). However, I'm kind of losing interest in the breakdowns we heard so much of from these metalcore bands who all debuted at the same time-and Shogun's got a bit too many of these radio-friendly breakdowns that suddenly lose all ferocity sonically-guitars and vocals alike.
Where I noticed the biggest improvement, however, was in the drumming. Before, Smith tried hard to sound a lot like Lars Ulrich (double bass, mediocre tempos, bad mixing), and now he's actually sounding improved. Lots of sped-up rhythms with quick changing speeds and lots of unnatural changes makes the drumming sound quite improved. "Torn Between Scylla and ***ty Song Titles" showcases some of his best and sped-up drum work. That brings me to an issue with Shogun, the titles are awful, the artwork is awful, the song lengths are awful. The lyrics have no style, emotion, or passion. The lyrics totally are right-field, Japenese-inspired, that have no meaning whatsoever. A common syndrome with the songs is also the fact that the songs stay interesting for about 3-4 minutes, and absolutely lose their integrity by the 5th minute. Often they drag onto long with way too much wah and way too much mindless shredding with little tempo or rhythm adaption into the song. Naturally, it makes the song wind on way too long, and makes the album wind on way too long. It's a chore to listen to the album the whole way through. And even though the songs seem original for the first few titles, you kind of get an idea of the song's recycled structures by the end. They all usually just run pretty standard song structures for 4 minutes before barreling into 2-3 minutes of solos and random shredding with little progression whatsoever.
Musically it shows plenty of progression and promise-but burdened with traditional Trivium issues. The production has always been pretty awful, hell, with The Crusade, they sounded more like Metallica than they wanted to. God-awful clipping, extremely loud mastering, and distorted guitars were common in former Trivium records. It's all back in Shogun, just a bit toned down so they can fit extreme dynamics into the mix. It's still turned to 11, it's still all distorted, and it still clips really, really, really bad. I'm losing interest in having my eardrums get blown out the older I get, and have lost interest in volume only, and Trivium needs to realize that most people don't want to have distorted recording just for the hell of it.
Pretentious as hell, mastered terribly, repetitive, and a bit formulaic at the end, Shogun still stands out. I'm still a bit skeptical of the album, and that's just because it shows glimmers of originality and progression. Some of the songs are fairly enjoyable, crunchy, and epic. They now sound very gothic and extreme with lots of visceral edge. It just winds on for way too long, and becomes more and more formulaic as you sort your way through the album's mess. Every now and then you stumble across some golden ones, like Kirisute Gomen, Torn Between Scylla and ***ty Song Titles, Throes of Perdition, and the title track, but all too often you find yourself stuggling with 7 minutes of pure drawl like He Who Spawned Terrible Song Titles and Like Callisto to a Star in Heaven (or as I call it Like The Mars Volta we are too Pretentious), as the repetition and the fact you've heard this before makes you get restles. And as you figure out that there's potential, you're left with one of those albums with lots of carry, but with little substance. It's just one of those albums you'll have five songs from on your iTunes library. Trivium fans can celebrate that their band isn't absolute **** anymore, but still need to accept your band has plenty of work in front of them.