Review Summary: May contain guitar solos.
For better or worse I’ve always considered myself a bit of a Trivium fanboy. Yet, I’ll readily admit they’ve had their share of an identity crisis which has held them back over the course of the last few releases. If we circle back to my review of What The Dead Men Say
I raised concerns of the group’s more rigid sound evolution; isolating the disparity between the likes of Ember To Inferno
, the Metallica-esque The Crusade
and the massive, Shogun
. Even with these chops and changes to Trivium’s style they were widely lauded as the next big face of the mainstream metal scene, but from here this little four piece from Florida continued to churn out albums familiar enough to maintain a fan-base but divisive enough to prevent them from seeing the same successes the likes of Ascendancy
provided. Sure, reception for these particular records is considerably jaded amongst certain circles but when we consider some of the band’s middle catalogue, it’s hard to argue that the likes of In Waves
, Vengeance Falls
or Silence In The Snow
would hold the same critical sway as some of Trivium’s earlier records.
was the tipping point to which we hold Trivium’s standards, it’s fair to say that The Sin and The Sentence
was the turning point to which their music would begin
to fight for their own sound. In light of the group’s previous efforts up until that point, Trivium were always compared to something else, vague Metallica-ism’s being thrown around with little thought. While The Sin and The Sentence
and its follow-up, What The Dead Men Say
weren’t anything new in wider mainstream circles, these two albums in particular saw Trivium finally leaning into the sound that would be undoubtedly...well Trivium. Now as we see this once young quartet of promising musicians usher in their tenth studio record it feels good to get my fanboy-self off the shelf because In The Court Of The Dragon
is every part a great record...despite the occasional, light hiccup.
Where What The Dead Men Say
opened the accords with “IX”, In The Court Of The Dragon
’s “X” (provided by Emperor mastermind, Ihsahn) could’ve been a little less predictable. That aside, given just how cinematic and contextually loaded the group’s 2021 record is (there’s a collaboration here with a gaming studio - think: Elder Scrolls
), a bit of ethereal chanting and the slow march of drums sets the mood for the album’s title track to come blasting in. Our first sample of Matt Heafy’s vocals are screamed; the hook hammering over the top of bombastic riffs and launching drum lines. In describing the music that defines Trivium’s newest full-length, there’s little doubt that Alex Bent’s drumwork, coupled with Paulo’s basswork provides an ample foundation to which Heafy and Beaulieu hybridize their own brand of groove, melody and influences from groups gone by (Iron Maiden, Pantera et al)—but the sound here is familiar enough to the band’s back catalogue which in turn, helps cement [finally] their own individual soundscapes.
It’s ironic however that I suggest that “Like A Sword Over Damocles” has the most Sevedust-sounding chorus not sung by Lajon Witherspoon, and yet as the record progresses listeners can hear snippets of The Crusade
’s title track mixed into Ascendency
’s “Rain” (“A Crisis Of Revelation”), while “The Phalanx” offers soaring progressions a la Shogun
. More commercial cuts still manage to dominate In The Court Of The Dragon
’s run-time, but they’re less offensive and cheese-filled than the examples from records gone by. Still, tracks like “No Way Back Just Through”, “Feast Of Fire”, alongside the title track are prime for both a live setting and radio play, contrasting the typical violence expected of a metal track while placating sensible chorus sections and an essential clean sung verse. Trivium have never been shy to throw a guitar solo into the mix either and while there was less focus on the band’s flashy guitar chops circa The Sin and The Sentence
and What The Dead Men Say
, the solos peppered across this record are tasteful and numerous
—a return to the melodic masterclasses of Shogun
fame; tremolo, squeals and arpeggios at the ready.
“A Crisis Of Revelation” stands as the album’s newest example of a pissed off romper, blast beats and pummeling riffs dominate the track’s run-time and yet there’s ample clean vocals and rapid fire guitar solos wrapped around Heafy’s lyrical hooks. The track’s latter half bridge to quasi-breakdown reminisces of the group’s Ascendency
days before transitioning into yet another guitar solo. Despite heaping praise on the album’s larger portrait thus far, it’s worth mentioning that In The Court Of The Dragon
still has a few bumps, otherwise tarnishing this excellent record. To be critical, “Feast Of Fire” is an autopilot example of the soundscapes that suffered from Heafy’s uneven cleans and by the book styles found on their last two outings. “No Way Back Just Through” is kind of haphazardly put together and throws off the album’s overall throw, relying on a rather unimaginative chorus, breakdown coda and dull hook line. These may not be giant missteps in the scope of the record’s larger vision, but when we consider just how far Trivium has come in twenty years, Heafy and co. should know better. The album’s closer, “The Phalanx” also deserves a mention here, but for differing reasons. While the track itself was written during the band’s Shogun
sessions, it’s hampered by some clear “big four” worship. Remember when Avenged Sevenfold went full Metallica? “The Phalanx’s” first few moments are exactly like that. Thankfully the rest of the track shrugs off these ideals and launches into some of the group’s better musical progressions since 2008. Had Heafy’s lyrics not meandered into aimless nothings in the track’s closing stanza, I’d readily forgive the obvious Metallica-isms of the first couple minutes.
Against all odds (preconceptions mostly), In The Court Of The Dragon
is a surprising “return to form” for a group who stayed familiar, but struggled with finding their own identity. I’ll be damned if In The Court Of The Dragon
is painted with the same brush as The Sin and The Sentence
and What The Dead Men Say
. No, In The Court Of The Dragon
isn’t another Shogun
, detractors and fans alike should probably let that one go. Regardless, Trivium’s tenth studio effort is well worth the listen and should be considered a mainstay of metal’s more mainstream selections while offering something that’s expressive, familiar and progressive in its own right.