I can’t argue with those who dismiss Trivium because the band’s music sounds just like that of Metallica. It’s true, there is an awful lot of Metallica’s influence permeating the boundaries of Trivium’s latest album, The Crusade, even more so than there was on Ascendancy, Trivium’s previous album from just last year. The main reason for the increased similarity, however, is a good one: lead vocalist / rhythm guitarist Matt Heafy is maturing as a vocalist. For now, this mostly means that he sounds even more like James Hetfield. This might be a massive turn-off to those looking for something truly original in the metal genre, but keep in mind: the guy’s 20 years old. He can’t even legally drink alcohol in the United States. He’s got plenty of time to develop his vocal style into something his own as he gets older and hones his craft for a little bit longer.
For now, mid-‘80s Hetfield is what we get, so that’s what we deal with. Once you get past the sound of those vocals and the similarities in instrumental style in the more chugga-chugga thrashy parts, however, there’s plenty to be found on The Crusade to differentiate between the Trivium of 2006 and the Metallica of 1986.
For one, Trivium has very few of the epic designs that Metallica always did—heck, there are even a few tracks on Kill ‘Em All that break the six-minute mark. Nothing on The Crusade even breaks five, except for the album-ending title track, which doesn’t really bother with vocals, content to merely plop a few riffs and motifs next to each other, with one recurrent riff serving as the glue to link it, however tentatively, together as a whole piece. The rest of the album would consist of honest-to-god pop radio hits, once you discount the thrashy guitar, get rid of Heafy’s Cookie Monster vocal moments, and drop some of the drums to half time. Heck, a couple of these tracks could be pop hits pretty much as-is.
Unfortunately, it’s those tracks, the ones that seem to aim a little too close to the dreaded “crossover” label, that drag The Crusade down the most. “And Sadness Will Sear” features downtuned guitars, a slower rock beat, and Heafy’s angst-filled vocals. That’s right, it’s basically a nü-metal song. Considering that most fans of thrash metal would rather put the nü out of its misery than have to listen to it, it’s a pretty major misstep, and it doesn’t help that even in its relative accessibility, its hooks and melodies aren’t nearly as catchy as many of the harder, more uncompromising tracks on the album. And then there’s “This World Can’t Tear Us Apart”. You know, I’m all for metalheads having feelings and everything, but this power-ballad (yes, it’s a power-ballad—all the little heavy breaks in the world couldn’t hide it as such) should have stayed on the pages of Heafy’s junior high school journal. The lyrics are trite (“All the hate in this world / Can’t tear us apart / This love is forever”), the melodies are pointless, and even the benevolently brief run time of 3:30 just feels like too much.
Still, the move toward accessibility has resulted in some seriously positive revelations for Trivium as well, not least the strength of Heafy’s singing voice, which, at its smoothest, could wipe the floor with Hetfield’s. For the most part, he chooses the moments for his sung bits well, leaving them for bridges and the occasional chorus, allowing them to ground the growling and screaming. Screaming and yelling without context has a tendency to turn into so much noise, but temper it with something softer, and we find actual range of emotion. It makes the screaming mean something, like on “Detonation”, which sounds like the hardest, fastest song on the album for about two minutes, at which point it flips—all we hear is Heafy’s rhythm guitar and his voice (behind a little bit of megaphone-ish processing), actually singing the word, “And now the ground we called our home is but a barren wasteland…”, adding the aftermath to the titular explosion. Subtle? No. Effective? Absolutely.
And that’s the story of Trivium’s entire schtick—the lyrical themes are a bit heavy-handed, the music becomes kind of predictable after a while, but there’s very little doubting that it’s quite well-constructed, effectively emotional, and often very, very powerful. The Crusade feels like accomplished music from artists far older, far more experienced than this, similarities to other artists be damned. If Ascendancy was the suggestion of possible greatness, The Crusade is the start of the journey toward it; the ceiling is almost impossibly high.