(M) Denim and Leather Remembers: Ascendancy, by Trivium

"A generation which ignores history has no past and no future." Robert Heinlein
By Sam Graham
Trivium, today’s most marmite-flavoured metal band, came out of Florida’s woodwork in 2003 with their debut album Ember to Inferno. It wasn’t really recognised until 2005 when their second work, Ascendancy (2005) made them popular. At this point they’d signed to a major label, one that had the financial muscle to oversaturate the market by putting their videos on Kerrang all the time, but then again that’s what major labels do.
Ascendancy opens with a Castlevania-esque acoustic guitar and piano melody. It’s only about a minute and twenty long, but it has a dreary, pseudo-gothic atmosphere to it that’s bound to make any user of vampire-freaks.com want to play it while they sit in their throne (computer chair) with a plastic goblet of cherryade in their hand. The title of this intro song is The End of Everything, which only adds to the cliché. I’ll give it this though, the choir in the background sounds pretty good.
This opener is your basic feign of elegance, and is a theme that runs through Trivium’s entire catalogue. After that comes an unabashed metal riff. The intro to Rain comes in not a second after the choir has faded out and it’s a relief to the ears. It’s heavy, chuggy and it’s got a nice bit of rhythm to it too. All that could make it better is some decent vocals. Unfortunately that’s a long wait for a train that doesn’t come. Well, rarely comes. At this point Trivium were still very much rooted in metalcore, so naturally, they had to keep that vocal style. What came next on The Crusade (2006) is a conversation for another day.
My distain for the broken-gearbox vocals aside, it does carry and vocalist Matt Heafy’s voice doesn’t seem to strain. A thankful break from it does come in the chorus when some actual singing takes place and it’s got an alright rhythm to it. The solo, probably played by lead guitarist Corey Beaulieu, is short and sweet. Nothing really stands out here, but it was nice to see that in 2005, the guitar solo was coming back into commonplace.
After Rain comes that song that everybody got so sick of hearing back in 2005. It was on every other minute on every rock channel, in every rock/metal club and debated on just about every metal forum in the world for a little while. After the Painkiller-reminiscent drum intro (played by then drummer Travis Smith), comes Pull Harder on the Strings of your Martyr, the first of many overly pretentious song titles in Trivium’s catalogue. (If you don’t believe me, just look at Shogun (2008).) The music is good, well thought-out and tightly constructed, and if I could understand the vocals I’m sure I’d find that they are very wordy and purple to make Mr. Heafy sound clever (even though you can get a thesaurus for a quid).
Everybody who’s looked into Trivium knows the chorus for Pull Harder… It was popularly satirized on YouTube for sounding like the words boat, rudder, strange, mountain. If it’s still there, it is worth a look up for a cheap giggle. After a couple of chorus’ an interlude reminiscent of the interlude to Machine Head’s Imperium comes in followed by a shredding solo by Beaulieu that’s actually quite impressive. The last few bars show off some incredible technical ability, featuring some short, sharp three-string sweeps interlinked with slides. That’s guitarist-speak for ‘bloody hard to pull off and make it sound good’.
Next comes the ‘emotional’ (that word was thrown about a lot in 2005, so I’ll use it here) intro of Drowned and Torn Asunder. Once the octave chords are finished another pretty good riff comes in. It’s very much like Rain until about half way through the verse. The pre-chorus is probably the best bit of the song. It’s a good blend of heavy riff and vocals that are actually comprehensible. The chorus itself reverts back to that ‘emotional’ aspect, for some reason, but thankfully it doesn’t last long. The whole solo to this song is harmonized by both Heafy and Beaulieu and has a nice frame-work to it. It doesn’t lay it on too thick with the shredding and knows then it’s gone on for long enough. This song ends with the chorus going through a few times.
The title track, Ascendancy is actually quite blasé. It goes through the same motions as the previous two songs, but lacks that umph that made them enjoyable. Both the music and vocals (whatever they’re saying), are boring. That blasé feeling carries on through the whole song, even the solo feels lacking. Sure, the riffage is technical, but (and this is a common problem with this band) that doesn’t always make it good. It’s a lesson that can only be learned by experience and this was their breakthrough album, so I suppose some slack must be cut.
Thankfully that lack of steam is over on the next song, featuring another pointlessly long title with big words in it to make it seem smart, it’s A Gunshot to the Head of Trepidation. If you know what trepidations means, this title loses almost all meaning. In short, it could be called ‘Growing a Pair’ and still be just as poignant.
After a building-up intro, the riff that comes in has a certain lurch to its chugginess. It sets up a nice vibe that’s then destroyed by the Iron Maiden riff that comes next. It’s so out of context, it’s unbelievable. That being said, with vocals over it, it kind of works. This song is in two halves. The first half is over by the second chorus and then the second (and better) half begins. The second half is closer to the classic metal that I go for, so naturally, I think its ace. It’s got rhythm, no lawnmower-vocals, and it sounds really cool. Beaulieu opens up his bag-o’-tricks in this solo and makes this solo the best one on the album. This song is like his showcase and cements that he actually can play the guitar to match certain metal predecessors. This song ends on a high-note and I’d say, purely because of the second half, it’s the best song on the album.
Like Light to Flies has a strong introduction, coming straight in, with a brand of rhythm guitar that was being done to death back in 2005. As such, it made sense to make it the first single. That riff carries through pretty much the whole song. After a while it starts to grate, but it’s around about this point where the interlude comes in. While similar, it’s different enough to offer a break. The solo is strange in the way that it doesn’t quite know whether to speed up or slow down. After a while it makes a choice and speeds up. It becomes somewhat of an 80’s style thrash solo, a common trait that they developed on in their next album.
Dying in your Arms is, for lack of a better word, gay. It’s whiny, it’s pointlessly ‘emotional’ and it’s a pain to listen to. From the irritating hook to the allegories to self-harm in the chorus and interlude, this song is like a eunuch of music. Whether or not Trivium actively wrote this song, it reeks of ‘the industry’, like their label forced them to write a song to adhere to the Byronic teenagers of that age. Structure-wise, it’s formulaic. Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, interlude, solo, chorus until end.
The solo. What I’d like you to do is listen to the end solo to Bark at the Moon by Ozzy Osbourne, then listen to the second half of this solo. You will notice that, aside from the shapes being played in reverse order, it’s exactly the same. It really is. I even learned to play it once just to make sure.
The penultimate track on this album, Departure, tries something different. It’s not straight-up thrash riffs like the majority of the album; instead tries to be slower, but not in a whiny way. It has some nice clean guitar and a pretty heavy, enjoyable chorus, but it can’t keep the metalcore out for too long as when the chorus’ are over, back comes the clogged-lawnmower sound of Heafy’s voice. However this time it was welcomed as his vocals during the verses are a little bit too nasal. You know how you sound when you’ve got a cold and you’re all bunged up? It’s like that. It seems the urge to thrash was just too great for the boys of Trivium as the second half of this song is firmly rooted in Slayer’s unique brand of metal.
Has it stood the test of time?
While this album suffers from many things, it was outrageously popular back in its day, and it launched Trivium to world fame instantly. Since that day they have become one of the most loved and hated metal bands in the world. It all stems from their attempts and boasts at originality. Haters say they’re just ripping-off Metallica (all the more prominent on The Crusade), and the lovers love them because of the originality. It seems that as the years go by and more Trivium albums get released, that love and hatred increases. Some fans want them to get back to the roots, using Ascendancy as an example, while others embrace whatever new turn they’re taking on that release. I’ve not listened to their most recent release, In Waves (2011), but I have heard every other album and I agree that every time they say they will try to get back to their roots, they get further away by trying too hard. After this album’s release it seemed that they latched on to Metal Hammer’s ‘the next Metallica’ comment with their next album. Maybe they thought it would get them closer to the classic metal crowd and away from whiny teens, but unfortunately it backfired. Trivium are now in an unfortunate position in which they can never win with the fans, or the haters.
If you want my honest personal opinion of this album and this band, read on. If you’re just going to get offended and leave comments that will only get deleted anyway, don’t. Ascendancy has its flaws, but for a budding band it’s a good effort. It’s heavy, it’s thrashy and it shows real promise of its members. It could have done with a lot more work, some things toned down, some things more thought out, and it suffers from the ‘loudness war’ that’s the current zeitgeist in metal, but I can see how it became so popular.
As for the band… I think they’re a big-headed and they never paid their dues. They jumped almost instantly from small-time to big-time and never learned the humility that should have filled the gap, nor did they earn the respect of the crowd as they skipped over the time in which to do so. In every interview Matt Heafy comes across as a stuck-up rich kid who is less of a person than he is a pawn for his label. He is pretentious, that much is clear by the song titles alone. Big words don’t make for big songs, technical and complex doesn’t always equal good music and writing about various mythologies does not mean you’re an intelligent and world-wearied person.
Trivium are a band that could have been a lot better if they weren’t put up on that pedestal so quickly.
Devil-Horn Rating (Out of Five): \m/ \m/ \m/