Trivium - In the Court of the Dragon (2021)
With their 2005 sophomore breakthrough Ascendancy and since 2008's Shogun, Trivium has marked their spot as one of the greatest discography-expanding bands of modern times, despite the flaws of albums #1 and #3. The slightly underrated 2011 masterpiece In Waves began their venture to show great concepts and executions that would carry on in subsequent albums, except in 2015's Silence in the Snow when vocalist Matt Heafy temporarily lost his growling ability. So where does it all lead?
Into the Court of the Dragon! In 2020 after the previous album What the Dead Men Say, when Trivium was in lockdown during the virus and couldn't do any live performances, they decided to not waste any time. They spent the rest of that year writing an album that would later be recorded as almost a sequel to the epic thrash-metalcore of Shogun with greater hints of its surrounding albums' sounds. While staying stellar as ever, their performance is probably the most powerful since Ascendancy. The guitars have more fire and crunch than the spiciest crunchiest KFC meal. The drumming is more brutal as well, and the vocals add a greater blend of mature cleans and convincing screams.
In the Court of the Dragon begins our descent with the anticipation-building intro "X", but unlike the previous album's heavy intro, this one is an ominous orchestral intro composed by Ihsahn. Then the furious title track erupts with Matt Heafy's f***ing beastly growling vocals. The blast-beat onslaught carries on into the cleanly-sung chorus, occurring before a brutal breakdown. The shredding soloing makes you visualize a bad-a** battle with the dragon in the pit, with your weapon being that guitar soloing. A tune of heavy brilliance! "Like a Sword Over Damocles" showcase the band's Nevermore influences in a prog-thrasher where Matt adds aggression to his singing then rises to the usual growling. The d*mn epic clean chorus should definitely get fists pumping in future live festivals. The title fits well with the perilously powerful pandemic and how our leaders are trying to prevent it from spreading further. Some more epic guitar fire in the dueling solo trade! After those first two real songs starting the album heavy, the radio anthem "Feast of Fire" has a different riff that spawned from an unknown demo. There's killer strength and maturity that levels this song up more than the similar mid-tempo songs from The Crusade. The balance between heaviness and melody continues to suit the album and makes sure it's not just a sequel to the one from last year.
Ascendancy-style heavy throwback "A Crisis of Revelation" still manages to fit well with the other high-quality tracks. The different brooding "The Shadow of the Abattoir" is the first of not one, not two, but THREE 7+ minute epics!!! This one might just have Heafy's best vocals EVER!! The verses go slow like a power ballad from Blind Guardian or Slough Feg with deep baritone vocals before rising to higher power in the chorus in a depressive journey ("Don't go searching for the battle, you won't find any beasts to slay, you'll rip yourself to pieces, you'll drive yourself insane, in the shadow of the abattoir...") The heavier bridge is more complex with key-switching breakdowns and extensive soloing that ends by perfectly replicating the chorus vocal harmony, before the final chorus itself where the background vocal harmony of bassist Paolo Gregoletto puts more emphasis in the harmony than before. EPIC!! "No Way Back Just Through" continues the heavy rage, while having a great chorus ready for future gigs.
While it's tough to pick highlights for perfect albums like this one because of how strong the songs are that make the album as cohesive as true heavy metal classics from the 80s, "Fall Into Your Hands" comes close, a headbanging epic that is the longest song by the band to not be an album's title track or a cover song. It has vocally the best chorus of the album with all 3 vocalists (one lead + two background) uniting. You get to hear killer thrashy riffing along with lots of soloing and instrumentation good for air-guitar. Besides the album's intro, Ihsahn has performed strings that are buried in the background, but this song is where those strings really shine, especially in their own glorious outro. Next up, "From Dawn to Decadence" really combines blasting thrash in the verses with hard rock in the chorus worth humming to. The triumphant closer "The Phalanx" starts with grand intro riffing before a mid-tempo verse that starts building up speed when Heafy starts his usual screaming. Strings return to prominence again in the pre-chorus before the chorus of heroic glory. This epic pretty much summarizes everything they've had in the album, with sublime soloing by Corey Beaulieu. Drummer Alex Bent really keeps his pace with the riffs and elevating them. The song's lyrical theme of fighting demons fit the song's music video like a glove, and that video is a collaboration with Bethesda Game Studios based on the Elder Scrolls Online. And to cap it all off beautifully is an ultra-epic two-minute outro as Matt's vocals lead the band and the one-man orchestra to victory, until next time...
So going out on a whim here, In the Court of the Dragon marks the band's best and strongest album since In Waves. I would recommend this to anyone who has followed the band far through their over two-decade career. The band's later greatness continues in power and glory. An amazing masterpiece that's probably, for me, the best of the year!
Favorites: "In the Court of the Dragon", "Like a Sword of Damocles", "The Shadow of the Abattoir", "Fall Into Your Hands", "The Phalanx"