It's only been a year and a half since the ninth Trivium studio album, What the Dead Men Say, and yet they're back already with their tenth, In the Court of the Dragon. Given that they've gradually shifted over the years from a metalcore sound to a more traditional heavy metal sound, I'm eager to see how much further down that road they've got this time out, now that they're closing in on a quarter of a century as a band. Yeah, it's been 23 years since they formed! We're getting old.
After a brief intro, simply called X, the title track kicks in just like we're back in 1999, Matt Heafy's vocals shouty and his and Corey Beaulieu's guitars distinctly djenty. However, as the song grows, it finds its way out of that. The tempo increases until we realise that we've got to progressive, even symphonic metal territory and the vocals shift into clean mode. It's not done quite like that, as it's a back and forth thing, but the difference in extremes is notable. There are points where this is an angry song, pure and simple, and points where it gets back to doing interesting things musically.
Like a Sword Over Damocles does something similar, but spends far more of its time on the heavy metal side of that pivot and, even when Heafy's screaming in the verses, the guitars are playing a more complex game than the inherently limited palm muting approach. There's still that nineties alternative metal sound, if you're looking for it, but far more of the song leaves it behind, finding anger more effectively through fast, vicious riffs instead of a simple vocal affectation. The chorus has a pretty decent melodic hook to it, but the instrumental sections just rip.
As the album runs on, it moves more and more towards traditional heavy metal, albeit often at a faster and more furious tempo than would have happened back in the day. When it looks back to a former era, it does so using the toolbox of modern metal, both mainstream or exteme. There are metalcore components, melodic death metal components, thrash metal components, progressive metal components and others.
What I found was that the longer songs are the ones that do it for me the most and that means a trio that exceed seven minutes. I noticed this on repeat listens, because, once we get past the two openers, Feast of Fire and A Crisis of Revelation are just there. There's nothing wrong with them, but I kept getting distracted away from them by the smallest nothings, only for my attention to be grabbed back by the intricate intro to The Shadow of the Abattoir.
The sub-four minute No Way Back Just Through is an excellent song by comparison to the two I can never quite notice, but Fall into Your Hands spirits it into oblivion because it's acutely interesting and agreeably complex. It kicks off with unusual rhythms, proceeds with odd but effective stylistic choices—at one point becoming pure thrash—and ends entirely orchestrally. Similarly, From Dawn to Decadence is strong but it finds itself vanished by the closer, The Phalanx. Maybe if I heard these shorter songs in isolation, I could appreciate them more, but they're all consistently overshadowed by the longer ones, each of which establishes itself effectively.
And all that makes this an interesting album. I'm not going to rate it higher than its predecessor, because I'm not convinced it's a better album, but I certainly enjoyed it more, and all the more as it ran on. I realise that what I'm liking most of all is their progression away from their trendy roots as an early 21st century band doing something interesting with metalcore. I'm liking that they're gradually moving away from the more limiting angles to their sound, without quite ditching them entirely, and adding in more traditional elements without ever going backwards. They're still on a forward road, just with a better tricked out vehicle. I like that.