As the years fly by at breath-stealing speed, the aim of every self-respecting metal band must surely be to stake a claim for immortality; to carve their name with pride into metal's metaphorical Mount Rushmore. In the modern era, as countless new (and not so new) bands jostle for position at the front of the grid, it becomes ever harder to pick the wheat from the chaff, the weak from the strong. But amid such a swarm of mediocrity, the greatest bands always rise effortlessly to the top, building in confidence and momentum with each incremental step forward, learning from their mistakes, gaining nourishment and focus from their triumphs and growing, with gathering speed, into something that truly matters. Trivium fit that description perfectly. One listen to their jaw-dropping new album, the mighty Shogun, will be all the convincing you need that their time has arrived.
"We wrote this album exactly the way we all wanted to," says frontman Matt Heafy. "We really did our own thing this time. When people check it out, they'll realize that we're not an exclusive band. We're not doing this for one specific kind of person. If you want to come to a show and rock out, that's what we're here for. We're just four normal guys who just happen to be able to play metal for lots of cool people around the world."
The Trivium story began in earnest with the release of their Roadrunner debut, 2005's Ascendancy album; the perfect way to introduce the band - Heafy, guitarist Corey Beaulieu, bassist Paolo Gregoletto and drummer Travis Smith - to a newly revitalized global metal scene. The album exhibited great depth and musicality, and immediately set the band apart from the pack, turning them into one of the most widely hailed bands the genre had produced in years.
In the US, Europe, Japan and Australia - and particularly in the UK, where Trivium shot from nowhere to conquering the annual Download Festival at Castle Donington and becoming a major headlining act - Heafy and co. were making major waves, touring relentlessly around the globe and building up a huge international fan base.
Released in the autumn of 2006 - a mere 18 months after its predecessor - Trivium's second Roadrunner release The Crusade was a massive milestone; a bold, and adventurous move that both consolidated their reputation as metal's fastest rising young band and proved that unlike their peers, Trivium were more than happy to take a few risks in order to further nurture their art.
Buoyed by critical acclaim, a hugely positive response from the fans and a seemingly never-ending stream of high profile tours, including a successful cross-Europe joint as special guests to Iron Maiden and a triumphant stint on the Ozzfest tour in the US, Trivium quickly threw themselves into the writing process for Shogun, spending many on-the-road hours honing and refining their newest material in anticipation of hitting the studio, this time with renowned producer Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters/Stone Sour/Death Angel).
"We were writing on tour for a year straight," says Heafy. "When we were on the Black Crusade tour in Australia, I showed the Machine Head guys the songs. I respect Robb Flynn such an incredible amount as a musician and a person and I wanted to know what he thought. He called me up and gave me a really good talk about demoing and revisiting songs and all that, so we went back to the rehearsal studio and completely re-wrote everything. Then we sent the stuff to Nick, and then between us we picked the 13 best songs. We went to Franklin, Tennessee, where we lived for eight weeks, and recorded at Sound Kitchen Studios. It's a legendary country music studio where Willie Nelson recorded. Everyone was amazing and so nice, so it was a great working environment for us."
There is a moment for every great band when everything comes together and a definitive musical identity emerges. For Trivium, this is it. The collaboration with Raskulinecz has taken Trivium to new compositional and technical levels, while the album's brutal, bone-shattering production means that they've never sounded heavier or more powerful. With lashings of vicious riffs that celebrate the band's love of death, black and thrash metal, alongside the most incisive and memorable melodies the quartet have ever written, Shogun is a monstrous achievement that promises to have the cynics and naysayers choking on their toast.
"It was all very natural," explains Heafy. "We didn't care what was going to come out, and that's why it sounds this way. We all still love extremely heavy music with the brutality and no melody, but we also love stuff that's incredibly melodic and simple and memorable, so that explains the two extremes. We like to have everything. Vocally we tried everything from the lowest note I can sing to the highest note, from the lowest growl to the highest scream, and everything in between. We wanted to try it all. That was the whole concept behind the record. No limits!"
Although Shogun is not a concept album in the traditional sense, the influence of Heafy's own Japanese background - its warrior culture, its strong sense of pride - is present through every last second of these powerful, emotive metal anthems. Both opener "Kirisute Gomen" and the album's mighty 12-minute title track are perfect examples of this, as Heafy explains. " 'Kirisute Gomen" was an ancient Samurai code that basically meant that if you angered a Samurai or pissed them off, they'd have to chop your head off," states Heafy. "It was like the martial law of the Samurai. The title of the album came to me when we were on our second tour of Japan, and I was on a bus tour and they were talking about how the Shogun were the highest ranking military generals. It was the coolest name I'd ever heard before, so I knew I'd use it for something some day. When we started writing this music and I heard how epic it all was, I said to the guys 'I've had this title in my head for ages, how do you think it'd work as the title of the album?' and they loved it too. The definition of the word just commands strength and it feels powerful, so it was perfect."
Alongside tales of ancient Japan, the album also delves into the brain-boggling world of ancient Greek mythology, with songs like "Torn Between Scylla And Charybdis" and "Of Prometheus And The Crucifix" revelling in the imagery and drama of symbolic sagas first told many thousands of years ago.
"When you look at something like religion, people seem to take those stories as true events that really happened," states Heafy. "With mythology, everyone knew these were stories created, and used them as ways to help live their lives better or to help them to cope with things. So I've used those myths as a tool to help further develop the lyrics."
Trivium have been threatening to make that final leap from established contenders to full-on metal heroes for the last few years, and with Shogun, their fourth and manifestly best album to date, they have clearly mastered the metal arts and are ready to step into the arena with the genre's greats. From the bludgeoning bombast of "Kirisute Gomen" through to the hook-laden savagery of "Down From The Sky" and "Into The Mouth Of Hell We March", and on to the towering steel-plated genius of "Shogun" itself, this is truly Trivium's defining album and the first stone-cold classic of their career.