n last year's aptly-named Ascendancy, Trivium shocked the metal world with its maturity. At an average age of 20, the band was out-writing and out-playing its peers. The album combined Iron Maiden and classic Metallica with Swedish melodic death metal, as anthemic vocals and harmonized guitars blazed through epic tracks. Though derivative at times, the album had inspired, unpredictable songwriting and long, thrilling instrumental breaks. Trivium racked up sales and MySpace friends, played a now-legendary set at the Download Festival in England, and scored slots playing Ozzfest and opening for Iron Maiden. The band moved faster up the metal chain than any other in recent history, earning hype as "the next Metallica."
If second album Ascendancy were the band's Ride the Lightning, then The Crusade should be its Master of Puppets. It’s not. Instead, it’s more like The Black Album, or, worse, Load and Reload —see the bland blues licks in "Contempt Breeds Contamination." With the exception of a nicely proggy instrumental, the guitar work is simpler, with songs cut down to mundane verse-chorus shapes. The Metallica comparisons are perhaps unfair, since the bands are from such different times. Metallica made up the rules as they went, while Trivium grew up in the world Metallica made, in which metal became a commodity, with rules and conventions.
But Trivium invites Metallica comparisons for a reason. Before, singer/guitarist Matt Heafy's voice had hints of James Hetfield. Somehow in between the last album and this one, he's taught himself to sound exactly like Hetfield. The degree of replication is shocking; if you thought voices were unique, think again. Play album opener "Ignition" for any metal veteran, and a likely response would be, "This is the new Metallica?" With Hetfield's voice a shadow of its former self on St. Anger, Heafy sounds more like Hetfield than the man himself. Heafy even holds his guitar like Hetfield, fer chrissake. And like on Ascendancy, one can play "spot the Metallica riff" here—"Unrepentant" reeks of "Through the Never," while the vocal patterns on "Entrance of the Conflagration" are straight from "Master of Puppets."
"Entrance of the Conflagration" is a good example of the album's strengths and weaknesses. The guitars are shredding, and the vocal harmonies are enjoyable. But the title—it's the chorus! How can the band sing it with a straight face? The prospect of thousands of kids absently mouthing the phrase "Entrance of the Conflagration" is a dreary one indeed.
"Anthem (We Are the Fire)" is the worst offender, as one can tell from its title. Sample lyrics: "The music connects, unites us more / Our masses strengthened, an unstoppable horde / We're all now a family / Together let's show the world what we say." The chorus: "We are the fire / Resound the anthem." The tune is a shameless Iron Maiden rip-off, and devolves to the most cynical and manipulative of devices: chants of "Woah" and "Yeah."
Running a close second is "This World Can't Tear Us Apart." Its refrain: "All the pain in this world won't stop us now / For we have each other / All the hate in this world can't tear us apart / This love is forever." Hetfield wasn't exactly a poet, but he never wrote tripe like this. The nail in the coffin is "And Sadness Will Sear," a dreary, ponderous hard rock number. A metal review should never, ever have to mention Creed.
What's so frustrating is that the album has occasional flashes of fiery guitars and creative vocal harmonies. Heafy's voice is in better shape than Hetfield's ever was. He and guitarist Corey Beaulieu could play circles around Hetfield and Kirk Hammett. But it's the songs and riffs that matter. There's too much filler, too many limp riffs, and too many cheap hooks. Back in the day, Metallica channeled genuine darkness into powerful pictures of alienation. They didn't write choruses for the sake of choruses. Most bands exist to make money, but most aren't as blatant about it as this.