"Metal Hammer are writing an article about this!” Corey Beaulieu announces with a grin. The Trivium guitarist and his three bandmates are in a dressing room at Cambridge’s Corn Exchange, addressing the eight fans crammed in here with them.
Welcome to the Pig Pen, an up-close-and-personal VIP experience where a tiny handful of Trivium diehards can witness their heroes jam out a mix of rare and requested songs before the main show starts. For the £170 ticket price, they also get access to a meet-and-greet with the Florida band, as well as a bundle of souvenirs to commemorate the occasion, from personal photos with bandmembers to a Trivium tea towel.
“I’ve always loved that ‘fly on the wall’ thing,” bassist Paolo Gregoletto explains, as Hammer sit with him and Corey on the band’s tourbus a couple of hours before the Pig Pen experience kicks off. “I love watching bands warm up. Metallica used to let you see their tuning room [by putting videos of it on YouTube], working on a song they’d play later that night. For us, it was like, ‘How do we make that our own?’ Instead of just warming up, how about we invite a couple people in and play songs we might not even play in the set that night? It’ll be unique, with only a couple people hearing a song tonight in a jam room.”
Although it’s something they’d seen Metallica do for a decade, the idea of having a dedicated jamming room everywhere they go didn’t come to Trivium until 2021. That year, straight after Covid-19 lockdown restrictions eased, they toured the States with Megadeth and saw that Dave Mustaine and co were doing it too. It was a logical progression from there: Trivium brought an electric drum kit on tour so they could do it themselves, streaming the rehearsals on frontman Matt Heafy’s hugely popular Twitch channel. At the start of 2023, they opened it up to friends and industry types in person.
“When we were in London [headlining the Hammersmith Apollo in January 2023], we had 60 people in the Pig Pen, just from magazines and record labels,” Corey remembers. The guitarist laughs: “It looked like they were having more fun in the Pig Pen than at the actual show! They were seeing something that they don’t usually get to see.”
This tour, which kicks off tonight, is the very first time they’ve thrown the Pig Pen’s metaphorical doors open to the public. Given the reaction from the small yet intense crowd, this tour won’t be the last where it happens.
In August, Matt Heafy gave an interview at the Summer Breeze festival in Germany. “This time, when this tour cycle ends, we’re gonna take a true break,” he said. They had no plans to write or record a new album, and would instead use the time to work on their studio, The Hangar, in Orlando. Spending time with Trivium, you can tell this is a band who’ve been going hard on the road.
For starters, there’s Paolo: the bassist realised shortly after flying from the USA to Germany at the start of the tour that he had a hernia and would need emergency surgery as soon as possible. He was replaced by Malevolence’s Josh Baines during the first week of shows and, tonight, his bass is on a stand both in the Pig Pen and onstage so he doesn’t injure himself by lifting it.
“When I went to the hospital, they told me I had a hernia that was potentially dangerous since it could block my intestines,” the bassist remembers. “They tried to push it in but it wouldn’t go, so they said it was surgery time right away. I’m still getting kinda sore in my back and neck from just looking at the bass and playing in a set position.”
Matt is on vocal rest during the entire UK leg. He’s not doing any interviews while he’s over here, to try and preserve his voice during the last couple weeks of touring. Instead, we catch up with him via Zoom a couple of weeks later, when he’s back in Florida.
“The first two-and-a-half weeks of the tour were disastrous for sleep,” he says, looking back on the eventful start of this set of European dates. “We were up all day when we arrived [in Europe] then Paolo had to get emergency surgery. We played in Romania, finished the show, showered, got into a van at 1:15 in the morning and went on a three-and-a-half-hour van ride to the airport, where we stayed for five hours.”
It’s been this intense for nearly 20 years now. Since Corey and Paolo joined in 2003/2004, the band have reliably released albums within two-and-a-half years of each other and toured prolifically in between. Even as Covid put a stop to live music, the band put out What The Dead Men Say in April 2020 and then immediately re-entered writing mode, releasing follow-up In The Court Of The Dragon just 18 months later. This tour marks the second time they’ve played across Europe in 2023 alone, following a run with Heaven Shall Burn at the start of the year.
“We did three albums in five years,” says Corey, referencing the period between …Dragon and 2017’s The Sin And The Sentence. “We gave people so much music so quickly that there needs to be time in between.”
“We were so young [in the early days of the band] that we basically came out of school right into touring,” Paolo remembers. “Our college years were that.”
This tour is notable for more than just the Pig Pen. It also sees them celebrating the 15th anniversary of their fourth album, Shogun. That record reaffirmed Trivium’s position at the forefront of the 2000’s metal scene. After the band broke through on 2005’s Ascendancy, they lost a lot of support with follow-up The Crusade. Today, both Matt and Paolo call Shogun – with its technicality, monstrous hooks and thrashing, snarling heaviness – the album that The Crusade should have been.
“If you listen to The Crusade, there were a lot of technical moments, but we didn’t know how to combine all of it together,” Matt explains. “There were some perfect songs for what that record was, like Entrance Of The Conflagration, but others like Contempt Breeds Contamination weren’t fully realised because we weren’t ready yet.”
It’s just gone 7:30pm on August 23 when Hammer steps into the Cambridge Pig Pen. After snaking through the labyrinthine corridors backstage at the 1,300-capacity Corn Exchange, we find Corey and drummer Alex Bent already there, half an hour before their tiny, tiny audience come in. Alex is perched on his electronic kit, crammed into the corner, while a bass is perched in a playable position on a stand a few feet away.
It’s only been three weeks since Paolo’s hernia surgery. Corey and Alex warm up with a medley of impromptu covers. They speed through Metallica’s Hardwired, then jam the groovier Slayer cut Skeletons Of Society before Paolo steps in. They casually reinvent Breaking The Law as a thrash song, courtesy of added blastbeats from Alex, and play Sepultura classic Roots while frontman Matt Heafy arrives, setting up cameras for a Twitch stream of the intimate mini-set to come.
“Man, it’s hot in here!” he says as fans file in, making this minuscule room even more unbearably sticky than it already was in the late-summer heat. From the start, they deliver on Paolo’s earlier promise of playing songs that won’t appear in the main set later. The first track is Insurrection, a speed metal deep cut from 2008’s Shogun.
Although the performance is instrumental and microphone-free – largely in order to save Matt’s voice – the people in here prove their passion for the band by mouthing along to the song regardless. It’s a response that Matt plays into during the following Catastrophist, playfully cupping his hand by his ear in encouragement. Then comes another Shogun rarity, The Calamity, before Matt offers one fan the choice of what’s played next. Anything’s fair game, and they eventually pick Forsake Not The Dream.
A jam of the latter half of Torn Between Scylla And Charybdis brings the Pig Pen to a close, after which comes photos and some brief socialising before the fans disperse into the main auditorium of the Corn Exchange.
“I can’t put that into words!” Trivium megafan Arnie tells us right after the mini-set. He’s a sound engineer who says the band inspired him to pursue his career. “Coming up to the Pig Pen and seeing one of my favourite bands up close was just such a good experience! I always said, if they do open up the Pig Pen to fans, that I would go and see it, because it’d be an experience I’d never forget. I got married two years ago and, to me, this was on par with that. Ha ha!”
Adding to the importance of the occasion is the fact that these UK dates have been announced as Trivium’s last tour for quite some time. “I was always going to see them on this tour,” Arnie says, “because they’re not touring again until, what, 2025?”
As his enthusiasm suggests, the Pig Pen is the perfect fan-facing experience. But there’s another, financial dimension to it. Artists’ touring profits have dropped through the floor since the pandemic, with venues taking merch cuts while bus companies gouge them amid the high demand. It’s a lucrative way of offsetting some of the costs of tour, or even topping up the profits. But Corey denies that the Pig Pen was motivated by money.
“So many people were asking us how to be a part of it,” he says. “So we were like, ‘Well, if there’s a fan demand for it, let’s experiment!’”
Aside from Paolo’s recent medical issues and the general wear and tear of a few years of heavy-duty touring, the band show no signs of wear and tear when they’re actually onstage tonight. The opening In The Court Of The Dragon sounds ferocious, especially when Matt belts out that melodic chorus over Alex’s barrage of blastbeats.
When they take a five-song detour through Shogun material – Kirisute Gomen, Torn Between Scylla And Charybdis, Down From The Sky, Of Prometheus And The Crucifix and bonus track Poison, The Knife Or The Noose – for the album’s 15th anniversary, they look as energised as they did in 2008.
There’s no clear consensus within the Trivium camp about how long the band will be away. While Paolo suggests that the break from touring could last at least six or seven months, Matt says it looks like the time off will be twice as long, “for 12 to 15 months”, though that doesn’t stop him from already teasing what’s next. He wants to further explore his Japanese-inspired black metal side-project, Ibaraki.
“I was able to meet Einar [Selvik] from Wardruna,” he says, “and it’s interesting how they’re a Nordic folk project but feel like part of the black metal world. I think there might be something to me learning traditional Japanese instruments and seeing what that sounds like.”
He also teases that he’ll be doing a couple of videogame soundtracks at the same time. “I’ve got one main score that I’m working on right now. I can’t say what game it is, but it’s a childhood favourite of mine – and it’s not Doom.”
Towards the end of the Cambridge show, as the band prepare to storm through A Gunshot To The Head Of Trepidation and In Waves, Matt notes that Gunshot…’s parent album, Ascendancy, is turning 20 in 2025. “We should probably do something about that.”
When we speak to him via Zoom a couple of weeks later, he gives a coy smile when the subject of anniversaries comes up. “I always love to leave some kind of Easter egg that’s very public, but I don’t know what I’m saying,” Matt says. “We’ll have to see what that means.”