Trivium: "Anger a samurai, they can chop your head off. That's metal!"

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Everything you’ve ever seen, heard, or read about the elite class of Japanese warriors known as the samurai can be condensed into one simple statement: they did not fuck about.

Killing with a single stroke, total resolve, superhuman discipline and big fucking swords. Oh yes. So when some very confidential news filtered through at the Hammer office a few months back that Trivium were working on a new record and were calling it Shogun – a Japanese term for the commander generals that led armies of samurai into battle over centuries of that country’s perpetual war on itself – it was fair to assume that Trivium weren’t fucking about either.

Sure, 1,000 shows and nearly a million copies of their last two albums – 2005’s Ascendancy and 2007’s The Crusade – are nothing to sniff at, but given the varied criticisms of the latter (that it was just metalcore Metallica, tailored to the masses and lacking in substance) it was impossible to say whether Trivium would manage the kind of credibility of their idols among the chin-stroking, self-anointed guardians of true metal that haven’t bought a record since the 80s.

Their story’s been littered with triumphs – not least their 2006 Donington set that had them sending 50,000 people piled up at the main stage into a dirt-stomping frenzy, and their tours supporting Maiden, Metallica and Machine Head. For a band whose average age is 23, they’re impressive feats. But for some, even Corey Beaulieu’s appearance on thrash masters Annihilator’s most recent Metal album wasn’t enough to convince them that Trivium had earned their metal stripes.

Fuck those people. Shogun – from the head-lopping opener Kirisute Gomen to the battle-drum throb of Into The Mouth Of Hell We March to the searing title track – is Trivium coming full circle as a metal band and commanding their talents like never before.

Looking back, the story of Trivium’s latest opus is one that began just as The Crusade was launching. Their last appearance on the cover saw frontman Matt Heafy talking about Japanese tales of yore, explaining why the tattoo sleeve covering his left arm was more than just a pretty picture. Simply, it was a depiction of the samurai hero Tsuna attacking the dragon-like demon Ibaraki. At a deeper level, it was a statement of heritage, origins, and – without knowing it – it was the birth of the album that would later become Shogun.

Recorded in Nashville with Grammy-winning producer Nick Raskulinecz of Rush and Foo Fighters fame over a period of eight weeks last October, it seems that Trivium – now home in Florida rehearsing their new material for October’s Hammer-sponsored Unholy Alliance tour – were unknowingly making a similar return to their roots.

HOW’S IT GOING?

Travis Smith: “Killin’ and chillin.’”

Matt Heafy: “Two days ago it was my first day home and I just played Metal Gear Solid on the PS3. It was fucking amazing. I felt like it was hard to breathe at times it was so good.”

MATT, WORD IS YOU’VE JUST BECOME ENGAGED?

Matt: “Yeah, it’s all happening at once. We’ve been together for about three and a half years. We’ve known each other since we were 12.”

DID YOU GO DOWN ON BENDED KNEE?

Matt: “She would have totally laughed at me and I’d have been sweating and nervous. I had it sitting in my pocket all night. We were recording and I had tickets to go see some symphony orchestra; I had it in my pocket and I couldn’t do it. And then I got back to the apartment I was staying at and I said, ‘I know you said no gifts but here, take this – I can’t hold it anymore.’”

SHE PROBABLY KNOWS YOU BETTER THAN ANYONE…

Matt: “Yeah. We weren’t best friends – we were kind of acquaintances. She was always into art and I was always in a band. It was like, ‘How’s the art?’ ‘Good. How’s the band?’ ‘Yeah, good.’ But we were opening up for Overkill like three and a half years ago in Chicago at Joe’s Sports Bar. She was friends with our merch guy. We hadn’t seen each other since high school but there was this spark there.”

Into the pit, Paolo Gregoletto gets in among the crowd on the Unholy Alliance Tour

Into the pit, Paolo Gregoletto gets in among the crowd on the Unholy Alliance Tour
(Image: © Getty Images)

THAT’S NOT THE ONLY DEVELOPMENT – YOU’RE STARTING A NEW JOURNEY WITH YOUR THIRD MAJOR RELEASE.

Matt: “Yeah. Why not do the whole recap? The band started in 1999, toured in 2004 until last December. We did 700 shows since Ascendancy and maybe 1,000 since we started. Three records, 20 demos, a bunch of side things. And right up until we went into the studio to record Shogun we were writing on and off tour, a little bit at home, six months of demos, like really extensive demos, and rewriting and redoing, and then going in the studio for eight weeks…”

REMEMBER MUCH?

Matt: “I do but it’s happened pretty fast. We were confident, crazy kids who were given the key to the world, like, ‘Say whatever you want, do whatever you want.’ That’s crazy. I was 17. We came out with some insane goals, said and did some crazy shit, and with the second one it got really serious. It was tours on top of tours, recording albums… we were in a weird place.”

HOW SO?

Matt: “We had to grow up in the public eye. Most bands have formed as people by the time they’re in the spotlight; we had to do that on the road. I joined the band at 13 and didn’t do the normal things that everyone else did. I was practising and writing music and being single and crazy and partying, and when we first started touring – that’s probably the worst place to explore because everything is at your fingertips. Every cliché. Sex, drugs, rock’n’roll. It was so easy to access.

We’ve all had good childhoods but going on tour we experienced what it’s like to not eat, shower, or sleep when you want, live like dirtbags, to go from normal society to living in a van and socialising in parking lots. A lot of people have been in bands longer, but we dropped into it for two and a half years straight.”

IT’S A VERY HEAVY RECORD COMPARED WITH THE CRUSADE. IS THAT DELIBERATE?

Matt: “This is the past, present and future of Trivium. It was the greatest thing we could have done in that period of time. We loved Ascendancy but Shogun is a combination of everything we feel we’ve done right.”

Travis: “A lot of labels get thrown at us. It comes with the territory when you’re in fuckin’ Trivium.”

Corey Beaulieu: “This is our third record since 2005. It gets easier, people get to know us better. Fuck-ups are a great teacher and we know what we’re supposed to do now, how it all works, what’s expected of us. No one needs to light a fire under our ass.”

THE LAST ALBUM TOOK A LOT OF CRITICISMS – THE METALLICA COMPARISONS, PEOPLE SAYING YOU AREN’T REALLY METAL…

Corey: “I’ve said this before, but if we’re being compared to them that’s not a bad thing. You can knock it but that record outsold Ascendancy so it did well for us, we got a lot of new fans that way, and we grew as a band. We expanded our musical landscape. This is a melting pot of everything we’re about.”

WERE YOU TRYING TO DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT WITH SHOGUN?

Paolo Gregoletto: “It’s almost like we have to keep on proving ourselves. We took everything good about the new record and just wanted to make the heaviest record we could.”

Matt: “With The Crusade we never tried, we just did. That was good and bad for us. This time if we didn’t love it, we got rid of it. It wasn’t like, ‘Let’s do a fast one.’ It was, ‘Let’s write.’ That’s where it began and ended.”

Corey: “We were all just excited to start work again and we spent so much time on tour thinking about it and we had a ton of stuff, so we just felt like the material that we picked out was exactly where we wanted to go.”

WHAT APPEALED TO YOU ABOUT THE IDEA OF SHOGUNS?

Matt: “It’s the imagery. Two of the songs are ancient Japanese mythology and history, but I’ve always loved videogames and sci-fi . Really kinky stuff, I’m into all that. It all traces back to mythology. I mean, look at religion. People live their lives based on these stories even today.”

Rising son, Matt Heafy at home in Florida, 2008.

Rising son, Matt Heafy at home in Florida, 2008.
(Image: © Getty Images)

SOUNDS LIKE YOU’RE CONJURING THE OLD WAYS. WAY OF THE SAMURAI?

Matt: “Totally. Look at Kiriste Gomen on the new one. It’s pronounced ‘Keereeshtee Go-Men’, by the way. It’s an old samurai code that said if you anger a samurai they’ve got the right to chop off your head. It means, ‘Sorry, but I’m going to have to chop your head off.’ Literally it means ‘to cut into leaves’. That is the most metal fucking thing I have ever heard.”

SO SAMURAI ARE HEAVY METAL?

Matt: “I think that metal is the modern form, the closest model form of music to classical. I don’t think pop or punk or anything else has that grandiose, epic feel to it. And so much of it is tales of gods and goddesses and mythical beings. That stuff is so intense. We’re four intense, serious guys. We don’t live by the sign of the Hammer, but we recognise the grandiosity of ancient mythology and metal’s all about that. These are just variations on an ancient theme.”

WHAT SPARKED YOUR INTEREST IN JAPAN?

Matt: “It’s my history, my family. A lot of modern movies and videogames in Japan are reflections on, ‘Hey, we should go back to our old ways of doing things.’ I saw this movie, Suicide Club, where people are just killing themselves. It was like a cry for help saying, ‘Hey, we should go back to our roots and stop letting all these outside influences dilute our culture.’ It’s about reflecting on history and preserving where we come from and why we exist.”

IS IT JUST ABOUT JAPAN?

Matt: “Only partly.”

Paolo: “We wanted to make a concept-heavy album but didn’t want it all to be based on Japan or else it would have gone a little Spinal Tap.”

Matt: “Shogun has to do with so much from my interest in amazing epic tales, and more epic artwork and videogames. We were very clear cut with what songs were about on previous records, but with this one it’s an amalgamation of meanings. It’s hard to tell exactly what they’re about, some are multi-meanings, some are tricky because the titles suggest they’re a retelling of ancient stories but they’re really not. They’re just allusions or references but they’re not specific and it’s as much from Greek mythology as it is old Japanese tales.”

SOUNDS LIKE YOU’VE PUT A LOT OF FORETHOUGHT INTO THIS…

Paulo: “We have. This is a really interesting time for heavy music because it’s like it’s coming full circle, like these classic bands are making their best records ever and all the bands playing now are paying tribute to the biggest bands out there. That’s the future of metal.”

Matt: “Everything from the photos to our videos we’re thinking about everything because we don’t want to distract from the music. We’re in all black. We tried image. We were told… our first press photos were horrible. Our label were like, ‘Dress a little more acceptably so Christians and country bands can like you.’ We were like, ‘They must know what they’re talking about!’ It was a nightmare. Now we’re like, ‘We’ve got one fucking outfit – you take the pictures and make us look good.’”

HOW DID THE REST OF THE BAND FEEL ABOUT THE CONCEPTS?

Travis: “We thought it was a cool idea. The word ‘shogun’ sounds really cool. We all did research on it and got really into it, what it means, how they carried the title in their culture. Japan used to be a brutal place.”

DO YOU FEEL YOU’VE MATURED?

Matt: “It’s better now than it’s ever been. We’re more tight as a unit, we’re like family. We were all recording together, supporting each other, and really there for each other.”

YOU’RE NOT KIDS ANYMORE – YOU HAVE MORE TO PROVE…

Travis: “We want to be the biggest and the best, so fuck it. If you like it then get it, if you don’t like it… buy it anyway! But you can really hear that the fire’s there. The passion. We’re all out. We’re here to kill, man. We don’t give a shit.”

(Image: © Getty Images)

‘THE BIGGEST AND THE BEST’?

Travis: “You can’t say that it’s going to happen, you can’t predict it. Led Zeppelin never thought they’d be legends, AC/DC didn’t either. You just go out there and work your ass off. That’s all there is to it. To be the best you have to do your best and keep your fingers crossed.”

MATT, LAST TIME YOU WERE ON THE COVER YOU SAID YOU SUFFERED FROM PANIC ATTACKS. ARE THEY STILL HAPPENING?

Matt: “Things have gotten better, which is crazy. Making music and touring and being in a band can be really destructive to your body if it’s done wrong, but done right it becomes therapeutic. I used to be incredibly socially awkward but that’s all gone now. It was crippling at times.”

HOW MUCH MATERIAL DID YOU START WITH?

Matt: “We had 27 songs – all demos, no click tracks, really rough. We passed those around, recorded 20 and then did half of them on the Black Crusade tour. We let the Machine Head guys hear it and Robb Flynn called me up when we got home and gave me a lot of advice. I learned so much.”

DID YOU HAVE MORE TIME TO RECORD ON THIS ONE TOO?

Matt: “We still wrote while we were on the road. We came up with ideas and we just recorded them. We had a lot more time off tour to really tinker and dissect the songs and piece it all together. We were off tour in mid-December and started it in January or February, so we had a good three or four months at home to just do this.”

Corey: “We were in a rehearsal space and we definitely think it came out better than it would have otherwise. Last time we brought in full songs. This time we had more time to jam stuff out and really tinker with it.”

WERE YOU FRUSTRATED AT THE TEDIUM AFTER TOURING SO MUCH?

Matt: “Not at all because the end result was so much better. We’d play through something and Nick would go, ‘Great, now do it again.’ By the end of the process my voice was just gone. My fingers were literally shredded. I was bleeding when I played that last solo on Shogun.”

ARE YOU SCARED ABOUT GETTING SLAYERED OFF ON THE UNHOLY ALLIANCE TOUR?

Travis: “Are we intimidated by the Slayer fans? No. Are we thrilled to be on the tour? Yes. We’ve played with Metallica; bring it on. Opening up for bigger bands is never easy but what the fuck are they going to do to us?”

Matt: “We were scared of the same thing when we went on before Iron Maiden and that was the coolest fucking thing ever. There are always people who just won’t like us no matter what we do but we’re in a headspace now where we just love what we’re doing. ‘Boo, you suck’? I don’t care. Maiden showed us how they did it – it was really mindblowing just how on it their crew were. Just clockwork – everything perfect, everything synchronised. Our crew is, but they’re almost military. I just looked at Maiden and thought, ‘I want that.’”

Corey: “You don’t walk into that situation acting scared. You step up. Some people are going to give you some flak but it’s nothing new to us. It doesn’t bother us at all. We just do what we do. I can’t wait to get out because we’re big Slayer fans. Think about the positives. Who gives a shit about assholes?”

Paolo: “We were way more worried about Maiden fans than we are about Slayer’s. We’re ready for anything now.”

This article originally appeared in Metal Hammer #183.

For more on Trivium and their latest Silence In The Snow album, then click the link below.

Trivium's Silence In The Snow Track By Track: Part One