Every so often, there’s an album in a band’s canon that you can point to and definitively say, “There. Right there is where it began to click.”
For American metalcore crew Trivium, it was their second offering, 2005’s aptly-named Ascendancy.
Written and recorded from October 2004 over a period of six months – when main-man Matt Heafy was only 18 – Ascendancy captured a lot of “firsts” for Trivium.
It’s the first album to feature the outrageous pyrotechnics of lead guitarist Corey Beaulieu and the thumping, glowering menace of Paolo Gregoletto’s bass, a man whose comically diminutive stature and quiet, reserved persona is utterly at odds with the sheer balls-out ferocity of his playing.
It was also the first album that they recorded a video for (firing out one for each of the four singles the album birthed,) and their first engagement with a major label in Roadrunner.
I Like The Morrisound Of That
Further worthy of note may be that some of the recording was undertaken in the legendary Morrisound Studios, which may well account for the album having a rawer, rougher bark than the super-polished production the band would become the poster-boys for later in their career.
Trivia fans (see what I did there) may be interested to know that this came about at Heafy’s insistence, based on his oft-discussed love of classic black and death metal, and his desire to emulate some of his heroes by recording there.
In regard to the music itself, the album leads with token instrumental “The End Of Everything,” and all the elements you’d expect from modern, stylish metalcore are present and correct. Brooding, moody acoustic guitars, choral vocals and pomp-stomping piano – it feels like it wouldn’t be out of place as the intro screen for a Castlevania game.
Then without preamble or warning, second track “Rain” kicks the door in and we’re away at a neckbreaking clip. Frenetic, edge-of-collapse drums, thunderously downpicked riffs (that owe a pint or three to the Amott brothers, for sure) and the open-chord-with-twiddly-overlaid-melody chorus that Trivium would make their calling card.
Without pause for breath, that song arrives.
“Pull Harder On The Strings Of Your Martyr,” a track much beloved of both MTV and Misheard Lyrics meme-makers alike. What “Pull Harder” also does though is firmly set out the stall for what made the band famous – the furious, gloriously over the top, and unapologetically precocious tag-team soloing of Heafy and Beaulieu.
I still remember, as a wide-eyed 18 year old, hearing this song for the first time and wondering how it was possible for people the same age as I to already be so good at guitar playing. It’s a striking statement of a track.
In a theme that endures for the duration of the rest of the album, there’s absolutely no let-up. Not a single ounce. Without so much as taking time to reload, “Drowned And Torn Asunder” and the title track go streaking past in a similar hail of screams, split-triplet kicks, hook-laden choruses and fretboard-blistering lead work, before “A Gunshot To The Head Of Trepidation” batters its way in.
By this stage of proceedings, it is abundantly clear that Trivium aren’t satisfied with merely asking for your attention, preferring instead to seize you by both lapels and scream directly into your face.
Best In Show
Channelling “Pull Harder…” before it, the song is basically a platform for Heafy and Beaulieu to indulge in a lengthy bout of “betcha can’t play this” and while the six-string gymnastics are no doubt flashy and very impressive, it’s again the bedrock-solid rhythm section of Gregoletto’s bass and Travis Smith’s deceptively tasteful and surprisingly clever drumming that really provides the greasy, muscular pulse for the track.
Bonus points are added (or perhaps further penalties imposed, you choose) for the obligatory gang-chant in the middle eight, but young’uns will be young’uns and the sheer enthusiasm is hard to deride, and the in-spite-of-itself-grin it invokes equally hard to suppress.
Unlike its predecessor Ember To Inferno and its much-maligned successor The Crusade, there’s a distinct lack of front-loading on Ascendancy, which is one of the album’s strongest points.
The boys put ‘er flat to the mat from the moment they come thundering out of the gate and keep it lit for the entire duration, maintaining the pressure with “Like Light To The Flies,” featuring a best-in-show performance from Beaulieu, which is genuinely saying something given how many highlights the towering Floridian contributes across the album as a whole.
The big fun is slightly dented by the overly-saccharine “Dying In Your Arms,” a song clearly crafted for Scuzz TV if ever there was one, but again a snazzy (if slightly formulaic) solo elevates the track above the ostensible sum of its parts.
“The Deceived” and “Suffocating Sight” bring us into the home stretch of the album and it’s more of the same. Huge, galloping riffs? Check.
Big, “we want to write an anthem” chorus? Check.
Warp speed, scale-blitz solos? More checks than a chessboard.
Just when you think that surely, SURELY they have to have made their point by now, the album’s best song in the guise of the absolutely ripping “Departure” arrives, before the longest track on the album, “Declaration” (clocking in at seven minutes, a positive epic by the standards of early Trivium) brings things to a suitably crescendant close.
For a lot of Trivium fans, Ascendancy is a high-water mark, showing Heafy in particular at the peak of his songwriting ability and showcasing their incendiary technical skills without the songs becoming unnecessarily bloated or self-indulgent.
It’s undeniable that Heafy’s vocals lack something in terms of gravitas, but it’s somewhat forgivable considering his lack of both years and experience when the songs were written and recorded. Taken as a whole, it’s an album delivered with intent, enthusiasm, genuine belief and no shortage of raw, unabashed talent.
If you’ve never been a Trivium fan or had previously written them off based on what came after (and many wouldn’t blame you,) pick up a copy of Ascendancy and give it the time of day. You might just be surprised.
– Contributed by Michael Legge ::: 25/11/15