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From The Vaults #22 | Trivium’s ‘Ascendancy’

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.

Pull Harder

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.

Suitably Crescendant

“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

  1. ‘From the vaults’ eh? A ten year old album that probably sold millions of copies, by a band who are one of the most commercially successful around in the metal scene and even good in the first place. Fair enough the last point is subjective and I’m not having a go at the writing (i haven’t read it actually yet), just the choice of band/album for this feature, given the choices of the previous picks for it.

  2. …didn’t mean to say ‘millions’, but around 1 million, at a guess.

  3. Sadly this review is a reflection of the mainstream road this site is heading down this last while , reviews are gone ta fuck

  4. Black Shepherd Carnage Says:

    Good to see you contributing Mike. Although, I’ll most likely neither read nor retry this album, always good to see new contributors as opposed to Anonymous, moaning twats hoping for more underground stuff. Wouldn’t be surprised if this was the same twat as complained about the coverage of the last Siege, a totally underground affair. If not the same twat, definitely from the same twat clan.

  5. Yeah my comment was more a reaction of surprise to the choice of album in comparison to what has come before (more to my own personal taste though so that’s fair enough). I don’t think the site is becoming too commercial and more importantly it’s not a bad thing if it is, if that gives more variety to the page. Still plenty of writers covering stuff off the beaten track also.

  6. Mike simply offered this and I’m more than happy to run it as – as I have reiterated time and time again – I love the idea of people contributing their opinions and thoughts to pieces.

    NazgulB, the remedy of course is if you dont like the direction (which I’d query, but how and ever) then why not write some thoughts about stuff you do like. I will publish it.

  7. Well I didn’t sy I had a problem with the direction, as I explained in my last comment. The chap who commented after me did though.

  8. Yes, I conflated those sorry.

    Anyhow – perceived mainstreamness is not a bar to writing about an old album, and a decade is a more than fair enough point at which to dust something off.

  9. Fair point. Personal taste and a speedy comment got the better of me I guess. As stated initially no offence or discredit was meant towards the writer specifically. Carry on.

  10. Leather Mike Says:

    As the Earl says, I offered this piece (inspired by previous FTV articles) and he graciously ran it. As regards whether the album is a valid choice, I think it’s possible some users on here may have overlooked Ascendancy based on what came after, maybe it’s an album hidden in plain sight as it were.

  11. I picked this up on a whim a few years after it came out, found it in a second hand shop for 2.50 so figured even if its muck I’m not really going to be out of pocket. Have to say I really quite liked it. Catchy songs, great guitar work (especially given the age)

    Then I heard a few songs off their next album which were shite and didn’t pay any attention to them until going to Bloodstock this year, gave that new song a spin, also shit.

    Are the all the last few albums as bad or is there anything a bit more like this one?

  12. Good job Mike, loved this album when it came out. They definitely peaked here for me, saw them live a few times on that tour and always enjoyed them, saw them last year and well; I think we just went in different directions. Might have to dig out the album and give it a spin.

  13. Leather Mike Says:

    Ivan, from the latter day stuff “Shogun” would be closest to Ascendancy in style. The album that immediately followed Ascendancy, the one you’re referring to, was a nonsense of a thing. If Ascendancy is buttoning your coat, “Shogun” should be your next port of call. The newest one, “Silence In The Snow” may also hold some interest for you. Good luck!

  14. Black Shepherd Carnage Says:

    Hey, it’s the BOAT! RUDDER! song – never listened to it without the misheard lyrics video before, haha. Just impossible to take seriously on any level now! 🙂

  15. I got that when it came out and thought it was great. I saw them when they played the Saturday morning on the main stage of download. They seemed to be coked off their tits. I didn’t listen to anything else. When they released the ” we are the fire” video from the follow up I couldn’t take them seriously at all. Heafy’s face for the whoa oh bit is tragic.
    Listening to pull harder now I can really hear him struggling with all that shouting. I have not and will not buy anything else of them but I do wish they would stop defending the musical/vocal direction they took. Never apologise never explain.

  16. open face surgery Says:

    Sooooooo shit. Doesn’t matter who it is, that over the top melodic riffing wrecks my head. Vocals are shocking and Matt Heafy looks like a trans lad I saw the other day on a programme on BBC3.

  17. Jesus_Phish Says:

    Nice write up Mike, although as soon as I saw a FTV about Trivium, there was no points to be awarded for guessing who wrote it.

    I never really got into Trivium. “Pull Harder” wasn’t a bad song but it didn’t drive me to go get their album when at the time I was heavily invested into discovering the basics of death and black metal. It’s what I think of as a “guitarist” song because it’s an easy to place, nice, non-offensive riff. It’s basically the Wonderwall of metal. When someone asks you to play something at a party it’s one of those easy to reach for ones.

    Their next album sold me on the idea that not getting involved with Trivium was the right idea. But since then they’ve put out some ok stuff but again, there’s something very “wonderwall” about them.

  18. It’s only listening to it again there I was assured of how much I hate his vocals. They range from monotonous newhardcore/ metalcore-to- shitty Hetfield impersonations, down to emo clean singing. Liked this band when I was around 17 for a brief time but once I began to explore the heavy metal scene a little more I lost interest almost immediately.

  19. I like the “From the Vault” section. Been reminded about some long forgotten albums over the past while and introduced to others that were simply overlooked at the time It’s great to see a mix of styles been covered, commercial or otherwise. If you look at what’s been covered to date it’s hard to understand the “reflection of the mainstream road this site is heading down” jab.

    I had no regard for Trivium at the time and I still don’t. I still though the above was a nice read and cool to see it from someone elses perspective ,(Obviously the album was an influence on the author). I had a blast of the first couple of tracks this morning and to my mind it’s as bad as it ever was. Very contrived band.

    “Anonymous, moaning twats hoping for more underground stuff. Wouldn’t be surprised if this was the same twat”

    Lot of Twat calling there……..”Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”

  20. brianwilliams82 Says:

    Yes, there was only going to be one guy who wrote this. 🙂 Nice to see, in any case.

    I have only one real problem with this album but it’s a rather large one. I actually can’t bring myself to dislike it at all, despite its flaws. The production is slicker than a pre-greased bag of eels (and easily as slick as anything that would come later – what are you on about here, Mike?) so I can see how that would be off-putting but some of the guitarwork remains very impressive. It’s not the most extreme thing in the world but it’s certainly a lot more memorable, songwriting-wise than manys an underground album. My view on this album is likely clouded in nostalgia – I was only listening to metal for around 3 years when I first heard this. Had I grown up with metal in the 80s then I’d likely be poo-pooing it as well.

    The only critique I would have of the writing itself is that it’s total 2002 Metal Observer stuff, full of hyperbole and ludicrous buzzwords. That bit about Paolo’s bass is cringeworthy, “the sheer balls-out ferocity of his playing”. The guy was buried under their brickwall until the latest album, FFS.

  21. Maybe it’s me being an old cynic or expecting too much but that ‘Pull Harder…’ song (or should it be ‘Boat Rudder’…?) just sounds like the same two chords being played over and over and over and over with the occasional pseudo-flashy turnaround. Utterly one-dimensional songwriting. Tried to be open-minded with this but… No. Maybe if I’d got into it as a youngster it’d be a different story but there’s little of merit here to these ears. If I want a blast of nostalgia, I’ll fire up Whitesnake’s 1987 and revel in some REAL riffs/solos!

  22. Leather Mike Says:

    My point about the production stands – compare anything off Ascendancy to anything off Vengenace Falls or Silence… and you’ll see that they’re worlds apart.

    As to the bass playing, any live footage of them shows that he’s a phenomenal player and the lynchpin of their live sound, although you’re right that he was somewhat buried until recently. Doesn’t stop him being a hell of a player though, AJFA didn’t make Newsted any less of a bassist.

  23. Yeah, but people generally acknowledge you can’t hear the bass on AJFA?

  24. Eoin McLove Says:

    No interest in this band at all which will probably come as a surprise for most of you but that comment about the mainstream road MI is going down is a bit baffling to say the least.

  25. Never a band I could warm to but nice to see a write up all the same, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of variety.

  26. Fair play Mike,more than decent write up although I have not enjoyed anything I have heard from this band before, which made reading it difficult. And listening to it, well, unlikely…

  27. There’s only a handful of metalcore albums that I like and this is one of ’em and probably my favourite (alongside that KE album with last serenade song tingy on it)..great review Mike…this is the only album I have by them, Mike how’d you rate their debut or the one that came after this?…or should I just skip them and go for a bit of quality in Shogun?

  28. Leather Mike Says:

    If you like Ascendancy, avoid “The Crusade” like you’d avoid getting syphillis. Even I can’t defend it, it’s simply too much.

    The debut (Ember To Inferno) is more in keeping with Ascendancy – think of it as a practice run for this album. It’s a little rawer again and has a tiny little bit more filler, but it’s not without its charm and there are some genuinely show-stopping tracks on it.

    Shogun, however, is simply magnificent. A truly great album all round

  29. brianwilliams82 Says:

    “compare anything off Ascendancy to anything off Vengenace Falls or Silence… and you’ll see that they’re worlds apart.”

    They’re all just as slick as each other, Mike. Different tones, maybe (VF certainly sounds ‘fatter’ than what came before), but all as highly-polished as you’d expect from Roadrunner releases. The nuances of each individual production don’t change that.

  30. Trivium are one of my least favourite bands ever. They are fucking poison to my ears. Very well written piece all the same, always good to see new contributors and if I didn’t know how truly awful they are, it could almost tempt me to listen to them. I should be thankful then that I don’t have to go through hearing them again at any stage.

  31. richardanthonyc Says:

    Shogun is far and above Triviums best album.

    I love Ascendancy also but Shogun has everything

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