Special Feature With Trivium’s Matt Heafy – A 2010’s Retrospective in the Rock Sins 10 at 10 Series

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Matt Heafy 6 Trivium Manchester April 2018

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, here at Rock Sins we had planned a raft of special features to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the site. One such series was the “10 at 10”: A special, in-depth look at ten bands we have covered extensively over the ten plus years of this website, involving those bands in the process where possible. COVID has derailed this to a large extent, but just before the world shut down, we were able to talk extensively to Trivium frontman Matt Heafy about how things have progressed for Trivium over the last ten years, with a few tangents along the way. When we caught up with Matt at home, he was juggling dad duties, band planning of their then impending new album What The Dead Men Say, as well as his Twitch routine and how he was becoming the go-to guy in metal for a lot of other bands wanting to get into the streaming world. The Twitch side of things was largely covered separately in it’s own feature (for our chat with Matt Heafy on Twitch, please check it out here).

So, where were Trivium at the start of the last decade? It was the period between Shogun and In Waves, with the touring cycle for Shogun just coming to an end – which included a long UK Trivium headline club show run with Chimaira, Whitechapel and their longtime friends Rise To Remain. They’d also recently experienced the first of many drummer changes, with Nick Augusto coming in to replace longtime sticksman Travis Smith. Always having been someone to prefer to look forward, rather than back, something that comes up many times in our chat, Matt’s memories of that period of Trivium were more about the planning of what was to come with In Waves (somewhat unsurprising given what that album did for the band in the long run). “In Waves is the time we really nailed the music videos, the band photos, the aesthetic, the logos, the presentation, the documentary” he recalls. “Ascendancy is when we nailed the music, but In Waves is when we really started nailing those other things. We decided to do the opposites of a lot of things. What was the opposite of having a live DVD? We did a live DVD with no crowd (the chapman studios DVD)” – something that seems ever so prescient now, especially with Trivium’s recent empty venue live stream spectacular A Light Or A Distant Mirror.

The release of In Waves in October 2011 brought a huge resurgence to the band. Having talked about how 2008’s Shogun was “the most technical, complex, lengthy, heavy load of songs we’ve ever had”, Matt states that with In Waves they wanted to “embrace minimalism and simplicity and see where we could go again”. While Shogun was heralded by critics and the Trivium faithful alike (many fans say it is still their best album to this day), with elements of the music press and with the more casual fan they were still finding their finding their way back from the backlash of The Crusade, something Matt remembers well. “The UK and Ascendancy is the only time in the bands’ history that we were a “press band”, we were on every magazine cover, winning every award, getting 10 / 10 or 5 / 5 for almost every live show. Then afterwards with The Crusade the UK had washed its hands of Trivium – or at least the press world had”. In Waves was the album to bring them back to the fore, and presented Trivium with a huge array of opportunities. A headline slot on Metal Hammer’s Defenders Of The Faith III tour followed shortly after In Waves’ release, along with a prominent slot at the 2012 Download Festival. But In Waves was opening doors in other places too, not just the UK.

Matt, Corey & Nick from Trivium on stage at Brixton during Defenders Of The Faith III
Trivium headlining the Defenders Of The Faith III Tour at Brixton Academy, December 2011

“It was a really interesting record cycle because on that record cycle in the US alone we did some very different tours” Matt remembers. “We did tours with In Flames, arenas with Five Finger Death Punch and theatres with Dream Theater. There aren’t many bands that would go with all three of those bands, maybe two outta three but not all three. For some reason we were able to have that crossover and I think it is because we’ve always been shifting around to see what else we can do as a band and what else exists within our style.” In Waves would also lead Trivium to begin to crack Germany, one of the biggest countries in the world for metal outside of the UK and the US. “We flew in for a random slot at Wacken on the release date of (the single) In Waves and that was the first time that Germany really came around for us with In Waves” says Matt. “What’s interesting with In Waves is that In Waves is Germany’s Ascendancy, and Wacken is Germany’s Download”. So a process that began for Trivium in the UK back in 2005 with their 11am Download Festival main stage opening slot was almost duplicated six years and three albums later in Germany. In Waves of course also brought about a change in the Trivium live set, with the title track coming to replace Pull Harder On The Strings Of Your Martyr as the obligatory set closer, where it remains to this day, something Matt smiles about, and thinks they would have found it “pretty crazy” if you had told the band that would happen at the time.

“What’s interesting with In Waves is that In Waves is Germany’s Ascendancy, and Wacken is Germany’s Download”

The middle of the 2010’s brought mixed fortunes for Trivium. Neither 2013’s David Draiman produced Vengeance Falls or 2015’s Silence In The Snow managed to hit the heights of In Waves, bringing with them varying reactions from fans and critics. However, each of those albums produced singles very important to Trivium’s career (more on those in a minute). On the live front, things were still going very well, at least in the UK. A huge co-headline tour with Killswitch Engage in February 2014 was very well received and was followed by an invitation to headlne the second stage at Download once again in 2014, while the following year Trivium were invited to headline a UK festival main stage for the first time, on the opening night of Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2015.

Trivium performing at Download Festival 2014
Trivium headlining the Zippo Encore stage at Download 2014

While neither Vengeance Falls or Silence In The Snow went as well as they could have done, they resulted in the successful singles of Strife and Until The World Goes Cold respectively; Two tracks that have been very important for Trivium. “As you said Strife was one of the biggest singles ever for us and one of the biggest crossovers (into the rock mainstream) and same thing with the next record and Until The World Goes Cold being one of the most important songs we’ve ever released. Strife and World are when the US finally came around for us.” Matt underlined. “While all my records we’ve ever done are my favourite, there are lower favourites and those would obviously be Vengeance, Silence and Crusade.”

What exactly is it about those albums, especially Vengeance Falls and Silence In The Snow, and the process around them that perhaps yielded less satisfying results than the other albums? Matt explains how both of those albums came with approaches that Trivium have learned don’t necessarily serve them best. “With Vengeance and with Silence, both David and our Silence producer said to us that they wanted us malleable. It makes sense, it’s a technique most bands use where you aren’t overly committed to the stuff, you’d have the loose skeletons of the stuff but you’d finish it in the studio. But that also meant not doing vocals in pre-production which is something that we did on Crusade, not doing vocals in pre-production. That’s why the vocals weren’t as fleshed out as they could have been. On every other record besides those three, we had the music so fleshed out and so together, built by muscle memory, when we walked in the studio, we were so prepared for it, it would happen quickly. Deadmen, it took us 16 days to record the record because we were so prepared with the music. When it came to Vengeance Falls we didn’t really have the vocals prepared until we started recording them. While I’m proud of everything we did, Vengeance is an album where we stayed in a lane. We stayed in a lane and we didn’t allow ourselves to bring in certain aspects of what Trivium is.”

Aside from the production side of things, when it came to Silence In The Snow, Matt Heafy was also still recovering from his well documented (here on Rock Sins and in other places) vocal blowout of 2014 – an event that almost cost the band their aforementioned Download Festival slot in 2014. “I really didn’t know if I was going to be able to scream again and this had happened to me two or three times in my career where I’d had to quit screaming” Matt reminds us. “Silence was an interesting time, the song Silence In The Snow was actually written way back for Shogun, it was written when we saw Heaven and Hell live in Japan and I was able to talk to Dio. That song, or the essence of what became Silence In The Snow, we put that in our back pocket as it didn’t feel right for Shogun, but it was right for Silence. Silence is another record where we decided to pick a lane and stay in it. That lane was the idea of staying within the classic metal boundaries. The big influence of Sabbath, Dio, Heaven & Hell, Iron Maiden…”. When suggested to him that many people have described Silence In The Snow as “their Judas Priest” album, Matt talks about the mixed blessings of that. “For people to say that is really cool but again it’s not allowing certain aspects of the Trivium sound again which was a conscious decision and it was an album with weird recording circumstances, not knowing if I was gonna scream, working with someone who didn’t really understand us and where we’d come from from the metal aspects, not understand aspects of death metal or metalcore and their understanding really only being the biggest classic metal”.

Finishing off this part of the discussion, Matt is both philosophical and positive. “If those two records only had those two songs to give, they still did so much for us. Until The World Goes Cold was our first ever time getting a top ten single in America. It’s become one of our most popular songs of our catalogue”. There’s also a message for those Trivium fans who may like those two albums more than some of the others: “if someone loves those two albums, if they love Vengeance and Silence, that’s great, please don’t allow what may sound like me being overly analytical to take that away from you”.

“if someone loves those two albums, if they love VengeAnce and Silence, that’s great, please don’t allow what may sound like me being overly analytical to take that away from you”

Trivium - Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2015 by Fiaz Farrelly
Trivium headlining Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2015 – photo by Fiaz Farrelly.

With 2017’s The Sin And The Sentence being heralded as one of the metal albums of the year by the vast majority of those who heard it, fans were as excited as they had been in years and the media were fully back on board too. Trivium had returned to doing things their own way, with less outside influence, and it paid off big time. It also led Trivium to assemble one of the most eagerly anticipated metal tours of recent years in the UK, where they topped a bill featuring fellow Roadrunner labelmates Code Orange, Texas thrashers Power Trip as well as UK homegrown extreme metal outfit Venom Prison. The tour was a total sellout, and put Trivium right back at the top of many people’s attention. An even more triumphant live show was to come at last years’ Download Festival, where they were one of the highlights of an incredible day featuring the likes of Slipknot, Halestorm, Skindred and Alien Weaponry. The album was crafted completely by the band, with drummer Alex Bent now part of Trivium’s current (and arguably tightest) lineup. As Matt put it simply “We looked back on our favourite Trivium records, what it was that made those albums so great and the parts of those approaches we wanted to put together”. Having re-learnt to scream all over again and with his well documented vocal training regime established, supplemented by doing it live on Twitch, everything was back on the table for Trivium. It was an approach that worked so well, that for the first time in the bands’ career, they kept it that way for the next album, which was to become What The Dead Men Say.

“What’s been crazy looking back at Sin, and from Sin to Deadman, its the first time ever in our career that two records haven’t been a drastic shift from each other. They’re not the same, they’re not meant to be the same style, they both have every ingredient from every record previous, but before that its always been a shift to a shift” Matt reflects. Of course everyone will have their own favourites from every record, but from the first time of hearing the advanced press copy of ‘Deadmen, one track instantly stood out. Any mention of someone listening to What The Deadmen Say on Twitter or discussion of the album will often be met by replies of “BLOODY CORPSES BROKEN BONES REVEAL” – the opening cry to the ridiculously heavy Amongst The Shadows And The Stones. “What’s really cool is that on this one Corey started off the writing and he sent it and he actually had the title and the vocal part. He was like hey guys I tracked a vocal part, which is something he rarely does” enthuses Matt. “So he sent it in with the Amongst The Shadows And The Stones (title) and we were like dude this sounds incredible. This song takes me back, it reminds me of the super heavy stuff from Ember, and a little bit of Ascendancy as well. Songs like When All Light Dies, and Pillars Of Serpents and probably Rain as well. We wanted to flip the song structure on its head, and have the screaming parts be the chorus. And having the singing parts which sound kinda Ascendancy-esque, have the verses be sung, with those sort of Swedish melodic death metal parts going on”.

Having gotten Matt into full songwriting remnisicing mode, Matt then reminded himself about the use of a technique in Amongst The Shadows And The Stones that they’ve successfully used previously before; “The pre-chorus is a fun part, when Corey brought in that pre-chorus riff it was muted, it was like makes machine gun noise, and I was like Corey just lift your right hand and lets open this up a little bit and it transformed it into something completely different. Now that I think about it, the same thing happened, I did the same thing with him on both Strife and Beyond Oblivion! He had a riff that was fully downpicked at first, and I just had him lift his hand and shift it and transformed it into something completely different”.

They may have not deviated in style between albums for the first time in their career, but its a gamble that certain paid off for Trivium. Indeed, they are a band for who the gambles generally pay off much more often than not. The success of A Light Or A Distant Mirror has allowed the band to begin purchasing an old aircraft hangar as a future headquarters, with prospects of a permanent base for future streaming opportunities as well as recording and having somewhere to keep all the bands gear and touring equipment. It’s a development that looks set to help keep Trivium at the forefront of metal for years to come, as they look to set themselves up as well as possible for a music world that is going to be dealing with the ramifications of COVID-19 for some time to come. It’s a fascinating start to a new decade for Trivium in uncertain times, but we wouldn’t bet against the next ten years being filled with more successes and an awful lot of interesting stories to tell.

What The Deadmen Say is out now on Roadrunner Records. Pick up the album and assorted other Trivium merch from the Roadrunner UK online store.

Header image by Cait Maxwell. Bloodstock image by Fiaz Farrelly. Other photos by Jamie Giberti.

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