Trivium: Paolo Gregoletto’s Track-By-Track Guide To What The Dead Men Say
It’s not hyperbole to say that Trivium’s new record is the best album they’ve released in a decade. What The Dead Men Say (the follow-up to 2017’s The Sin And The Sentence) sees them embrace their unabashed love for all things metallic, exploring the melodies and extremes in varying forms of heaviness.
“We wanted to make sure that we made a strong follow-up to the last record,” bassist and lyricist Paolo Gregoletto tells Kerrang!. “Alex [Bent, new drummer] being in the band has given us a new fire and energy. We wanted to have fun making this record but we wanted it to live up to the last one, and I think a lot of fans thought that was a return to us doing the thing that people love about Trivium – whether it’s heavy or big melodies or riffing out and having fun with it.”
And What The Dead Men Say isn’t short on riffs. Throughout its 10 tracks, the duelling guitars weave rich, chugging tapestries, showcasing the talents the Floridian heavyweights have built on since their 2005 breakthrough Ascendancy.
But what’s the record all about? Here, Paolo breaks down the influences and stories behind each song – from R. Kelly to heroin addicts to Philip K. Dick. There’s a lot going on.
“We consider the intro and What The Dead Men Say one song, but we made the decision to split it up because of streaming and the way things work now – long intros sometimes get weird with playlists. We decided to split it up and it runs straight into the song, so if you start on the intro it will feel like the way we originally wrote the title-track. We wrote the heavier part of the intro first then when we got into the studio we did the ‘clean’, almost Western-sounding part.”
What The Dead Men Say
“I’m always keeping a list of lyric ideas. I have a running list on my phone of any quotes, book titles or stories that I read; if anything gets in my head and it’s cool then I write it down. I was looking around to see if I could see anything that went along with what I was writing, and I came across the title What The Dead Men Say, which was a Philip K. Dick story he wrote in the ’50s for a magazine. I couldn’t find the story anywhere, but I know it’s inspiration for a later book that I’ve read, so I used it as inspiration.
“A lot of his books and concepts deal with half-life, the in-between state; a lot of the time the characters are confused if it’s their real life or a simulation. I was also thinking about how people deal with grief and death now. I was thinking about the hologram tours. I think they come from a good place, because you want to keep remembering people when they’re gone, and they’re themes I was thinking of when writing that song.
“I don’t think that’s one hundred per cent exactly what this song means, but I want people to be in that mindset and know about some things that inspired it. ”
“Our first instinct was to release the title-track first; it was a heavier song and there’s something nice about releasing the title-track – like we did with The Sin And The Sentence. We love both songs equally, but Catastrophist has a slow build into a more chaotic middle part, and any time we showed someone outside of the band that song, people gravitated towards it – I think because the chorus was so big.
“The literal meaning [of Catastrophist] is a geological term of people believing there are sudden extreme events in the world that change things, as opposed to the gradual longterm. But people are using it like it a belief system of using catastrophe to pick apart the wreckage to benefit you.
“With the pandemic and the response – facing down another potential financial meltdown – someone was saying to me the other day that these lyrics were predicting things. I don’t feel like it’s prediction, we’ve just been at these moments before. This isn’t a new thing, but now we’re experiencing it on a grander scale: it really doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, you’re going to be affected. When it’s all said and done, are we going to come out the end with the same result, where some people are left holding the bag while others make off with everything?”
Amongst The Shadows And The Stones
“Corey [Beaulieu, guitar] wrote the demo and brought it in. A lot of times, when we bring in demos, we don’t have lyrics, but Corey put the screaming part in there and it was awesome. Having that in there makes things a lot easier to think about.
“Musically, it’s definitely one of the heaviest songs on the record. In some ways it reminds me of early Trivium like Ember To Inferno, songs like Pillars Of Serpents which are straight-heavy the whole time – whereas Ascendency opened up to melody with the choruses. This is pre-Ascendency of straight-up riffiness.
“I felt like the lyrics needed to reflect that as well. When I saw the title, the first thing I thought of was the total wreckage from the last two decades of professional war that’s been engaged between The States and our allies; these bodies have been piling up and nobody can give good answers what for.
“People talk about PTSD and the horrors of war, but there’s not a lot of talk about the people it’s inflicted upon – especially innocent people – and the trauma inflicted on generations where there’s no help coming. I was trying to think through their eyes. It’s kind of bleak, and I wanted the lyrics to be as heavy as the riffs. I’m happy with the genre of music that we play because we get to dive into that stuff and not be shy about it. It’s definitely one of the standout tracks.”
Bleed Into Me
“I was riding back to the airport on the train here in Chicago and I saw someone shooting up heroin on the train. I was watching the guy go through the motion of things, looking back to make sure no-one was coming. In a lot of towns and cities, there are people who are just going through life being ignored – a lot of times, the easiest way to deal with an issue is to pretend it’s not there. You walk by people and you don’t know what they’re going through.
“That was my inspiration for the lyrics: making a brief connection with this other world happening around you. We have such a great life – we have the privilege of touring and making music, we have families – and I just needed this brief moment of going eye-to-eye with this person, telling me about their life and how this world exists whether you see it or not.”
“I was watching the R. Kelly documentary [Surviving R. Kelly] and I could not believe the amount of people that helped allow this man do this for so long. It’s just wild to me that there are so many who enable these kind of people. At the end of the day, if you actually care then you have to do something. Whether it’s going to work or not, you have to get up and do something. The verses describe these people who are so emboldened and empowered to be bad because people let them that they’re just doing it out in the open. The theme of our times is the shamelessness of [humanity] – it’s up to other people to get in the way and say, ‘No, you can’t do this.’
“People like Harvey Weinstein going to prison, who would have thought someone so powerful could be brought down and reduced to what he is now? That took a lot of people doing a lot uncomfortable things, putting themselves out there and deciding it was worth risking everything to bring someone like that down. That is what the song is about: it’s about standing up for something and being the defiant people in between the innocent who are affected, and not caring that it’s going to affect your career.”
Sickness Unto You
“Matt [Heafy, vocals/guitar] has gone through some really big changes in the past year with the birth of his children, but at the same time, his dog was dying and it was a very painful experience of having life coming in as you’re losing something that is so close to you. It’s that crushing sense of loss as these great things are coming into your life. It was a really dark point – especially having to leave our tour to be with his wife while he’s preparing for the birth of his kids and some crazy stuff happening. That was one of the most personal songs on the record, and I feel like Matt’s usually best with that. There’s a lot of empathy in him, and when things like that happen it really affects him on a large scale and that comes through in the lyrics.”
Scattering The Ashes
“Corey had the title Scattering The Ashes; he had just lost his grandfather and flew up to Maine to be with his family, and they went out on a boat to scatter his ashes out in the ocean. We were talking about the lyrics and what we wanted it to be. I wanted to make a song that was about scattering the ashes, but more of a narrative of a father/son who hadn’t dealt with these unresolved issues and how things were cut short without being resolved. Things in life aren’t like a movie ending where they are tied up nicely. A lot of times you have to live with regret. You try to work through it, but it’s a part of life.”
Bending The Arc To Fear
“One of the things you hear a lot of people reference is the Martin Luther King quote, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ And I do understand the concept that things that weren’t acceptable years ago are now – over time things do work out – but it’s not a one-way street, things can be bent both ways.
“In America we have these sprawling suburbs where, for decades, people have moved out the cities and lost a connection with people. You have your house, you see your neighbour, you drive to work, you go to your office, and then leave. Everyone’s very itemised, and so I was thinking about these people having surveillance things in their home watching everything. You’re not experiencing the world, you’re seeing it through little lenses – the camera on your house, the Facebook group of your neighbourhood – and this paranoia and weird state of alert that people live in now.”
The Ones We Leave Behind
“This song came in way different to where it ended up. Corey had a demo that was a lot slower, a way different vibe. We jammed it and there wasn’t that spark there yet, so I said that cliché metal thing of, ‘What if we play it faster?’ So we did! We kept going until it felt right and had some energy. We kept the overlay parts, we kept the title, it was just coming up with lyrics to fit it.
“I based it off things I’d been reading like Winners Take All [by Anand Giridharadas], this view of how things are run in the world – a couple of people can win but a lot of people have to lose for that to happen. As the winners move forward, they’re leaving people back here in the wake of all this destruction. It feels timely, because it’s something we’re always dealing with.
“I think we chose it as the closing track because it’s a heavy topic and maybe not necessarily a positive song, but melodically it felt like an epic closing track. The outro with the melodic guitars, that was a thing we did in the studio and that sold me on being the outro to the record.”
What The Dead Men Say is out now 24 via Roadrunner – order your copy now.
Read this next:
Watch the video for Bleed For Within’s Night Crossing, featuring Trivium frontman Matt Heafy.
Watch twenty one pilots’ incredibly old-school lyric video for Level Of Concern.