The Kerrang! staff’s top albums of 2021
There have been plenty of absolutely incredible albums released in 2021. Here are all the records that have rocked our individual years…
On June 11 2005, a group of youngsters from Orlando, Florida found themselves bumped up from their slot on the third tier of Download Festival to a far more coveted place opening the main stage. In scenes not seen before or since, they seized the moment with both hands, drawing one of the biggest crowds of the weekend and duly levelling them in a series of furious circle pits across a no-nonsense five-song set. Since that day, the name Trivium has rarely been far from the modern metal conversation, whether being over-excitedly discussed as natural heirs to Metallica, or more-reasonably as the most dedicated and reliable of modern metal’s steadfast guardians.
It’s hard to believe that we’re now 15 years on from that grey Saturday morning at Donington, and that Trivium have since amassed a truly substantial nine-album catalogue which – although never quite reaching those stadium metal expectations – is capable of going toe-to-toe with of any of their peers.
In frontman Matt Heafy, guitarist Corey Beaulieu and bassist Paolo Gregoletto, one of the most colourful and creative central axes in heavy music continues innovate and expand relatively traditionalist sounds, while their Spın̈al Tap-esque revolving line-up of drummers (from the terrifying Travis Smith to current virtuoso Alex Bent) have ensured that vision is always delivered at 100mph. Picking just 20 tracks from such a solid (yet shape-shifting) repertoire feels like an inevitably thankless task, but we thought we’d have a go regardless...
It mightn’t have seen the light of day until 2015, but the title-track and lead single to Trivium’s seventh album actually dates all the way back to 2007. Touring Japan in support to Heaven & Hell (aka Dio-fronted Black Sabbath), they were stunned by the power and grandeur of the more minimalist classic metal sound and began toying to see if it was something they could reasonably replicate. It took another eight years for them to grow into the sound, but when Silence In The Snow finally emerged, it proved that they could could pull off chest-stretching feats with widescreen panache. Fans of their regular bludgeoning metalcore have been reluctant to truly embrace the vision, but taken on its own terms, SITS is an undeniably massive, unapologetically epic banger.
2017’s eighth LP The Sin And The Sentence was a breathtaking return to form for Trivium, providing the debut for fifth drummer Alex Bent and a return to the harsher vocal edge that had been missing on Silence In The Snow. Third single Betrayer is a dynamic highlight, with layers of black metal riffage and tremolo-picked guitars stacking up, while Bent’s scattergun drums and Matt Heafy’s alternately harsh and melodic vocals combine for a full-blooded, flavoursome whole. The track even earned Trivium their first-ever GRAMMY nomination, getting the nod for Best Metal Performance in 2019.
It might’ve taken another couple of years to really light the fires of the Trivium machine, but 2003’s debut LP Ember To Inferno roared, at points, with the bright-burning potential of a band dying to take on the world. Although the surging Pillars Of Serpents and smashing title-track deserve recognition, too, we’ve gone for penultimate track When All Light Dies as our first pick. ‘In this chasm, lying broken,’ Matt sings, ‘Is a child, charred inside / No more is there any hope / Shattered bones, bloodied scars...’ A torrent of riffage and high atmospherics foreshadowed the brilliance of the complex songwriting we’d come to take for granted in the years that followed.
Trivium’s fourth album Shogun might be their technical masterpiece – a collection of songs absurdly overflowing with riffs and fresh textural ideas – but its fourth single was proof that the band were willing and able to put those strengths to work in service of some seriously evocative imagery. Although Throes Of Perdition is, at its core, a regulation hate-song to the cheats and betrayers (‘Pull another knife out / Stick it with the rest of them / When my back is full / Turn me around to face it...’) the melodramatic lyrical treatment and furious riffage elevate it with a timeless, primal conviction.
Although they would quickly outgrow the scene, Trivium were for a time a major force the early-2000s American metalcore boom. Requiem is a potent snapshot of that moment in time. With Matt’s unsophisticated lyrics capturing the melodramatic emo feel of the time (‘How can you just stand there and stare / The world burns alight the air / Fire of passion ignite / Open yourselves to fight’) and guitars riffing heavily on the rich, Gothenburg melodic death metal sound, it’s still an intoxicating brew. More piercing, certainly, than the relatively wet likes of Dying In Your Arms and The Rising on the records that followed.
It wasn’t picked up as a single, but the sixth song on The Sin And The Sentence feels like a monumentally well-rounded showcase of Trivium’s latter-day excellence. Built around a tech-death metal riff the likes of which Gojira would surely be proud, there’s a real sense or purposeful bludgeon. It’s counterbalanced, however, by moments of glassy melody and a guitar solo that seems to break through the clouds, out of the storm and into blue skies above. Lyrically focused on people’s addictions to bad situations they find themselves in, of course, the song plunges us back into the tempest as it gouges its way across the finish line.
Although latest LP What The Dead Men Say features some of the sparsest deployment of melody in the whole Trivium back-catalogue, its second track and third single is a particularly rough-edged banger. Exploding out of the blocks in a blur of momentous rage, Amongst The Shadows & The Stones doesn’t really let up for the rest of its five-and-a-half minutes. The theme of fighting for a lost cause adds some seriously badass emotional heft. ‘The harder we fight, the faster we fall / Stabbed in the back, defeated we crawl / The joke in the end that no one will know / We're dying for nothing at all.’ A reminder, perhaps, that even as metal is increasingly divided and diluted, Trivium will remain steadfast as protectors of the old ways.
In Greek mythology, Scylla and Charybdis were sea creatures who lay on opposite sides of narrow bodies of water, positioned in such a way that sailors swerving far enough to avoid one would always fall into the reaches of the other. In modern terms, one might narrow its metaphor as 'stuck between a rock and a hard place'. Trivium expand it, however, as an allegory life itself, facing new challenges with every yard moved forward. ‘A fight that tests the substance / Of all that you call your life / Destruction by decision / Fate shows me my open tomb.’ Musically, it matches up as one of Shogun’s shred-heavy highlights: the electric guitar-work and frenetic percussion a perfect match for the themes of ever-impending peril.
Although it was dropped as the third promo before In Waves’ release, third track Inception Of The End was strangely overlooked as an actual single release, in favour of Built To Fail, Black and Watch The World Burn. Its potent blend of thrash and tech-death made for a thrilling, high-tempo combination, all the same. ‘Hands are shaking,’ sings Matt. ‘Heart is breaking / It's for the taking / Every single thing!’ Indeed, this felt like a bridge-point, harking back to the unbound ferocity with which they broke onto the scene, and laying the template for their current status as imperious, unbending scene-leaders.
The first track to emerge post-Shogun, and the first to feature Nick Augusta on drums, Shattering The Skies Above was written to feature on the soundtrack to gore-strewn PS3 hack-and-slasher God Of War III. Aesthetically, it furiously matches up. ‘Shattering the skies above,’ roars Matt, ‘I won't rest 'til I am drenched in blood.’ A blistering showcase, its cutting riffage land like a hail of razorblades while the nailbomb percussion cranks up a frenzied atmosphere. It’s the blade-flashing guitar solos which really push it to the next level, though, melding with Matt’s melodic vocals for a rich counterpoint to the brutality on show elsewhere.
As the lead single to Trivium’s breakthrough LP, Like Light To The Flies was pivotal in opening the floodgates for that initial tidal-flow of support. Simpler and more direct than subsequent singles Pull Harder On The Strings Of Your Martyr and A Gunshot To The Head Of Trepidation, it feels – with retrospect – like a bridge between the Ember To Inferno era and this burning new dawn. It also absolutely shreds. Although one of the most lyrically abstract of their early works (‘Devoutly wished for blinded eyes / This tragedy's like light to the flies / This seems to suit you better / Bleeding out the eyes') the underlying theme of humankind being irresistibly drawn to tragedy was a powerful one – which Trivium’s heroes in Metallica would tackle themselves with Death Magnetic three years later.
Fifteen years from the moment Ascendancy thrust them into the metal spotlight, ninth album What The Dead Men Say felt like the work of artists growing truly comfortable with the mantle of defenders of the faith. Lead single Catastrophist is a perfect showcase of their matured sound, at times evoking the angular bludgeon of Gojira and Meshuggah, but preferring melody over heaviosity for a more dynamic overarching sound. ‘I feel like we're falling,’ Matt sings, pushing a faintly environmentalist agenda, well-suited to a singer recently forced to livestream through a hurricane. ‘A lifeline just out of our reach / I feel our collapsing / The arrogant numb to our needs...’ They might be singing about saving the world, but songs like this are integral to the long-term survival of heavy metal itself.
For the best part of the 2010s, it felt like Trivium had settled into their role as one of modern metal’s dependable light-heavyweights: a band guaranteed to deliver the goods, if not the sheer unbound excitement of their early career. Not only was The Sin And The Sentence a return to form, however, but it uncorked an infectious joie de vivre, enlivening and channelling their at-times-disparate musical passions into a sound that made sense and sounded unmistakably Trivium. The album’s title-track and lead single is the ultimate statement of that, rolling in on a wave of euphoric black metal, dropping some lyrics that peak Iron Maiden would be proud of (‘I heard the passing bells calling out my name / I knew I'd never see another day / I couldn't swim against the tides of blame / I knew there was no other way’) and firing on through six minutes of complexity that manages to feel daringly progressive without a second to spare.
Perhaps the most personal cut on the album, Ascendancy’s fifth track finds Matt Heafy delving into the feelings that almost drowned him before his band found their steep upward curve. Swimming in its feeling of anxiety, boredom, betrayal and failure, there is a nervous, pent-up feel as the riffage swells and subsides across its resigned chorus: ‘Time will always be the thing that kills me truly / Open these eyes waking from a dream feigning.’ The gathering storm breaks into a breathtaking emotional deluge around the two-and-a-half minute mark, even if the song does stop short of any real sense of resolution.
Named after an ancient Japanese expression (“Kiri-sute gomen”) dating back to the country’s feudal era, which referred to the Samurai’s right to strike down anyone of a lower class who they felt had compromised their honour, the opening track to Shogun is a towering epic that expressed Trivium’s intent right at the outset. Combining elements of black and trad metal, classical composition and avant-garde, it was a grandstanding showcase, not only of the Floridians’ astonishing technical abilities, but also of their inventive ability to deploy those sounds in service of the most niche high-brow concepts. Special mention to Travis Smith’s percussion here, too, which eschews 100mph showing-off to evoke the ancient sounds of the tale they’re telling.
The third single from Ascendancy combined the aggression, technicality and furious purpose of what had come before to a more emotionally-accessible concept and polished it to a fist-pumping shine for a compelling showcase of Trivium's potential to be the biggest band in metal. Taking the perspective of a child in a broken home, observing and suffering the effects of domestic violence, any lack of lyrical nuance – ‘Just look at the scars you make / Your terror makes your kids break / A broken home just as you were raised / With fist raised up to your children’ – actually fits perfectly with the through-child’s-eyes concept. Its powerful promise that such suffering can make you stronger is carried home by the thumping percussion and power chords of a closing movement that felt audaciously custom-tooled for arenas.
The promise that Trivium were the “new Metallica” might’ve fallen by the wayside over the years as the Floridians have carved a more individualist path, but the combination of a potent anti-war message and an absolute riff-avalanche on Shogun’s drum-tight third single felt comparable to the San Franciscan titans at their absolute peak. ‘The vampires feed on the wars of mankind / Growing fat on the throne of an empire / Tyrant rules with the threat of a great fire… They'll blow it all to bits / To prove whose god wields all the power / Fire rains down from the sky!’ Matt’s wordy lyrical treatment does little to undermine one of their most breathlessly exhilarating cuts.
The second single from Ascendancy kickstarted Trivium’s initial, stratospheric ascent. A savage sonic profile of some villainous tyrant with the ability to kill and destroy at the click of their fingers, who pushes his faith on his subjects, and who commands love and respect through the spread of xenophobia – what was originally an fantastical concept feels uncomfortably familiar in 2020. Its bottomless innovation and battering ram momentum bridged the metalcore/NWOAM gap, feeling like an essential track in the heavy evolution of the time. Even the infamous YouTube “interpretation” of the track (‘BOAT! RUDDER! STRANGE! MOUNTAIN!’) couldn’t dent its stats as one of the 2000s’ definitive metal anthems.
All together now: ‘IN WAAAVES!’ The lead single and title-track to fifth Album In Waves is perhaps Trivium’s most immediate work. Snarling out of the blocks (after calm-before-the-storm instrumental opener Capsizing The Sea) with that uncompromising, now-iconic beatdown riffage and its repeated titular mantra, In Waves has proven a pit-igniting highlight of their live set in the years since release. Digging a little deeper, there is real darkness in those crashing lyrics. ‘Do I end this all for the world to see?’ Matt asks. ‘Do I take everybody else down / Everybody else down with me?’ Fans have speculated over whether the song might be a rumination on depression or suicidal thoughts, although the band has never addressed this in-depth, its concussive power reflects a substantial thematic weight.
The closing title-track to fourth album Shogun is a staggering, shape-shifting tour de force, transitioning through numerous styles and unfurling one of Trivium’s most compelling narratives. Named after the highest-ranking general of the Japanese feudal era, one might expect historical detail, but its view of the battlefield is cast through a potent supernatural lens, depicting ‘spectres’, ‘demons’, 'serpents' and ‘monsters’ churned up by an ‘inferno’ that ‘spews out hell’s horde’. "It's one of the most epic tracks we have,” Matt told K! Back in 2014. “It's 12 minutes long, it's a fan favourite and it's off the most technical album we've done, with the most parts and most dimensions. 'Shogun' has everything we do as a band, all stuffed into one track." We can’t argue with that.
There have been plenty of absolutely incredible albums released in 2021. Here are all the records that have rocked our individual years…
It’s here: the Kerrang! verdict on the 50 albums that shaped 2021…
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