Sound — 8
If only one band can truly be considered something of a progenitor of the current style of mainstream metal, Trivium is often one of the first bands that come to mind. And with past albums like "Ascendancy", "Shogun" and "In Waves", they can also be considered one of the few bands to have perfected the style. However, to their name, they've also had their fair share of critical blunders. "The Crusade" was a bit polarizing at the time with its emphasis on clean vocals and classic thrash metal riffs, while "Vengeance Falls" and, in particular, "Silence in the Snow" showcased a far simpler, more mainstream approach to the band's style, with the latter also eschewing Matt Heafy's harsh vocals. So with confidence in the band fairly low in some quarters, especially with an album that's arguably a bit of a low point for them so fresh in people's minds, "The Sin and the Sentence" is going to have to step up Trivium's game quite significantly to win over fans that maybe felt a little disenfranchised by their last album.
Happily, "The Sin and the Sentence" shows a return to form for the band, bringing back Heafy's harsh vocals, emphasizing the interplay between Heafy's and Corey Beaulieu's blistering riffs, and showing a far more "metal-oriented" rhythm section from bassist Paolo Gregoletto and new drummer (their fourth since original drummer Travis Smith left in 2009) Alex Bent, whose blast beats dominate several tracks on the record. The title track in particular shows the band's penchant for pummelling instrumental work perfectly, but it's in Matt's vocals and the tightness of the songwriting where the band also shows that they're not quite ready to abandon the tailor-suited-for-radio accessibility of their most recent works. But this does not come at the expense of the music, which on this track showcases some brilliant playing from Heafy and Beaulieu, including some very classic metal guitar harmonies before the solo, and some key changes in the outro riff that almost bring the sound into Meshuggah territory.
Even on some of the album's more accessible tracks like "Beyond Oblivion", "Betrayer" and "Other Worlds", there are still complexities in the instrumentation that give this album a huge musical edge over "Silence in the Snow". That said, there are still a few songs that are born chart-toppers, like "The Heart From Your Hate", the simplistic "Beauty in the Sorrow", and the almost "pop-metal" melodic aesthetic of "Endless Night", and there are even a couple of moments where you are left wondering if Trivium is aping bands like Periphery a little bit, like on the almost djenty "The Wretchedness Inside", perhaps the heaviest song Trivium has released in years. "Sever the Hand" features a diverse range of tempos and switches from melodic to some of the bands heaviest and fastest material in ages. The seven-minute "The Revanchist" is about as close to a "prog-metal" track as we've seen from Trivium in ages, and the album closes on the delightfully heavy and pummeling "Thrown into the Fire".
The writing and production are every bit as on-point as any other Trivium release thus far, with Josh Wilbur taking the producer's chair for this record. There's a certain production style to this subgenre of metal and Trivium does little to deviate from it, and because of that it's a pretty loud, in-your-face record without a lot of dynamic range or headroom, but it's also a very polished-sounding mix. The writing does toe the line into that mainstream territory exemplified on "Silence in the Snow", but only rarely allows itself to stick in that style for long, giving the album perhaps a bit more diverse sound than their last few records.
Lyrics — 8
I usually start this section of reviews by picking apart the lyrics, and then moving on to the vocal style, but Heafy's vocals have been a point of consternation for so many over the last few albums that I feel the need to break with tradition and let you know that yes, indeed, Matt's harsh vocals are back! In fact, a couple of tracks even tend to rely solely on harsh vocals, such as "The Wretchedness Inside", which is a stark contrast to the entirety of "Silence in the Snow" being clean vocals. His clean vocals are still quite present on the album, especially in the very catchy choruses of many of the songs. But the mix of harsh vocals and clean vocals that made albums like "Ascendancy" and "Shogun" so well-received in the metal community is back in action on "The Sin and the Sentence", and I feel like the improvements to both aspects of Matt's vocals have made this perhaps his best album on a vocal level.
Lyrically, the band presents pretty typical lyrics for the genre, with lots of rich imagery about dealing with one's inner demons and insecurities. Lyrics like the ones from "Endless Night" show a bit of emotional frankness but enough crypticness that the immediate meaning of the track is not too readily apparent: "Is it a sin/To miss the hell/That you survived/With best of friends/At worst of times/I never got the answer/They never told me/If you're not careful/What doesn't kill you/Can control you/Now it defines me/And it reminds me/That it will never let me go". The working title for the album became the title for the album's longest track, "The Revanchist", and may have given a clue to some of the themes of the album as well, showing a propensity for distrust, particularly of religious figures: "Profiteers and preachers/Sycophants and leachers/The Revanchist, his thoughts become mine/How deep they become intertwined/He said/Submit for salvation/The age old lie". The lyrics on this album are mostly pretty stock mainstream modern metal lyrics, but as well-written as they are, it's hard to find any fault in them.
Overall Impression — 8
With the band risking their fanbase by changing up their style every couple of albums so far, it's safe to say there'll probably be a lot of opinions floating around about "The Sin and the Sentence", some of them informed perhaps before one even hears the album. But with all the inconsistencies of the band's past catalogue behind them, it's pleasing to hear that on this new album, Trivium has decided to emphasize many of the best elements of the band's previous works, striking a nearly-perfect balance between the melodic and accessible nature of their most recent records and the complex, pummeling sounds of their older works. They've been able to find a good middle ground between writing catchy songs, and complex showcases of their musicianship.
This is easily the best album Trivium has released since "Shogun", though it's still not a completely perfect album. While the variety might play in its favour for most people, some people may still find the album a little inconsistent, perhaps even jarring, but for most fans, this album is sure to be regarded as a true return to form, but one that hasn't ignored the best elements of the band's recent experimentation. For those who may have been disappointed in "Silence in the Snow", their experimentation has actually paid off quite handsomely on "The Sin and the Sentence".