Sound — 10
Trivium has been a band who has never been afraid of potentially alienating (or hopefully attracting) fans by changing up their sound from album to album. This practice began with their third album, 2006s "The Crusade," in which vocalist/guitarist Matt Heafy mostly eliminated screamed vocals as the band dropped its heavily melodic death metal influence in favor of traditional thrash metal. This was followed by the widely acclaimed "Shogun," which saw the band incorporate screaming vocals and some death metal influence into their newly adopted thrash style. Trivium then made waves again with their stylistically diverse fifth release, "In Waves," featuring tracks that alike displayed a polished sounding version of their early style as well as a number of mainstream friendly--and technically less complex--groove metal songs that would hint at their next release, Vengeance Falls." 2015 saw the band release its most controversial album yet, "Silence in the Snow." Completely devoid of harsh vocals in favor of Matt's always improving melodic singing, "SITS" was Trivium's most straightforward album both musically and lyrically; though mostly well-received, the album proved to be highly polarizing as many longtime fans yearned for the heavier, more complex Trivium of old.
Enter "The Sin and the Sentence." Though it would be foolhardy to assume they would ever stick to a single sound, Trivium have found a sound that comfortably encompasses the strengths of their past albums in the same manner that "Shogun" had done in its time. Mostly gone are the bludgeoning groove riffs that were dominantly featured on many of the songs from the last three albums. Instead, "The Sin and the Sentence" employs a musical style more akin to their 2005 breakthrough "Ascendancy," complete with dual-guitar harmonies, tight melodic guitar riffs, flashy drumming, and split-clean and screamed vocals from Matt. Aside from the standard melodeath influence throughout the album that is comparable to "Ascendancy" and certain parts of "In Waves," there are certain melodic sensibilities in the clean vocals and guitar melodies that sound closer to "Silence in the Snow," and throughout the album there are elements of each previous album. By combining these sounds, Trivium have made two major accomplishments: first, they have blended varying heavy and melodic styles while simultaneously offering a coherent sound (avoiding the "In Waves" pitfall of which there are two widely different dominant styles on the album); second, the band has offered new incoming fans a taste of their early musical style while still retaining a polished sound, proving that they can make music that is both accessible to casual listeners and pleasing to all but the most elitist of old-school fans.
The opening title track immediately signals a new era for Trivium--featuring a tremolo-picked guitar melody (a technique used on other tracks on this album) and fast drumming, with a clean vocal verse that gradually builds, "The Sin and the Sentence" channels Trivium's inner power metal...until the chorus kicks in, treating fans to a chorus that is both crushing and catchy with layered screamed and clean vocals; the trade-off melodic and heavy sections (the latter especially on display in the outro) are a taste of what's in store for the remainder of the album. "Beyond Oblivion" continues what the opener started with more high tempo, aggressive drumming passages and heavy guitar riffs, with atmospheric verses, a pre-chorus with call gang vocals and response screams, and a midtempo, melodic chorus. "Other Worlds" kicks off a lighter side to the album, complete with emotional vocals and a pretty chorus that would be at home on "Silence in the Snow." "The Heart From Your Hate" is the most straightforward song on the album, utilizing a slowed down verse with a fist-pumping (though repetitive) chorus that is sure to be picked up by some active rock radio stations (as "Until the World Goes Cold" had a couple years ago) and like the previous track would have been comfortable on any of their previous three efforts. Longtime fan nostalgia for the band to do a throwback to their "Ascendancy" is sure to be fulfilled by "Betrayer," while "The Wretchedness Inside," a song that Matt Heafy ghost-wrote for another band a few years ago but was ultimately never used, has a pounding guitar riff and aggro vocals that hearkens back to "In Waves." "Endless Night" isn't the bands first forray into pop-metal (think "Dying in Your Arms," "This World Can't Tear Us Apart," and "A Grey So Dark"), and while these attempts by the band have been known to be controversial to some fans, Trivium's ability to write solid pop-metal often gets overlooked, and this is another track that has potential to give Trivium some much-deserved airplay. "Sever the Hand" displays some death metal influence in the middle section that will surely remind fans of the band's beloved masterpiece "Shogun." The soft intro of "The Beauty in the Sorrow" misleads the listener by kicking into a memorable guitar riff that guides the rest of the song (reminiscent of "VF" gem "Incineration: The Broken World"). "The Revanchist," as the title track had done, brings forth a song that would fit with the structural and stylistic compositions of "The Crusade" and "Shogun" while keeping up with the melodic pallette that made "SITS" so accessible, a culminating sound with aspects of new and old at the same time. The album closes with what is sure to be a fan favorite, "Thrown Into the Fire," which is not only the band's next single and is to be used in their live sets for the first leg of tour, but is the heaviest song on the album, and would please fans of the band's early work including their debut "Ember to Inferno."
The musicianship of "The Sin and the Sentence," while not quite as strenuous as "The Crusade and "Shogun," is impressive from all four members, showing Trivium has been itching to move beyond the solid-yet-relatively simplistic songs of their last few releases. The x-factor in this equation is ability of Trivium's drummer, and newcomer Alex Bent is a godsend for the band; with all due respect to the Spinal Tap-esque rotating cast of Nick Augusto, Mat Madiro, and touring drummer Paul Wandtke, who were solid drummers and adequately filled the role according to the styles Trivium performed on the respective albums these guys were featured on, one has to wonder whether perhaps Trivium were writing with their drummer in mind, or if the other drummers were simply giving the beats that best suited the songs Matt, Corey, and Paolo were writing. It's hard to say, but what can be said for sure is that the band hasn't had drumming nearly good since Travis Smith departed after "Shogun." and Trivium has finally found a drummer with which they are comfortable performing. The technicality and aggression of Alex has breathed new life into the band, and this can be heard through Matt and Corey, whose riffs and solos have regained their technical vigor without sacrificing hook and memorability. Matt, who had previously taken a step back from doing anything particularly technical so he could focus on his improving vocals, seems to finally be comfortable with performing more interesting passages while singing.
Lyrics — 9
Typically most Trivium albums are dominated by Matt Heafy's often dark introspective or relationship-dealing lyrics, and he has said his lyrics are a medium to vent negative emotions and help him maintain a positive life outlook. There is some of this on "The Sin and the Sentence," but Matt also delves into political themes, and goes into new territory altogether for Trivium songs, writing lyrics that are an assault on religion. While social issues aren't completely alien to Trivium, with "The Crusade" largely revolving around socio-political themes, and throughout their career we've seen a handful of songs critical of war and military policy, but with some vague exceptions of religion being part of a song's lyrical narrative, it's never been tackled as a whole by Matt in a Trivium song before.
The title track discusses how people are easily manipulated by religion even when their intentions are well-meaning ("When honest man become deranged they'll genuflect to a lie"), how religion is used to condemn others for not conforming to its standards ("Guilty, but in the sight of fallen men/They'll bury you before you speak") ("Beware those who speak in tongues for they may call your name/You condemn me, but you don't understand me"), and what it claims to punish for such a transgression ("The sin and the sentence/Penance in the fire/The flames grip your throat").
"Sever the Hand" discusses how religion fails to fall in line with reality ("Liturgies and prophecies, they mean nothing to me/I believe in substance, not the patterns that you see"), how it holds humanity back ("Mindlessly crawling, you're choked on a leash/Seeking redemption, you practice and preach"), and that humanity ought to move past religion ("Sever the hand of any god or man to free yourself again").
"The Revanchist" describes an ambitious person trying to manipulate the masses by trying to relate to them, and uses some religious language further highlight the person's power. Revanchism defined as a nation trying to gain back what has been lost through revenge (usually gaining back land after a conflict), the song almost seems to describe President Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan. ("I've been waiting here on the outside/I've been watching you from afar...You say you've lost your world, you say you've lost your faith/I'll be the shelter in the dark, I'll clothe you in my hate/Profiteers and preachers, sycophants and leachers/The Revanchist, his thoughts become mine, how deeply they are intertwine/He said 'Submit for salvation'/The age old lie").
"Thrown Into the Fire" follows a similar idea, describing a fraudulent leader (Trump again, perhaps), and using religious language to both sarcastically exalt the leader and mock religion simultaneously ("I'd be thrown into the fire if they ever learned the truth/And the congregation weeps/Will you bless us? Will you grace us? Will you heal us? Will you save us with your mysterious ways"?).
"The Heart From Your Hate" lyrics are vague, but generally describe a toxic relationship, either with another person or with an institution such as religion ("It's easy to be right when everything repeats/It's easier to cut us down and point at our defeat...Maybe you were right, maybe I was wrong/But I've been silent for far too long"), and how the narrator wishes to separate the good aspects of the other entity from the bad ("What will it take to rip the heart from your hate?").
Matt's lyrics don't often cross into the realm of being poetic, but that's okay--one doesn't need to be a gifted lyricist to write good lyrics, and Matt's lyrics are often well-put and sometimes even deep. Sometimes he over-repeats a line, and some lines fall flat, but most of his lyrics on the album are as strong as they have ever been. Matt stepped up to the plate in writing thematic lyrics after focusing on introspection and relationships for the last few albums.
Overall Impression — 9
Trivium have never released a bad album, impressive for a band as prolific as they have been (eight albums in 14 years), and "The Sin and the Sentence" ranks among the bands better releases, an admirable achievement for a band's eighth album. Many fans will view it as a return to form due to the reincorporation of guttural vocals and more complex musicianship. If there are any weaknesses on this album, they lie with the occasional over-repetition of certain lines or passages on some songs, but it's never enough to actually kill any of the songs. "The Heart From Your Hate" is the weakest track on the album and probably one of the weaker songs in the band's catalogue, but is by no means a bad song; it's a solid radio-friendly tune that is simply too repetitious. Some fans may have issue with the band trying to please everyone by incorporating different styles of all of their past albums. This shouldn't be too much of a problem, however, as the styles are mostly blended, rather than juxtaposing a bunch of very different sounding songs on the same album. Producer Josh Wilbur, who has worked with a variety of artists from different genres, does a great job giving the album a coherent sound that sounds fantastic. The high points of the album are the return of the aggressive vocals along with Matt's fantastic clean vocals, Alex Bent's drumming, and the general variety the encompasses Trivium's Entire career.