Despite being a permanent fixture in the metal world, TRIVIUM have had more ups and downs to negotiate than most. A nasty dose of Exploding Drummer Syndrome (now, thankfully, resolved) aside, the band's biggest enemy has always seemed to be the fickle nature of modern metal audiences. Having been praised to the skies for 2005's breakthrough record "Ascendancy" and then widely pilloried for its follow-up, "The Crusade", the Floridians probably guessed that things would not be running entirely smoothly. But the difference between TRIVIUM and countless like-minded bands that emerged during this century's first decade is that Matt Heafy, Paolo Gregoletto and Corey Beaulieu were always in this for long haul and, most satisfyingly, have always demonstrated great pride in the notion of being a heavy metal band, with equal quantities of old- and new-school energy fueling the fire.
Having stayed the course, TRIVIUM are justifiably brimming with confidence on "In the Court of the Dragon". The speed with which this record was put together, irrespective of circumstance, points to a laudable, collective drive to keep creating. This is the band's third album in four years, and just like "The Sin and the Sentence" and last year's "What the Dead Men Say", TRIVIUM's tenth album is a riotous, hook-stuffed and monstrously heavy blast of what we might as well call Total Trivium: a deft amalgam of all the greatest moments in the band's now two-decade history, delivered with startling ferocity.
If you want to know what a band with the wind in their sails sounds like, "In the Court of the Dragon" is a sustained, 50-minute blast of the stuff. After a suitably momentous intro, the title track detonates at full pelt, Heafy bellowing with newfound conviction over riffs of pure aggro, before a wickedly ignorant breakdown and some churning, discordant guitar lines worthy of PANTERA at their mid-'90s peak. The song's instrumental mid-section is a blizzard of old-school tropes, vicious thrash and post-metalcore precision. And then the final vocal refrain kicks in over a flurry of blastbeats, and even recalcitrant old cynics will be tempted to nod along. However you slice it, "In the Court of the Dragon" is an absolutely ripping heavy metal song. Like I say, TRIVIUM have confidence in ridiculous amounts right now, and it shows.
The remaining eight tracks are every bit as good, too. "Like A Sword Over Damocles" is all fiery, staccato riffing and blackened shading, but with a soaring chorus that reinforces this band's mastery of a hook. "Feast Of Fire" is two parts muscular, mid-paced crunch to one part radio-friendly arena rock colossus, with some of the finest bursts of incendiary lead work on the whole record (and there are shitloads of great solos here). "A Crisis Of Revelation" is a whirlwind of white-knuckle melo-death and prog metal histrionics, but again graced with a chorus of indecent size and weight. Similarly, "No Way Back But Through" is almost obnoxiously catchy, but the musical backdrop is an immaculate blur of brutish power and virtuoso technicality. Meanwhile, if it's drama you want, both "The Shadow Of The Abbatoir" and "Fall Into Your Hands" confirm that TRIVIUM have absorbed as much from the exploratory efforts of IRON MAIDEN, SAVATAGE and SANCTUARY as they have from any more obvious, recent influences. In fact, it's the lack of any no-brainer reference points that makes "In The Court Of The Dragon" such an obvious career peak for this most resilient of modern metal bands. Even the closing "The Phalanx", a song apparently written during the era of fourth album "Shogun" (2008) but newly repurposed, sounds curiously definitive: the sound of a great band enjoying a long streak of top form, with a crystal-clear vision and the expert chops to execute it.