Live: Trivium, the Jackson 5 of Underground Metal
Trivium: shop-class greasers as metal stars
Trivium + the Sword Nokia Theatre October 10, 2006
The best part of every metalcore song is the breakdown, the part where the drums drop out and the guitars slow their frantic gallop to a devastating, precise crunch-riff and everyone in the moshpit goes extra nuts. A good metalcore band like Unearth is usually pretty generous with their breakdowns, sometimes cramming two or three of them into a single song. But it's hard to see why no band has figured out yet that it should just play all breakdowns all the time.
All breakdowns all the time is sort of what the Sword does, and that's what makes the Sword both retro and great. The band plays slow, elephantine riffs and sings about dragons and wears jean-jackets. Virtually everything they do is pretty much a straight-up pastiche of 70s boogie-metal bands like Black Sabbath, right down to the pick-slides; there's not a single original moment on Age of Winters, their debut album. They're not a metalcore band at all, and they'd probably get really annoyed if anyone tried to describe them as one. But the cumulative effect of all the thudding riffage and strangulated howls on Age of Winters is something like what might happen if Unearth played forty minutes' worth of breakdowns back-to-back. Rhythm is virtually extinct from underground metal these days, and there's something deeply refreshing in hearing a band so single-minded in its pursuit of a sort of pulsing hypnotic stomp; it's that repetitive haze that's made Age of Winters one of my favorite rock albums of the year.
When you hear Age of Winters, you expect the people responsible for these songs to look like titans. But onstage at the Nokia Theatre last night, the members of the Sword looked like nervous skinny guys. The band was opening for thrash-metallers Trivium in front of a crowd of kids that had never heard of them, and they didn't seem ready for it. On the big stage, the three guys up front all stood with their feet planted and their hair hanging inert in their faces, keeping their stage patter minimal and not making any attempt to connect with their audience; they didn't even bother to synchronize their headbangs. If their drums and bass had been loud enough to punch us in the chest, that stuff wouldn't matter, but they weren't, so it did. The Nokia Theatre usually has a great sound mix, but for some reason all we got last night was a tinny fog. Every once in a while, frontman JD Cronise would come up with a full-throated Danzig bellow, but he didn't do anything to sell it the way Danzig would've. The people in the crowd didn't really know how to react. For the first half of the band's set, everyone stood around staring. Somewhere around the halfway point, though, a violent moshpit suddenly erupted, and it came tantalizingly close to a full-on brawl between security guards and scary moshpit bruiser guys at one point (the bouncers backed off). Near the end of the set, some people started chanting for the headliner while a few others yelled "the Swoooord!" back at them. Through all that confusion, the band kept its head down and played its songs: no fanfare, no theatrics. It was boring.
Voice review: Brandon Stosuy on the Sword's Age of Winters
So I hope the guys in the Sword were taking notes when the headliners were onstage. Trivium is three albums deep into its career, but all the members of the band are pretty young, and they're still finding their voice. They're from Florida, and they unfortunately don't show any traceable Miami bass influence. They do, however, steal plenty of blastbeats from old-school Florida death-metal, but their biggest source is unquestionably circa-1986 Metallica; their new album, The Crusade, is pretty much a straight-up pastiche. I like it, but it feels like a huge backwards leap after their last one, last year's Ascendancy. That album gave its thrash a triumphal heft with soaring, histrionic emo chorus-vocals. They've largely done away with those now; frontman Matt Heafy has decided that maybe people will stop making fun of him if he totally jacks James Hetfield's clipped bark, which is a shame. It's an awkward misstep from a band too young to know much better.
Onstage, though, Trivium looks a whole lot sturdier than they did when they opened for In Flames at Webster Hall earlier this year. Their stage setup is a thing of beauty: huge interlocking banners, swivel-mounted laser-strobes, billowing fog machines. And they've mastered the sort of big-rock cliches that only work when they're done without even the faintest hint of irony: stereo headbanging, devil-horn flashing, the foot-on-the-monitor pose. They walk out onstage to ominous operatic music, and all three guitars are some variation on the flying-V (the bass is more like a flying-H, and Heafy's guitar is maybe a flying-K). I don't know if they had industrial fans at the foot of the stage or what, but their hair always seemed to be blowing backwards. I love this shit, and so did the crowd. There's a reason why all these ridiculous power-fantasy poses have become cliches; it's still a blast to see someone pull them off. The Crusade had been released earlier that day, and the band mostly stuck with its older songs because those were the songs that everyone already knew, which meant big singalongs. The sound was still a mess, but it didn't matter in the slightest.
The only thing that really needed work was Heafy's stage patter. He's still figuring out how to be a metal star, so he's sticking with the old reliables: inquiries as to whether us motherfuckers are having fun, instructions to make some fucking noise. Stirred in with all their flashy virtuosity, those moments of awkwardness were actually really endearing; it's hard not to cheer for these kids to become the massive rock stars they really, really want to be. My favorite part: "This is a new one, so it might be a bit obscure to some of you. If you don't know it, bang your head, start a fucking pit. Those are probably your best bets." I guess he was worried we'd all start doing the running man or something.
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