My Trivium fandom extends quite a long way back.
I believe I was about 13 when I first heard 2004’s ‘Ascendancy’ for the first time, the title track as well, coincidently, and I was immediately floored by what I had just heard. It was because my Year 8 English class had this assignment where we had to write a poem and match it up with a song. Someone in my class chose the album’s eponymous track and it definitely got the attention of a few people who had chosen, shall we say, softer songs. I chose Blink-182’s ‘Adam’s Song‘ because I still didn’t resent them for trying too hard, much like they did with ‘California‘ this year. ANYWAY! By this stage, I was still within the entry level in terms of my taste for heavy music. Basically, it was just Metallica and Iron Maiden, and knowing younger me, probably some Pantera in there as well. But here was a band that combined Metallica’s thrash sound with Iron Maiden’s harmonic guitars and with a slight dash of melodic death metal thrown into the mix for good measure. They almost immediately became my new favourite band, and I got into ‘Ascendancy’ and 2006’s ‘The Crusade’ heavily, this being around a year and a half before 2008’s masterful ‘Shogun’ was released. I’ll just come out and say it now, I regard ‘Shogun’ to be the true musical peak for Trivium. It’s a musicians album and it’s the second most underappreciated album they have ever released, right after 2006’s ‘The Crusade’, of course (seriously, if you do not enjoy ‘Anthem (We Are The Fire)‘, Becoming The Dragon‘ or ‘Detonation‘, then I do not want to know you). It took me a long time after that to actually go back and listen to ‘Ember To Inferno’ properly. ‘Ember…’ was, after all, the band’s debut album released way back in 2003 on the small indie label, Lifeforce Records, and it’s a somewhat different beast to what Trivium has grown into now.
Which is exactly how frontman Matt Heafy feels. In a recent interview with Killyourstereo.com for the reissue of the band’s debut album, the singer/guitarist says that “It’s amazing to look back on the record, as before discussing this re-release, I always considered ‘Embers To Inferno’ as ‘Ascendency Junior’ as it was very similar to Ascendency. But looking back now after re-listening to all the different versions of the record, it’s actually a very different record from Ascendency. It’s one that has a unique quality when compared to the rest of our discography, and it’s encouraging as it shows we have seven different records that still sound like us.”
Of course, the Florida-based band was very young at the time, with Heafy scraping in at a mere 17 years old. The album itself is perhaps a record of its time and is nowhere near as polished, refined or as well structured as the Trivium many are so accustomed to these days. Now, if you read the Hysteria Mag review of the re-release, writer David James Young pens, “The reality is that Ember to Inferno itself has not exactly aged well. The remaster only emphasises the artificial over-production, the mimicry of the band’s heroes sticking out more than the prodigious nature of the teen-angst thrash.” That term “over-production” or more commonly used as “over-produced” gets thrown around a lot at the old and sometimes current releases of contemporary metal bands.
“The people that are saying that… I think that maybe they don’t know what they’re hearing”, laughs the frontman. “We recorded this album in about ten days, so if anything, it’s our most under-produced record. But then again, I also consider that a compliment as usually when people say something sounds “produced”, they mean it sounds good. And it does sound good for something that was recorded and released on an indie label and that was in made 10 or so days when I was 16 or 17 years old.” He continues, “I love it, as it doesn’t sound like the cliché term of raw. That’s what’s tricky when talking about music being raw, as you picture black metal records recorded in the forest or a punk rock album recorded in a garage, and that wouldn’t go for Trivium now.”
True, and it’s the album’s youthful energy combined with the unmistakable raw talent clearly struck a nerve with fans and set up them very well for the follow-up record, ‘Ascendancy’, which then catapulted the band to success and the rest is history. Thinking back to his teenage self, Heafy tells us about his own thought process behind the album, saying “back on ‘Ember…’ I was just making anything. It didn’t matter if the tempo shifted, or if a note clashed, I just went for it. Maybe that…youthful energy of songwriting comes from us not having fans, on not being a touring band and just making whatever we wanted”. Clearly then, the band was writing and recording in a completely different mindset to the fabled, well-oiled machine they are today. There was no real expectation or hype weighing in on the young Orlando outfit’s shoulders back then, which shows in the writing of this record. But now, over 13 years later, the band has dropped a re-release of ‘Ember To Inferno’ (which is out now via Cooking Vinyl) for any old and new fans, as it has long since been out of print and rather hard to find. The deluxe ‘Ab Initio’ edition of the album even includes an additional 13 tracks consisting of previously unheard demos. So let us revisit the roots of one of modern metal’s powerhouse acts.
‘Ember To Inferno’ itself is a more raw, aggressive affair than the Trivium of today. Their melodic death metal influences are on display proudly, particularly on old school gems like ‘Pillar Of Serpents’, ‘Fugue’ and ‘Requiem’. There’s a lot more tremolo picking, screamed vocals and no seven string guitars to be heard. Matt Heafy in particular sounds like he’s tearing his vocal cords out (which evidently, he actually was). It’s not the ‘healthiest’ technique but it’s definitely effective for metal such as this. Since hitting massive vocal issues due to his screaming and singing techniques, the singer has undergone new vocal training and has developed a completely new technique and is now screaming live again, something guitarist Corey Beaulieu and original drummer Travis Smith absolutely killed it at. Vocals aside, another thing to note here is that the band itself definitely wasn’t as tight as they are these days and it shows when they ever so slightly go out of time in some parts. It’s also worth noting that this album is also the only one to feature Brent Young on bass, rather than long time bassist and backing vocalist Paolo Gregoletto. I must say that in time, Paolo has become a great addition to the band not only from a musical standpoint, but his backing vocals have really come into their own. He’s not on Matt’s level by any means, but live it definitely adds a lot of colour to their sound.
Production wise, it’s decidedly less polished and clean than the follow-ups. Interestingly enough, their first two records were both produced by the venerable Jason Suecof. It’s easy to pick that ‘Ember To Inferno’ was done on a much smaller budget, and mentioned previously, the singer recalled that “we recorded this album in about ten days or so”. And look, it’s not a bad album or a bad reissue by any means but it’s definitely not up there with the rest of the band’s releases, though that’s definitely to be expected in this situation. As Matt Heafy himself admits to us, “This was the only Trivium record not tracked to click, and that’s a big thing for us, as every other album has been recorded to a click. So that’s where that organic and loose feel comes from”. Having been in a studio and recording my own bands before, playing to a click track is imperative for not just my own playing, but the rest of the band as well, so I find it very interesting that the entirety of ‘Ember…’ was recorded without one, though it definitely shows in some places.
When it comes to the demo recordings of songs like ‘The Deceived’ and ‘Like Light To The Flies’ that have appeared in their final form on later recordings, it’s absolutely interesting to hear them in such an early form with variances in vocals and structure, but at the end of the day I doubt that I’d personally listen to them over the finished products. However, it is very cool to hear the band sound like they’re simply jamming out these songs in a practice room as opposed to having a huge, polished production to back them up. It just feels quite…natural. That said, though, Matt’s vocals on ‘The Deceived’ are definitely a lot weaker than that of the fully formed vocalist he has become today. The screams are reminiscent of everything else he did in that early period of Trivium, but his clean singing isn’t as good. He definitely sounds a lot more confident these days, but I can’t imagine a 17-year-old Matt Heafy thinking he would be able to channel Dio and Bruce Dickinson in his later years. Matt definitely has no regrets about this, saying that “If I changed that back in the early days or just had solely singing on the albums, we may not be here now. We might not even be a band anymore or may have never gotten signed to Roadrunner. If you changed the smallest facet in the past, it may have greatly and affect who you are today. Even with the missteps and with blowing my voice out, I am now a better vocalist than I’ve ever been in my life. So you need the good and bad for it”.
That’s something I can’t really argue with, either, especially if it means that they would never release ‘Ascendency‘! Oh god, I don’t want to live in a world like that.
Overall, this re-release is a great purchase for a longtime fan such as myself, and to listen to an album that many of fans (myself included) have overlooked since or been unable to get a physical copy of (I prefer the CDs over the digital copy – it’s just better). Yes, this is far from the band’s best output but to hear a powerhouse band like Trivium in such a foetal form is very cool and a great retrospective moment as well.
To reiterate a previous point, I really do think that this re-release is absolutely one for fans out there, and not for the newly initiated. To be brutally honest, this wouldn’t be the first thing I would leap to show someone who hadn’t listened to Trivium before; I’d sooner go with tracks off ‘In Waves‘ or ‘Shogun‘. My reasoning for this is that the band’s later material is a lot more accessible and well crafted. A new fan would definitely enjoy songs from ‘Silence In The Snow‘ such as ‘Dead And Gone‘ or the title track over, say, ‘Fugue‘. I can’t say I’d be annoyed if the band put out just one more song in the vein of ‘Rain‘, however. Nonetheless, this a great reflection and it’s great to go right back to the start and see how your favourite bands tried to figure out what they wanted to be.
And low and behold, Trivium are exactly what they want and need to be now in 2016.
Pick up this new version of ‘Ember To Inferno’ here. Check out the reissue’s mammoth track listing below:
01. Inception: The Bleeding Skies
02. Pillars Of Serpents
03. If I Could Collapse The Masses
04. Fugue (A Revelation)
06. Ember To Inferno
08. To Burn The Eye
09. Falling To Grey
10. My Hatred
11. When All Light Dies
12. A View Of Burning Empires
03. Lake Of Fire
04. To Burn The Eye
07. My Hatred
08. The Storm
11. Like Light To The Flies
12. Blinding Tears Will Break The Skies
13. The Deceived