The weight of heightened expectations can be seriously crushing. Just ask any artist who experienced success (especially of the unexpected kind) early in their careers, especially when it pertains to music. The pressure to release something better than what’s in your current discography is a tall task for anyone, but especially when you combine the aspects of youth, media exposure, and the all-important drive within yourself to create better.
The flip side of this is that some of the most profound art has been created under the most adverse circumstances. Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours? Multiple romantic relationships in the band complicated matters, to say the least. Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory? The rejection of every record label under the sun for years had to weigh heavy on the band (spoiler alert: it definitely did). Metallica’s Black Album? Transitioning from thrash metal’s biggest band to one of the biggest bands in the world was no simple task, either.
Trivium’s Shogun certainly ticks off many of the checkboxes of adversity. The band’s fourth full-length overall, it arrived just a few short years after 2005’s Ascendancy landed the Florida metal act on basically every magazine cover and in every metal publication imaginable. The hype was indeed justified, of course. The album managed to blend thrash metal with obvious metalcore influences in a way that many bands simply weren’t adept at. This was, of course, around the time metalcore replaced nu-metal as one of metal’s hottest subgenres (Killswitch Engage, Bleeding Through, and Atreyu were just three of the bands that saw a lot of success here).
The album is particularly notable for having to follow up The Crusade, an album that’s often considered heavily inspired (to put it kindly) by Metallica. While there’s nothing wrong with that, the expectations for that album were heightened to say the least – and unfortunately it wasn’t nearly as well received as Ascendancy was. Of course, that doesn’t mean the album didn’t have intriguing ideas to build off of, and Shogun capitalized on that in a major way.
Just from the album art and title alone, you know you’re in for something different. And album opener “Kirisute Gomen” delivers on all fronts, with Matt Heafy delivering one of many huge vocal performances – impressively with both highs and lows that really showed off his developing vocal prowess at the time. Clearly, Trivium were here to take their fucking heads (their words, not ours). After all, this was still a very young band at the time, only earlier in the decade still playing local shows.
For the singles, suitably epic titles like “Into The Mouth Of Hell We March” and “Down From The Sky” also fire on all cylinders. While carrying a much more familiar and structured songwriting approach, that doesn’t make the huge riffs and massive choruses any less effective. Yet they’re tempered with a melodic approach that is executed better and adds more accessibility while still retaining their power.
Album highlight “He Who Spawned The Furies” is notable for two reasons. One, an opening riff that can only be considered downright nasty. Two, halfway through the song, it simply explodes into a cavalcade of riffs, Matt Heafy screaming better than you’ve ever heard in your life, an morphing back into an epic chorus. It’s all really effective if we’re being honest, and even better, it’s packed into a 4-minute runtime.
Even the subject matter here is intriguing enough to look into. “Like Callisto To A Star In Heaven” tackles Greek mythology and is another example of some huge, huge riffage and solos in the middle of the track, while the title track is a real behemoth at almost 12 minutes long. Considering the record itself is named for what was considered the highest-ranking military general in ancient Japan, it’s rather fitting this would be such a monolithic track.
It’s safe to say Trivium accomplished everything they could have wanted on Shogun. Coming back from a disappointing record is one thing, but when you combine the band’s rapid development in terms of songwriting and musical proficiency along with a suitably epic title track to match, you’re winning at music. Couple that with the record being a major commercial success for the band as well as a fan favorite, and it’s difficult not to consider Shogun one of Trivium’s most essential works. With more progressive song structures and a return to their more aggressive style, it was a certified success.