Trivium guitarists Matt Heafy and Corey Beaulieu are no strangers to finger-twisting riffs that snake around the fretboard and lightning-fast leads used to great effect.
But on the Florida quartet’s 10th album, In The Court Of The Dragon, they’re really going for gold. The album is widely acclaimed as the finest work of their career. It’s also by far their shreddiest to date. And for that, Matt pays tribute to his fellow guitarist...
“The stuff that Corey’s playing on this record is insane,” Matt says. “When I first heard the solo for the title track I was wondering how the hell he played it! He’s incredibly talented. We’ve always told him to go nuts and he’s always kinda held back, I don’t know why.
“But he decided to let go... And he’s a monster on this record. That’s why I felt even more comfortable playing ‘dad rock’ solos with more doublestop bends and pentatonics!”
Corey explains it very simply: “These songs had the foundation for some crazy shit, so I figured I’d go balls out! On other records, I might have stayed away from really fast runs because it would be seen as easier to go there instead of being more melodic. But this time, a lot of parts wouldn’t have made sense without some shred! So I just said, ‘All right, fire me up!’
“The Shadow Of The Abattoir is probably the most intense solo... There’s a lot of picking in that one! I’ve used a lot of the techniques on our previous records, like diminished arpeggios, but in smaller bursts. But this album was done in a different way.
“Though there wasn’t anything technique-wise in terms of tricks up my sleeve to try, the solos were all written at home by myself, which made a difference. And then I tracked 70 per cent of the solos in a couple of hours at the studio. The songs just seemed to call for some shred... So I let them have it!”
For the recording of In The Court Of The Dragon, the band worked again with producer Josh Wilbur at the recording facility inside Florida’s Full Sail University, where the guitarists stuck with a fairly simplified signal path for the sessions.
The list of gear used was “pretty bare” according to Corey – who cites an EVH 5150 III Stealth as the main weapon for the record, along with his signature Jackson King V and Matt’s signature Epiphone Les Paul. For a lot of the melodies and solos, Corey used a Soldano SLO-100, reasoning “it wasn’t cheap so I had to use it somewhere”.
The only pedals involved were an MXR 10 Band EQ, an Airis Cloud Drive for a mid-boost, a Boss NS-2 noise gate, a DigiTech Whammy and a Maxon OD808 on certain solos.
For extra colouration during his leads, Corey also utilized the Soundtoys MicroShift plug-in, which he describes as the “secret sauce” he’s been using for the last decade or so, adding the same kind of effect the Eventide H3000 was famous for in the '80s.
“This time we went back to quad-tracking,” adds Matt. “Some we’ve done left and right each, but this one had two left and two right, like we did on Ember To Inferno, Ascendancy, Shogun and In Waves. The 5150 was fed into a Mesa cab with V30s that belonged to Josh. Amazingly, he just used a single [Shure] SM57. All delay, reverb, phaser or wah was added afterwards.”
While gear is important, Matt also appreciates how much tone can come from the player’s hands alone. Heavy metal should be played with aggression, regardless of what instruments you use, the size of your pedalboard or how much gain you have on tap. There’s a lot to be said for attitude... “We talk about tone all the time,” he says. “We’re all chasing tone. I’ve got this insane collection of gear, but so much of the tone comes from my attack.
“I’m not saying people have to play uneconomically or with overexertion, but on this record you can really hear how hard I’m picking. That’s why I like using the EverTune bridge, because it allows me to hit and bend harder. You really hear the attack just through my guitar unplugged.”
That sense of power extends through the 10 tracks that make up In The Court Of The Dragon. Even the rhythm parts at its very core are incredibly detailed and layered, involving some wide stretches, quick climbs and fast gallops. Truth be told, some of the riffs are as challenging as the leads themselves...
“I appreciate you saying that,” Matt smiles, explaining that while there’s no shortage of unbelievable shredders out there in the world right now, rhythm is still often overlooked.
“Every time you open Instagram there’s some new super-freak who can do the craziest stuff that most of us cannot do. But I feel like the concept of rhythm guitar has been lost a little bit, especially in modern metal. I think A Crisis Of Revelation will be a difficult one for people to learn. It involves this weird style of picking I learned from Chuck Schuldiner from Death and Daniel Mongrain of Martyr.
“They were the first to use this bizarre technique that wasn’t just alternate or down-picking. It’s down, down and then down, up, down – sounding like dun-dun-dadadun. While making our debut, [producer] Jason Suecof told us that if we learned every song from Martyr’s Warp Zone, we’d become the best players in the world.
“Daniel Mongrain is one of the greatest – he’s classically trained in jazz, so he sounds like Marty Friedman and Allan Holdsworth mixed together. I didn’t invent it, but I’m one of the few players to use it.”
Similarly, for Corey, it was also a case of playing to his strengths – particularly when it comes to machine gun alternate picking and effortlessly smooth sweeping. He’d never been much of a legato player, he reasons, pointing back his teenage years spent riffing along to Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth in his bedroom.
How active pickups define Trivium’s wall of noise
Both Matt Heafy and Corey Beaulieu rely on high-output active pickups for their thick and saturated metallic tones – though, interestingly, made by two different companies.
Having sworn by the EMG 81/85 set for many years, Matt now sticks with Fishman Fluence Moderns, and has some exciting plans afoot with the brand... “I love the Moderns,” he admits. “I’m about to release my own custom set, which has the active, passive and an extra split-coil mode.
“I don’t use splits or taps in Trivium but I am obsessed with those tones. They work so well with Corey’s Seymour Duncan Blackouts. His have less mids and more highs, while mine are more mid-forward. Having the two together gave us the ferocity we wanted. We actually tried quad-tracking using only my Epiphones with Fishmans and it sounded good, but almost too perfect, like we were missing something.”
“The Blackouts I use have a ridiculously high output,” adds Corey. “I feel like they might have a little more low end and more of a dark sound, which works really well because Matt’s sound is more mid-range-y and has that cut. That’s why they work so well together, living in different places in the EQ range that don’t quite step on each other as much.”
When he discovered death metal not long after, he noticed the musicians were taking burst picking to Olympic extremes. “When I first started, my teacher gave me a lot of exercises – simple stuff but all about accuracy,” he recalls. “And I still use them. I will sit there before a show and play scales to warm up, starting slow to get everything synched up.
“I might just take two strings and play a pattern over and over again. You can use them to gauge how loose your fingers are and get them moving pretty quickly.
“I got into sweeping through Michael Angelo Batio’s Speed Kills video. I never liked the arpeggios where you have to barre a finger and roll it up and down, so I don’t use those much. For three-string sweeps I tend to pick each string on the way down but coming back I’ll just hammer on. It lessens the motion and gives me time to get back to the starting point.
“I think Matt does it too, it’s our weird little arpeggio hack, but it works because it doesn’t sound like you’re missing any notes.”
Returning to the question of how his band managed to surpass all expectation this time round, delivering something far grander than what you’d normally expect from a metal group on album number 10, Matt uses the term “organic improvisation” as the main distinguishable writing tool for this record.
It was a more collaborative effort than the typical Trivium album, with both guitarists – as well as bassist Paolo Gregoletto – splicing their riffs together from the same room, instead of demoing separately.
“We wanted to capture lightning in the bottle rather than plan too much,” Matt explains. “There were no constraints, limitations or boundaries. We went back to the mindset of four people putting together their first band and making their first batch of songs. But it’s not nostalgia. All that mattered, selfishly, was, ‘Do we love it?’
“Trying new things for genuine reasons is fine, but trying to grab some other fanbase doesn’t work. We call it the fictitious boardroom fans – ‘we need these people into our band!’ – like it’s a sharehold or something. That’s when things fall apart and come off the rails...” He stops for a second and laughs.
“You know, when I hear the phrase ‘organic improvisation’, I picture jam rock riffs, raw recordings, Orange amps and single-coil pickups. But when you have four religious practitioners of their instruments – who are also four students of all the sub-genres of metal – walk in and improvise after they’ve been staying on peak training form, you get the results of this record.”
- Trivium's new album In The Court Of The Dragon is out now via Roadrunner Records.