Trivium’s Paolo Gregoletto: “We Had to Raise the Bar With This Album…We Had to Put Everything Into It”

If the past two years have proved anything about Trivium, it’s that no one can rightfully accuse them of laziness. While many other bands scuttled their planned albums and threw up their hands at their inability to tour during the COVID lockdown, the metalcore four-piece snapped into action. Not only did they host a massive livestream before anyone else believed in the art form, they also immediately started writing their follow-up to 2020’s What The Dead Men Say and began refurbishing an aircraft hangar that would become the future base of their operations. That the band jumped on the first big metal tour of the post-pandemic world, traversing America with Megadeth, Lamb of God, and Hatebreed, only further cements how dedicated they are in the war against dry rot and rust.

“It was crazy, just to be out and playing shows and stuff,” says bassist Paolo Gregoletto. “But I know for us, we were like, ‘We just gotta make this tour HAPPEN. It’s gotta actually finish.’ Of course, there were some issues with the Canadian dates, which were always tentative — we couldn’t really know for sure until right before it was going to happen. But I’ve very proud we finished every date in America, No bands canceled, nothing stopped any of those shows. It felt really good to be the first big tour to do this.”

This sense of bravery in the face of defeat is audible on the band’s latest release. In The Court of the Dragon sees Trivium going grander and more imperious than ever before. The record’s lushly-painted cover is honestly reflective of the music within; though never going full sword and sorcery, the band exude a sense of mythic valor and Viking fatalism on tracks like “Like A Sword Over Damocles” and “No Way Back Just Through.” To bookend an unprecedented cultural event with full-length albums is impressive; that Trivium closed out their pandemic with an album that sounds so very massive is a testament to their own resilience and tireless enthusiasm.

“There’s always a line with that kind of stuff where it gets into this fantasy metal area,” says Gregoletto. “And we’re not really that at all, though we’ve had mythological stuff [in our lyrics]. And they’re very metal themes that can be used, but there’s a line. I like a lot of that stuff — I love Blind Guardian — but I wanted us to do it our way, with our feel to it. And I like the idea that if I played this for someone and didn’t tell them where these ideas come from, that it feels like it’s speaking to them. Like they can put their own story to it.”

Was there anything that happened on your recent tour with Megadeth that you felt was surreally different from all your previous tours?

Well, the third day in, our tour manager/monitor guy got COVID. He got sick. I remember, in Houston, I noticed him coughing, and he kept his mask on all day. And I remember thinking, I think I know what this is… The next day, luckily we all had a day off, and were in different rooms. We went to dinner, we were going to treat the crew, and he said he was staying behind, some tour manager business — and then we got a text. He did a rapid test, he’s positive. And we were like, ‘Oh fuck, this is it. This is what we were expecting.’ And we all got back to the bus, we all took tests, no one was positive. So we called up our manager and said, ‘Look, we’re all fine right now. We’ll all take tests right before we step into the venue, but we’re gonna play the show. We’ll just keep doing the tests for the next couple of days and keep it rolling if everyone’s fine.’ And no one else got it. The bus driver didn’t get it, didn’t spread to anyone else on the tour…it was crazy. It was definitely an experience. Nothing we’ve ever had to deal with.

Did you guys roll around with a case of rapid tests on tour? Was that part of your rider?

I actually had a couple with me to save for the end of the tour before coming home. And our guitar tech took an Uber to a CVS and got a couple more, just so that all nine of us on the bus could take it. The tour also provided it as well — somedays, everybody took them. So it was a different experience. Once we got through that, I honestly felt pretty good. It was like we got through this scare early. It wasn’t some what-will-happen-if-this-happens. It was a sense of relief — this is manageable, this can be done, we can just continue as is. And we got through it.

Man, it used to be a suitcase of drugs bands brought out on tour — now, it’s COVID tests.

Yeah, and this was probably more expensive! 

Most other bands found themselves reconsidering their whole career during the pandemic. You guys bookended the pandemic with full-length records. How did you pull that off?

We obviously went ahead with the last album release as scheduled. There was talk of, ‘Do we push it into the summer? Do we want to hold off until later, wait for touring?’ But we got a sense that touring wasn’t going to be happening for a bit, and we felt like waiting until the summer…there was a short moment where things closed, and it did impact physical sales, but we were like, ‘Man, we just gotta get this thing out. We’ve already started promoting it, we have singles out — we feel like at this moment, we can’t do that to our fans. If we sacrifice some CD sales because of it, so be it.’ We just wanted to have it out in the world. After that, the next thing on our agenda was some sort of event. We did the big livestream event. 12,000 people paid to watch us at full sale. And we did it live — we did it in real time. It was kind of crazy to pull off, and it was in the early days of this pandemic. We didn’t know what was happening. And it felt good to play a show, even if there wasn’t a crowd.

At what point did In The Court of the Dragon officially begin to materialize.

We’d been talking — after [the livestream], it was album time. We told the label, ‘This is what we’re thinking,’ and it was just about getting them on board to follow it up so quickly. We were like, ‘Trust us, we have material, we’re going to work on it, we’re not putting a deadline on this. If it doesn’t feel like it’s going well, we’ll just keep going.’ And they said, ‘Cool, it seems like you guys know what you’re doing.’ And we just really kind fo got to it. It was a great thing to have to focus on those couple of months, when we didn’t know if touring was going to happen or not.

Do you feel the pandemic and the events around you colored the sound or profile of the album?

I don’t think the album necessarily addresses the pandemic. It’s almost this conceptual album — it’s meant to feel like one story. I just think being able to get out of the real world, into this thing we were making, was such a sense of relief. We just wanted to put everything we had into this. Having the time to do all the things we wanted to do on this record is really reflected in it. Having [Emperor frontman] Ihsahn do more than just the intro, actually do stuff within the tracks, having the album art painted — we wanted it to feel like this really grand album. Especially for Album #10, and with following up a record so quickly, wee thought we had to raise the bar with this album, as hard as that was — the last two records seemed to be really well received by fans. So we decided that we had to put everything into it. 

The cover of the album is very beautiful, but it also speaks to the emotion throughout. This record feels very epic and chivalric in its guitar playing and themes.

The way we do lyrics and figure out what the album’s going to be, a lot of times, is we have to get into the writing. We never go into it with, This is going to be this thing. With concept records, people usually decide what it’s going to be and write to that — we’ve never really done that. We start writing, we see what the material’s like, and we get a vibe for it. We go through lyrics and see what’s interesting. And I just noticed that everyone’s ideas were very mythological. And of course, the one demo just said “Sword of Damocles,” and I was like, Okay, everyone’s throwing this kind of stuff out here. Instead of what we did with [2008’s] Shogun, where a couple of songs had that mythological bent to them and were pulling from source material, we just create this thing? We use this loose idea of this myth, this narrative happening, and we create it, so we don’t have to follow any storyline that’s been told. That’s what got us going down that path, and that’s also what kept the record feeling cohesive. And or course, the painting — Matt found [French artist Mathieu Nozieres] on Instagram. He paints renaissance paintings by hand. We just felt like, If we’re going to do an album like this, the artwork needs to reflect that was well. We gave him the title, gave him some broad ideas, and then just let him go for it. We were just blown away when we saw it.

It’s interesting — the title is obviously drawn from Robert Chambers’ The King In Yellow, but the album seems to focus more on a big narrative scale than actual Lovecraftian horror.

That’s why I like that whole myth-narrative theme — there’s an escape, but you can imagine yourself in this, fighting these battles, these fears. It’s not necessarily an actual dragon in a colosseum, but it’s the thing that’s getting to you, whatever your struggle or fight is. I do like being able to dive into that stuff without it feeling too far out there. Just to make it feel broader. But I did like it being rooted in that, and in my opinion, as Matt was writing and we were all writing and thinking about these ideas, I was like, I want this to tell this kind of story. And the painting to tell a different reflection of the story. The videos were a different thing. The videos I wanted to be a nod to the Lovecraftian-Robert Chambers-cosmic horror thing — this painting is influencing the people in the video — so that was kind fo a nod to the source of the title of the album. 

That’s very present in the video for the title track — it’s got madness and cosmic horror, but there’s no big tentacle monster at the end.

Ryan Mackfall is the director of that one. He did a couple of the ones from the last album. And he’s WAY into that stuff. Like ,he loves Lovecraft, and all his videos and his short films are in that realm. So the moment we told him where it came from, he was like, Cool. This is the stuff I love. This is my wheelhouse. So that was cool –being able to vibe off of it with him. That’s the best part — finding these guys who are talented at what they do and letting them run with your ideas, and your music, and present it in a different way.

Trivium’s In The Court of the Dragon is out now on Roadrunner Records. And to read more about Trivium and other metal mayhem, make sure to subscribe to our weekly newsletter!

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Words by Chris Krovatin