To cap off a whirlwind year, Metal prodigies Trivium announced plans to re-release of oft-overlooked 2002 debut album Ember To Inferno.
There’s always been an air of mystery surrounding the release. The band themselves have labelled it “cursed” and upon looking at circumstance of the album, it’s no surprise why. Jerked around by label issues, the band wound up stepping on their own toes, releasing a follow up – 2004’s Ascendency which proved to be such a break-out, Trivium was soon moving at a pace far too rapid to go back and re-assess the debut – it was full-speed ahead.
That is, until recently. Now that the band have secured the rights to the debut, they plan on releasing it with the proper attention to detail. This includes a sprawling list of addition features and unheard demos from the bands earliest recordings Ruber (aka the Red Demo), Caeruleus (aka the Blue Demo) and Flavus (aka the Yellow Demo).
We spoke with frontman Matt Heafy about the whole situation.
When we connected, Heafy had just left band practice for their upcoming European tour. It might sound strange to hear coming from an outfit that isn’t a high-school garage band, but according to Heafy, band prac is something Trivium take seriously. “Obviously we’re practicing a little early but we’ve always pride ourselves on being a band that loves to practice. The amount of time we put in. All bands should practice this much but most bands don’t.”
Many of their peers would consider a busy international touring schedule to be practice enough, something that Heafy might agree with “if you’re on cycle” but for Trivium that doesn’t cut it.
“For me, 5 days a week I do individual practice, minimum. Let’s say we just got home, I might take the 1st day off then I’m right back into it. So, it’s 2-3 hours of singing, 30 minutes to an hour of guitar, then on top of that there’s playing with the band for 3-4 hours. We like to practice a lot.”
Those familiar with the band won’t be too shocked by this strict and damn-near militarised training regiment. Those who recall Heafy’s contribution to the 2002 documentary/album Roadrunner United, the frontman is use to practicing for up to 10 hours a day. “It’s not as much as that any more” he admits, “but I guess it’s something that we’ve kept up from the beginning.”
Ember To Inferno was the debut that could, but didn’t. Their record deal with Life Force records would end up being the ultimate downfall of the release, given that the label was only in it’s infancy and was yet to properly set up international distribution channels, which in Heafy’s opinion dealt the “cursed” record it’s final blow…”As far as I know, on it’s release date, Ember To Inferno wasn’t available anywhere in the U.S.”
“When the distro deal was fixed, it was when Ascendancy came out. Ascendency basically eclipsed the release of Ember To Inferno. So I feel like people didn’t ever hear Ember. They didn’t start getting into it until Ascendency came out and they started to dig backwards.”
With Ascendency, the bands’ debut on Roadrunner Records, largely considered to be their break-out release, the horses were set loose leaving very little option to re-assess the debut until almost 10 years later.
“In 2014, the contract with Life Force records expired and I received the rights back for the record. That’s something that’s pretty unheard of and won’t happen for our other records, but it did happen for Ember. So I got all the rights back and I knew that I wanted to make the release proper and have it released in a way that people can finally get it.”
“My management told me they were working on something and it took about two years. The plan was to make me the record label. So I became the record label for Ember To Inferno and I signed a distribution deal with a company called Cooking Vinyl, so it’s like a new-school D.I.Y, Indie way to release the record.”
Heafy had a clear cut plan of attack for the re-release, he explains, “I knew I wanted to preserve the original because I’m so happy with the way it came out initially. I didn’t want to re-record or re-master it because I wanted to transport people back to the exact moment in time that Ember was.”
Upon listening back to the album in preparation for the re-release, Heafy found himself tapping into the music like he hadn’t been able to before. Gifted with hindsight, he reveals what he saw in the record and why it justified the fanfare, energy and effort of a re-release.
“[At the time] there were bands doing parts of what Ember To Inferno is. I feel like it’s comprised of Metal – As far as the classic greats go, Melodic Death Metal and Metalcore. A lot of bands mix maybe two out of three of those things, but I feel like the way our ratio worked…it gave the record an indefinable quality to it that I only really discovered listening back to it now.”
“It has this aggression, this anger, this technicality, speed and rawness to it, while still being tight. The record has this fiery intensity to it. I feel like our other records never had the same kind of intensity as Ember To Inferno.”
As well as Ember, the re-release will feature previously un-heard demos, comprised from the Red, Blue and Yellow recording sessions. These are things Heafy “never expected to happen or hear” on vinyl. Among the un-released gems are “some of the first things we had ever written.”
Looking so closely at his earliest body of work, Heafy released that certain common threads and motifs – some used in Ember completely subconsciously, would end up being implemented throughout their next albums. In come cases, entire songs were preluded.
“Looking back at everything now from Yellow, Red, Blue and Ember, I can see things that grew into other things. If I look at a song like The Storm, that’s obviously the very early relative of a song like Shogun. It has that progressive element that builds. So it’s like we’ve always been doing similar things, they’ve just gotten better and retained that Trivium sound.”
Ultimately, the process of digging through he past was rewarding for Heafy, who realised that the band had actually stayed true to their origins. In his words, “we weren’t an entirely different band.”
“It’s not like we were a nu-metal band, it’s not like we were something completely different to what we became. We really were the roots of what Trivium turned into. It’s nice to look back and see we weren’t something drastically different. We were still a metal band on the same path that we’ve grown into.”
Surprisingly, Heafy also discovered that he might have also been a better guitarist when he wrote and recorded Ember, “I definitely was a shreddier, more technical and better guitar player than I am now. Maybe it’s because like you said, all I would do is practice guitar. Now I put more time into vocals because I have a lot more work to do there.”
Rather than getting caught up on what could have been should Ember’s initial release had the impact it deserved, Heafy believes that everything that happened did so for a reason. “Maybe if it did better we wouldn’t have made Ascendency and we wouldn’t be on the path we’re on now. So it’s always difficult to say.”
The whole process of rediscovering the album has left Heafy eager to learn more about where the aggression and energy in Ember came from and whether or not he can harness it again for the bands future outputs.
“I use to always look at it like Ascendency Jr. but that’s really not the case. It’s a record that’s very, very different. Just hearing that really intense aggression…When I was writing it that was when I really discovered Metalcore bands for the first time. Bands like Caliban, Heaven Shall Burn, Poison The Well, Converge…and adding that dash of style on top of the metal base I already had was really interesting.”
“So hearing that aggression was something that made me really want to go back. Not got back and try and make a new Ember, but try and figure out what that aggression was and where it came from.”
There is a trend these days for bands to tour exclusively in the name of a formative early album. Any Trivium fans waiting with baited breath for such an announcement regarding Ember might be better of wishing for another album tour.
“If were going to do a record from start to finish it would have to be one that is a general consensus of an absolute favourite for fans; not that Ember isn’t. But I think it might be too old school. A record like Ascendency or Waves of Shogun would definitely be good from start to finish because I feel those are ones that more fans agree on.
Something like Ember or The Crusade or Silence In The Snow might be too much for any one particular crowd of Trivium fans.”
Any news regarding a tour is going to prick up the ears of Australian fans, given the strong and undying affinity between Trivium and us. Heafy was fairly proud to hear that most Australian metal fans can either agree on Trivium, or at least a Trivium album. But it’s not unique to us.
“A New Zealand filmmaker displayed that best with [2015 indie film] Deathgasm. I don’t know if you’ve seen the film. We didn’t know about it but we kept hearing about this really cool metal movie that has scenes with Trivium all over it. So we check it out and we’re like ‘holy shit we’re all over this.’
“Then during this scene at the record store, the one time that the older metal head accepted the younger metal head was when he picked up this Ascendency vinyl. So it’s cool you mention that.”
Upon being quizzed further about the highly coveted vinyl, Heafy dashes our hopes, “I can’t find it anywhere. I don’t know how they found it for the movie. Apparently there’s only a couple.”
To speak about the formative years of Trivium and not mention Roadrunner United would be a cardinal sin. Featuring members from Roadrunners entire roster, Heafy was selected as a ‘team leader’, tasked with writing music and selecting which Roadrunner artists to join him in the studio. Heafy looks back on the process with a tonne of fondness. “It was amazing” he recalls, “The only thing I didn’t love was it was such a short process.”
“I basically found out I was team captain and had to write everything while I was on tour. I had like two weeks to track everything. It was such a fast thing I just wish I could do another one or at least savour the experience. But maybe there is something about how quick it had to be that made it so great.”
“It was so fun. I loved being able to work with so many different musicians with so many different styles. I’ll never forget how amazing it was to hear [Suffocation drummer] Mike Smith blast beat in front of me. That was insane. To be able to physically record [Misfits singer] Michale Graves, that was insane. I’m a massive Misfits fan. It was such an amazing concept.”
It turns out Heafy hadn’t re-explored the collaborative album in some time, but was stoked to learn that it still carries it’s weight having aged well.
“I need to revisit it. One thing is I wish Roadrunner had of released In The Fire as the first single. I don’t know why they didn’t. Every once in a while I’ll make new friends and they’ll tell me they’re fans of Misfits, of Suffocation of King Diamond, I’ll be like, ‘Well, did you know that I happened to write a song with all of those bands…?’ That’s always fun to be able to say.”
“…It was a very fun process and I hope we can do another one some day.”