Trivium hit its peak in 2005 with, aptly enough, Ascendancy, an album that helped prove metalcore had at least a few legit bones in its body. After 2008’s unfocused Shogun, the group is claiming that its new album, In Waves, is a return to Ascendancy’s laser-guided cohesion. And that claim is mostly true. But for a group that’s been on a steady upward trajectory since its inception, In Waves also feels like a placeholder—and in spots, for the first time in Trivium’s existence, a regression.

In Waves’ flattest element is Trivium’s perennial Achilles’ heel: the vocals of frontman Matt Heafy. Never settling into a convincing identity, his melodic breaks suffer from haphazard placement and little of the soaring, prog-leaning earnestness he honed in Ascendancy. On songs like the monstrously anthemic title track and the bleak, guttural “A Skyline Severance,” his growl is as potent as ever—there just aren’t enough of those songs. Instrumentally, the disc untangles itself from Shogun’s sprawl in favor of a trimmer, meatier assault. New drummer Nick Augusto seems to be pushing Trivium toward a choppier and at times more primal sound, but for a band that was recently poised to evolve into something more sumptuous and ambitious, In Waves is a return to form Trivium doesn’t need.

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