posted on 11/2008 By:
In the minds of most Americans, the cultural phenomena of professional basketball and hip-hop have always been well-suited bedfellows. Superficially, it makes sense, as they share a similar external aesthetic and both are seen as predominantly the realm of non-whites. But, to me, and specifically for the purposes of this review, I think that the NBA and the personalities that populate it serve as much more of an illustrative analogy for heavy metal. In what other realms are individual greatness so ravenously aspired for by its artists, but so ironically destructive to the ultimate “goal,” be it winning or providing meaningful entertainment? Really, what I’m saying is that I’m currently balls-deep in my early season NBA obsession, and I’m going to try to write a review in which I compare Matt Heafy to Kobe Bryant. That’s dumb, you say? It is dumb. But hear me out.
In both, we see exquisitely talented individuals whose drive for transcendence has so completely washed them of all charisma, they’ve become entirely repulsive to those whose hearts they wish to capture. And, while their talent as individuals is undeniable, their unflagging desire to outshine the now mythic figures that proceeded them has forced upon them comparisons that destine each for failure. As Bryant is to Michael Jordan, Heafy and Trivium are to Hetfield and Metallica.
Throughout his career, Bryant has worked tirelessly to mold himself in Jordan’s likeness - and set his sites on goals his forebear has already accomplished, with the ultimate goal of becoming his quantitative superior. Shit, he even changed his number to 24 so he could have the edge on Jordan’s 23.
Heafy has followed a similar route in chasing Metallica’s ghost. Since 2004’s Ascendancy, Heafy has altered his vocal approach to mimic Hetfield‘s, and shifted the band’s style from bombastic and endearing metalcore to antiseptic modern thrash. All this was done, of course, to legitimize the band in the eyes of real metal fans, with Heafy most likely devising in his mind an equation looking something like Metallica + Guitar God Solos + Cover of Guitar World = Greatest Band Ever!?!?”
It’s tough to decide if this fool’s errand is motivated by narcissism or just youthful naiveté. Either one makes Heafy a tragic figure. Like Kobe, he was born too late. Both are doomed to fail in their battle against invincible myths. Instead of admiring Heafy and Kobe for what they are, we admonish them for what they aren’t - and rightfully so. To whom that much is given, much is expected. And, they exacerbate matters by making their fever-dream inspired aspiration so public.
Where this metaphor falls apart is that, despite how much we may love to hate Kobe, no one could ever deny his brilliance as a basketball player. He operates in a realm where the attainable objective accomplishments allow him to succeed in such a way where his greatness cannot be questioned. Sure, he’s kind of a weird douchebag, but you can’t fuck with 25 points a game and three rings. Heafy lives in the world of pure subjective taste. So, while we have to admit that he can play a guitar pretty fast, we’ll never have to admit that he may be a good songwriter.
And, honestly, if Bryant had not been so transformed into a ghoulish recluse by his quest for greatness, he may have been the most beloved athlete of the new NBA. If Heafy were less pronounced in his aping of past legends, he’d probably just be the guitar player/ singer for a “nice” modern metal band.
Shogun, itself is an hour-long testament to Trivium’s epic void of charisma. While the music itself is interesting to me, because I think it says so much about Heafy and what he aspires to be, the songs themselves range from predictable dreck to shameless transcriptions of previously written material. It’s funny how these songs can be such a window into Heafy the man, yet bear no mark of his own personality whatsoever.
Yes, “Insurrection,” does sound like a track from …And Justice for All. Well done. And, Heafy does shred with all the dexterity of a Michael Amott on “The Calamity” and “Torn Between Scylla and Charybdis.” However, all these songs really do is display Heafy’s skill as a guitar player and chameleon. There’s so little of true inspiration on this disc, as the front-man’s muse drives him to show us little more than that he can do what other’s can, but maybe a little faster. It’s sad that the desires of such a talented young person have driven him to become nothing more than a single-minded show-off.
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