Trivium’s debut album Ember To Inferno was released in 2003. More than a decade later, they have several records under their belt and are revisiting their early days. There are a few different versions of Ember To Inferno: Ab Initio that are available. There’s the original version along with a deluxe edition that includes several early demos. I spoke with frontman Matt Heafy about the original album, the reissue, his opinion on the new Metallica album and other topics.
Chad Bowar: How did you guys first get your deal with Lifeforce to put out Ember To Inferno in the first place?
Matt Heafy: In the beginning, we were a local band that played a bunch of shows around town, did a couple demos. Finally, one day, we heard about this guy named Jason Suecof, who’s a very talented producer locally, and had this fantastic garage turned studio in his backyard. We decided to finally meet him. When we met him, we decided that he was the guy to go to to make a proper demo.
It must have just been about a week, maybe even less, recording what was called the self titled Trivium album, which is also known as the Blue demo, also known as Caeruleus, also known as the Blue record. We’d sell it locally, I remember I was trying to convince local record stores to buy it off of us by the box, and they wouldn’t do that. They would hold a couple, and whatever they sold they would give us the two bucks after the commissions were paid and all that stuff.
We had this webmaster. At the time, he was also In Flames’ website manager. We passed him the demo, he gave it to In Flames, I remember Jesper (Stromblad) actually posed with a picture of the demo, which was one of the things that made my life as a kid. He also was friends with Stefan Luedicke, Lifeforce Records. He gave Stefan a copy of the Blue demo, and immediately Stefan got in touch with our manager at the time, who was my dad, and expressed interest in wanting to sign us to Lifeforce. It was as simple as that.
Did all your parents have to sign on the dotted line for you?
Good question. With the contract for that, I don’t think we did. Actually, the other guys might’ve been of age. Travis and Brent are older than me, so at the time when we did Lifeforce Records, I was seventeen, and I believe Travis and Brent had to be like, 21. It was just me that would’ve been an issue, but I don’t think it was an issue because it was a European label.
We didn’t have a problem there. We did have problems with playing certain shows when I was under 21. I remember having to play a couple clubs they’d kick us out immediately afterwards, which was massive bullshit, but that did happen a lot.
Once you got the deal, you used four songs from the Blue demo. Were the rest of the songs written specifically for Ember to Inferno?
We specifically wrote those for Ember. When we were writing the material on the Blue demo, that’s just everything we had. The later end of the spectrum, what we were writing when the four songs that we put again on Ember, because we liked those songs so much we felt they were a good description of where we were going as a band. We kept those around and re-recorded them for Ember and then wrote stuff around it.
I’m trying to remember what the very first song that we wrote for Ember was. It would’ve been one of those four. I think it might’ve been “My Hatred.” I think “My Hatred” is the oldest song on Ember. Then, the newest song on Ember would’ve been “When All Life Dies.” “When All Life Dies” and “Pillars of Serpents” were both written in drop D , and that’s when we started going towards more the direction that you would’ve heard with Ascendancy.
You can see the gradual progression across each thing, from Red to Blue you could see there were some elements that carried through, Blue to Ember a couple more, then Ember to the Yellow one. That’s why I wanted those four to be all consecutive, so people could see the exact growth chain that led up until the moments before Ascendancy.
Why is this the time to do the reissue?
When we first released Ember to Inferno, I remember us being super excited when the release date was coming up. We bought ads in Guitar World and a couple other magazines. We did that independently. I remember going to the record store on release day, and going up to go to the T section to find Trivium, and it wasn’t even out. We asked around, the store clerks had no idea what Trivium was. We found out that distribution of Lifeforce wasn’t as broad as we had initially thought. They fixed it about a year later. They ended up getting a distribution deal through Victory Records and web distributions. It was corrected a year later, but a year later was also the time that Ascendancy came out, so Ember was sort of eclipsed at that time.
Several years later which would’ve been probably around 2012 or 2013, the contract with Lifeforce expired, and I actually inherited the rights back to Ember to Inferno. That is something that won’t happen on the records for Roadrunner. Some bands like Metallica were able to get their rights back for all their masters. That’s not something we’re going to be able to do any time soon. Getting the rights back to Ember was really cool, because I said, “well now if we set up a proper release date and a proper release time, this thing can finally be heard by the people it was intended to be heard by.”
We sat on it for a couple of years and fleshed out different ideas, whether to go with a traditional record label route or try something new. Our management company proposed something to me that I would act as the label and would have a distribution deal through this company called Cooking Vinyl, and also partnered up with 5B, who’s our management company. It would be something completely new school independent to test out to see how Trivium works on that. It’s kind of thing where it’s available streaming, it’s available vinyl and CD, but I am the record label, versus having an established record label for it.
I wanted to make it special, but I wanted to have two different versions. The option of people to get Ember the exact same that it was, same artwork, same everything, untouched, unmessed with, no remixes, no remasters, no retracking. I never liked redos. I like the idea of bringing someone back to the exact moment of the original content of how it was in the beginning. That’s what I want to do, just give people that initial moment.
I also dug around to see what other recordings or originals that people may have been unfamiliar with at the time, around that time. We had several older demos, ones that aren’t on this package, and they just don’t sound as good. With the Red album, Blue album, and Yellow album, those three sounded really good to me and those three sounded like I could take the exact way they were done, and I felt like it showed me the progression.
“Thrust” is the first Trivium song that was ever written, that’s on the Red album. That was actually co-written by our original singer, so it’s cool that that’s on there. You can get the very first Trivium song that’s ever written. It’s everything from the beginning, and that’s what Ab Initio means, “from the beginning.”
As you’ve gone back and been listening to all this old material, you able to listen with an open mind, or do you find yourself getting critical?
Of course you can always look back and say how you would do things differently now, but what I like so much and why I wanted to retain exactly the way it was, was that even in the past, even in the first couple of songs, like “Lake of Fire,” “Pain” and “Thrust,” you can hear the original blueprint for what Trivium would be in the future.
I think a song like “The Storm” off the Blue album is a really good indication where we’d go as a band with a record like Shogun. I think the form sounds very similar to that would come up years and years later, with Shogun. I think a song like “Lake of Fire” or “Pain” have all the elements of what Trivium is. Even a song like “Thrust” is kind of like “Die in Your Arms” on Ascendancy; it’s like “Until the World Goes Cold” on Silence in the Snow. It’s a song that’s simpler, more stripped back, not as much technicality and aggression, more so about the melody and the bigness of the song. It shows that everything we have later on has been expanded upon and evolved from, but it all stems back to the original form. It’s not like we were a complete different genre of band when we started.
Do you plan anything around this, like playing the album in its entirety?
What I love about Trivium fans is that they all have different favorite records. Some of them love Ascendancy and hate The Crusade, some of them love The Crusade and hate Ascendancy. Some got into us on Silence, some got into us on In Waves, and everything between. I think the only record that really all the fans, for the most part, can agree upon would be playing something like Ascendancy from start to finish someday.
We will always play the Ember stuff live and rotate in different songs, but I think it might be a little bit too old school for the majority of our newer to middle ground fans. Maybe someday something like Ascendancy, but I don’t know about Ember from start to finish.
Is there anything you would’ve done differently back then?
Absolutely. I would’ve loved to know the distribution deal was set correctly, that way when the record came out the first time, people could get it. That’d be the main thing. It was such a short lived time on Lifeforce, and we did have a good time on Lifeforce. A lot of bands I love are from that era. Some bands that are hugely inspirational for Ascendancy were on Lifeforce at that time: Caliban, Heaven Shall Burn, Between the Buried and Me. We were all on Lifeforce at first, and I was really into those three bands’ records a lot at that time. Those were big inspirations for Ascendancy.
It was great to be there and that’s definitely the formative years of when Trivium kind of segued out from traditional metal mixed with a lot of death metal and started adding in hardcore and metalcore into those elements, a lot of death metal and metal.
What do you think about the way promotion has evolved from now to then? It seems like now it takes so long for the album setup and roll out.
We’ve tried both. For Silence in the Snow we didn’t say anything, the record just sort of came out. With Vengeance Falls, we teased it a little bit personally, on our own Instagrams, our own Twitters. In Waves was a really big roll out beforehand, we did the live DVD, we did the documentary, singles, music videos.
There’s so much noise out there, now, that the one argument is you have to do it, because people are looking at so many other things that they might miss stuff if you’re not continually promoting it.
Absolutely. That’s what’s so cool for me. I can’t believe the amount of press I’ve been doing for Ember to Inferno. Even the fact that we’re speaking right now, it blows my mind. It’s so cool that from a record from 2003, including an album from 2001 in the package, it’s really cool that people want to talk about it. I think that a lot of our fans wouldn’t have had any idea if we just dropped it. If I would’ve just teased it on Twitter and Facebook, it wouldn’t have been enough.
I know how bad peoples’ attention spans are, so it’s important to be promoting yourself, so you know what’s happening. I think that there’s still probably a big chunk of Trivium fans that have no idea this record’s coming out, but thanks to the interviews we’re doing, thanks to the media that you guys are going to be putting it out there, it’s going to be getting it in front of more faces that could potentially want to get it.
You’re a big Metallica fan. What is your review of Hardwired…To Self Destruct?
All of us in Trivium, we’re really big fans of Load and Reload. Obviously, the old school stuff comes first, for us. The Black Album was what got me into Metallica, and when I got into Metallica I actually went forward, I got the Black Album first, then I got Load, Reload, Garage Inc., S&M, and then went backwards. It was completely backwards from everyone else that probably got into Metallica through Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets or …And Justice for All.
Without Metallica, I wouldn’t be in the band. When I first heard Metallica, it’s what inspired me to try out for Trivium. My tryout song was “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” The song that got me the tryout was “No Leaf Clover.” The new record, for me, sounds like a mixture of Kill ‘Em All, …And Justice for All and the Black Album. That’s what the stuff is reminding me of right now, and I love it. It’s my favorite stuff that they’ve done since Load and Reload.
Do you think that all the time that you’ve been spending recently with Ember will affect the songwriting or the sound of the next Trivium album?
We have no plans for writing anything right now, but I can say that it’s been really fun for me to be able to revisit the record. I mean, it’s always been in my head that it’s our first record, that’s an obvious statement, but I had to go through and re-listen to all the masters of everything, and then listen to it once it was printed to vinyl, and then listen to it once it was on a CD, to make sure everything’s correct. Also reading through the lyrics, make sure the lyrics are typed correctly in the special and the standard edition.
I really had time to relive and re-recognize this album. It’s really cool, it had something that’s different from the other ones. It has this really caustic, visceral aggression that is there on Ascendancy. There’s moments of it on In Waves and a couple of the other records, peppered throughout, but there’s something about Ember that has this different kind of aggression. I guess it was our first time ever tapping into it for us, but nothing in our catalog has really had anything like Ember, and I think that’s pretty interesting to see.
I always used to compare Ember to Ascendancy and say they were pretty similar, where as actually they’re pretty different. It’s just been eye opening to me to see how we really discovered something great that early on in our career, and that we’re not pushing it away. That we’re actually bringing it back to the podium for everyone to hear and see.
What happens in the world affects music and develops new genres. What do you think is going to be the effect, musically, on Trump being president for at least the next four years?
For us in Trivium, what we’ve always done is our music has been the outlet and the escape from everything that people want to escape from in life. That’s what we offer our music up as. Whatever you’re into, whatever your beliefs, religiously, politically, lifestyle, whatever it may be, we’re the band where all those barriers go away and people can just come be a part of our show, listen to our music whether by themselves or with their friends and just escape everything and find something to relate to. We will always be that.
Hopefully music keeps evolving and people keep doing interesting things. I’ve been listening to some really great records lately. I just picked up the new Stick to your Guns EP, which I think is freaking fantastic, it’s some of the best metalcore stuff I’ve heard in ages. I have the new Architects album, the new A Day To Remember’s amazing. I can’t wait until Behemoth makes another record, because I think The Satanist is one the greatest black metal records that’s ever come out. Meshuggah’s new record’s amazing, Gojira’s new record’s amazing. There’s a lot of great stuff coming out. I got the new Avenged day of that if came out, I’ve been a big fan of them forever. It was thanks to Matt that I met my vocal teacher Ron Anderson, so I hope bands keep pushing outside of their comfort zone.
I think the most important thing a band can do is to make the kind of music that they want to hear and that they feel is lacking from the rest, from the herd. A big issue that we’ve always seen, even when we first came out, there were a lot of bands that were all sort of doing the same thing, and a lot of bands fall off. You see that the bands that stick around are the ones that decide to go outside the box and not be the same, not to run with the herd, so I hope they’ll keep doing that.
Is there anything else that you need to mention?
With the album reissue release, the people who get the special edition CD and the vinyl, what’s really cool is it has the liner notes written by Cory, Paolo, our manager Justin, Monte Connor from Roadrunner and Jason Suecof, the producer of most of our earlier records. It has all the stories of when they first met Trivium, when they first heard of Trivium. You see intersecting little stories within that.
When I was reading through those and listening to the record on vinyl, it was a really special experience for me, and I think that its going to be really fun for anyone that’s either a casual fan or a hardcore fan of our band and everything in between. This will finally show them the back story and the origin of why and how Trivium is what is is today.
(interview published December 1, 2016)