When San Diego-based metalcore band As I Lay Dying (AILD) released The Powerless Rise in 2009, most people marked them as making the move to a heavier sound. And it's with this in mind that their newest album, Awakened, prompted some to call the album a big step backward.
It's hard to reconcile that, given that Awakened digs in to deliver a richly varied album, rife with hooks, harshness, and and breakdowns. Bringing in producer Bill Stevenson (NOFX, Rise Against, Anti Flag) clearly paid off. He's known well enough for pinpointing strengths and pushing for refinement.
Awakened is as dizzying as it is relentlessness.
While most people would be hard pressed to say the album is breaking new ground, it does deliver metalcore in following less formulaic steps. Many of the tracks have a complexity in the composition, writing, and delivery that eschews mediocrity, which proves metalcore isn't fading away as much as the number of bands that do it right might be. That's good thing. We don't need ten AILD. We need one.
Cauterize, which opens the album, nails the point. There's a difference between self-restraint and forced repression. It makes for a great introduction into the album, maybe even laying the bridge between The Powerless Rise and the rest of Awakened because it truly takes off with A Greater Foundation.
It's a big song, technically precise, and remains heavy throughout the first half of the song, until the melodic qualities are really needed as a moment of reflection. This is also one of the reasons that AILD has always hit harder than many metalcore bands. They seldom resort to the pat harsh-melodic back and forth, preferring to look for the right moments. And even then, the melodic verses remain strong.
This is where Tim Lambesis and Josh Gilbert have always had an advantage in their exchanges. Gilbert never becomes overtly melodramatic or excessively sensitive in his vocal bits but rather elevates Lambesis, making an impact. The complement works well enough on the song Resilience too.
All three tracks lead up to the most memorable song on the album, Wasted Words. With the melodic chorus woven in but Lambesis never relenting his harshness, it's the most relentless song on the album, making the case the band is still evolving musically and lyrically with its anti-regret message.
The balance of an impressively representative album.
Overall, some of the solos on Awakened prove that neither guitarists Phil Sgrosso nor Nick Hipa have any intention of slowing down in the next decade. Awakened is faster and fresh. Even some of the simpler riffs are overlaid and emotive, leaving an imprint. Likewise, Jordan Mancino lays down several powerful grooves across the album, not only on Defender but also as the binding that keeps things together across most tracks.
The bonus track, Unwound, is also a must have. It skews more toward the heavy side of AILD. The second bonus is a slightly longer demo version of A Greater Foundation. It's worth a listen, feeling more raw than the original and perhaps alluding to Stevenson's influence in giving up a comparison.
Awakened By As I Lay Dying Stands Up At 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.
There really haven't been many metalcore albums that were a listen this year, and even metal in general has struggled during some months to put out consistently worthwhile material. As I Lay Dying does, even if some people claim to have expected more. Maybe. As I said before, Awakened isn't necessarily groundbreaking, but there is a level of refinement at precisely the right time. It's going to do very well.
You can catch Awakened on iTunes or Awakened (Deluxe Limited Edition) on Amazon. Both include the bonus tracks. You can also find the CD on Barnes & Noble. The vinyl and deluxe issues were posted by the store at press time. For tour dates, check with AILD on Facebook.