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Do you remember the last time where a band has put out six albums and every single album was better than all the albums before it? I mean, I can think of Death, and... that's it actually. When you think about it, even classic bands by album six have had at least one misstep somewhere along the way. I mean, even Megadeth had “Youthanasia.”
As I Lay Dying is a band that came into their own amidst the metalcore scene around the turn of the decade. A handful of great songs on their Metal Blade debut (and second album altogether) hinted at promise, and when next disc “Shadows Are Security” came out, the first real example of where the band was headed was already here. When “An Ocean Between Us” came out, it was heralded as a bonafide metalcore classic and truly established the band as a group that had staying power and that was evolving further from it's -core roots and embracing the heaviness. “The Powerless Rise” was a full-on blasting blitz through it's eleven tracks and is easily the band's most “metal” disc. So now the question is where can the band evolve to now?
Answer: they can slightly devolve and make it sound fresh again! The downright brutal aggression is still here, and so are the thrashy sections that Tim Lambesis has gotten so great at writing and Phil Sgrosso at refining and performing over the years. What came back are the breakdowns, for starters. And we're not talking some weak-willed, deathcore/pseudo-djent breakdowns like the de rigueur as of late...no, we're talking about brick-to-your-face drum and guitar synchronicity, riding that crash cymbal with the sickest groove you can imagine, getting a slow headbang going, and for the listener hoping to god you don't put your fist through a wall before you realize “it's only a song...it's only a song.” Another element adding to this excitement is the band's seeming commitment to utilizing the ever-improving voice of one Josh Gilbert, the band's bassist since 2006. Possibly due to input from new producer Bill Stevenson (producer for Rise Against, ex-drummer for Black Flag and The Descendants) there's far more and far catchier chorus parts on this disc than ever before, and they are friggin' golden. You can't help but sing along with Tim and Josh on tunes like the powerhouse “No Lungs to Breathe” where that awesome call-and-response toughguy vocal phrasing of “With no lungs to breathe – I had almost lost everything!!!” come in and just layers over that sick groove so perfectly. Jordan is still a drummer that is almost inhumanly tight and versatile in all styles metal, and thus provides the perfect counterpoint to the sometime straightforward, all guns blazing riffage being spewed out. Speaking of guitarists, I really have to say that Nick Hipa has become the perfect guitar hero that all metal kids of this era should aspire to be. It's totally the trend these days for some 22-year-old to get up there on a 7-string and rip the same sweep arpeggio 8 times before going to a different sweep arpeggio for another 8 times and call it a solo. Meanwhile, we have Nick...who has so many weapons in his arsenal as a guitarists ranging from the sweeping, the tapping, the spot-on and fluid legato, and even some cool whammy tricks, but all those merely serve a purpose to add flair to MELODIC solos...solos that you can sing along to just as much as those awesome chorus parts.
What's next for As I Lay Dying? I'll be over here, on the edge of my seat, patiently waiting. At this point I can be really sure that my mind will continue to be blown.
I have listened to Awakened 4 or 5 times through and this is a difficult review to write. Not because the album is complex and difficult to explain, no its much worse than that. As I Lay Dying's album Awakened just...isn't that good. As a big fan of this band it is just hard to admit, but there it is. Awakened isn't by any means a bad album but the band made what I would say are a few mistakes in the process of its creation and they stick out like a sore thumb.
On a review I read of the album on another site someone mentioned how AILD has created the first "retro metalcore" album. I think that description is apt, and I also believe that is what takes this from what could be a great album, to just ok. The riffing is a lot more choppy reminiscent of your generic metalcore band. It contains a lot of the stop start guitar parts which sap the riffs of their strength and just makes thing a tad boring. Still the fellas can still shred and Wasted Words is a thrashy tune for the most part. Another track that stands out and being good is A Greater Foundation which has probably the most memorable chorus of the album.
Vocally Tim Lambesis even sounds like he kind of phoned it in this time around. His performance on Awakened almost reminds me of the vocalist for another christian metalcore band, Mychildren Mybride. In fact the album holds more than that in common with said band. And you know, Josh Gilbert's clean vocals never really bothered me too much. But on Awakened they annoy the living hell out of me. I'm not sure if he sings more on this album than the previous two or what. But it seems to rub me the wrong way, like how when he sings it just pops out above everything else.
One of the highlights of the album has to be listening to Jordan Mancino's drumming. It's always a treat to hear him behind the kit. The album seems to even be pretty much driven by the drumming, perhaps a little higher in the mix than the other instruments. Mr. Gilbert's Bass is of course back in the mix, its there but barely discernible. The production is well done at least. Its clear and clean without any noticeable sonic blemishes.
On Awakened AILD have seemed to of mixed their style on An Ocean Between Us and the Powerless Rise with their older more generic metalcore style. This hurts the album. As soon as I heard the breakdown on Cauterize I knew something strange was up. Like I said before, Awakened is not bad by any means but it is not up to par with the last two albums. There is too much whiny singing, and the riffing at times can be a pain. Musically this album may have more melodies, but it is somehow less memorable overall. If you are a diehard AILD fan you may be on the fence about this album like me, otherwise if you are new to the band just pick up The Powerless Rise or the seminal An Ocean Between Us. Hopefully Awakened is a grower.
I’ll be honest about this band. While I don't mind certain metalcore/deathcore bands, I didn't like this band too much until they released the phenomenal An Ocean Between Us back in 2007 with the thrash/melodeath influences. That and vocalist/frontman Tim Lambesis changing his vocal style for the better.
Tim Lambesis and Josh Gilbert are the stronger points of this band, using the same vocal style as other metalcore bands, but not as "whiny" as, say, modern Underoath. As noted before, Lambesis uses roaring vocals and some occasional shouting nowadays, and that still hasn't changed. Gilbert's clean vocals haven't changed much, either. He does add to the melody of the songs here, so that's a good thing. Gilbert also happens to be the bassist at times, adding to said melody with more than his voice. An example of this is the second song, A Greater Foundation, where Lambesis does most of the vocals at a certain point, while Gilbert only does the chorus in these songs. Fits well, but eh, the formula could be changed slightly/used slightly less, as I sometimes felt that clean vocals, when done right, can add a lot, but in this case where Lambesis is a solid screamer, I don't see why clean vocals are used to begin with. But eh, it doesn't bother me too much since Gilbert is a solid singer and he doesn't make the music worse.
Guitarists Phil Sgrosso and Nick Hipa seemed to unfortunately calm down with the amazing and memorable melodic solos this time around, sadly, as certain songs do not have them, unlike with their previous records that were loaded with them, all sounding amazing. The solos are still great, but it's just a bit disappointing that they didn't use them nearly as much. The riffs have a great sound and tone for -core standards. Breakdowns are still present. That never changed for sure, although I did feel like they put more emphasis on them this time around.
Jordan Mancino does his job as the drummer. Passable, but nothing too awe-inducing nor too horrendous. He manages to keep up just fine. Still, I can't think of a drummer who does better here even when he isn't the next Pete Sandoval.
What about the lyrics? Everyone claims that they are your stereotypical Christ stuff, but that has never been 100% true. Rather, the lyrics seem to focus more on relationships and personal struggles. On the other hand, it makes some sense as many of the lyrics could technically apply to Christians. Heck, Lambesis did say that they embrace the label as a Christian metal band, as the members worship the Lord himself.
As for the music itself, I felt that it went backwards in terms of technical musicianship, An Ocean Between Us and The Powerless Rise had obvious thrash influences that contributed to the awesomeness of those two albums and that Slayer cover shows that they can do thrash quite well. So now I found myself asking "WHY THE HELL DID THEY DITCH THAT AWESOME SOUND!?" Back Awakened seems to be a mix of the old and new AILD, really. I personally miss the old sound, but it has more emphasis on the new sound, so I didn't mind too much. That being said, I do hope that they go back to their old sound.
Overall, if you’re a fan of metalcore, definitely pick this up, even more so if you're an AILD fan. For the purists that associate -core with emo/scensters, steer away as your mind will not be changed with this record and stick to Deicide.