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As I Lay Dying have managed to stay on the forefront of modern heavy metal music by pushing the boundaries of the genre with their unformulaic, technical playing and exceptional songwriting. Every release has been a consistent showcase of their talents, chockful of technical guitar riffs, furious drumming, and aggressive vocals. Each subsequent album featured more melody and employed more of a thrash metal influence. The Powerless Rise (2010) was arguably their most technical and aggressive album yet, while simultaneously using more clean vocals. It was widely regarded as one of the best metal albums of the year. Instead of building on the success of that sound, As I Lay Dying manage to make Awakened sound like a watered down version of themselves. While still utilizing the same thrash elements they’ve been known for, none of the songs stand out and fall prey to mediocrity due to a reliance on formulaic songwriting and overabundance of clean-sung choruses.
Lead single and album opener Cauterize ends up sounding like a ripoff of past As I Lay Dying songs, primarily “Parallels” from their previous album. It follows the same basic structure and ultimately doesn’t do anything to distinguish itself among similar sounding tracks. From here the album gradually gets better with the next two songs, “A Greater Foundation” and “Resilience.” Both feature the band’s trademark technical guitar riffing with powerful sounding choruses. “Wasted Words” is the highlight of the album, containing one of the best choruses the band has ever written interspersed with Middle Eastern sounding melodies throughout, a first for the band. Unfortunately the album goes downhill from there. The next three songs are standard As I Lay Dying fare except for poppier choruses and a dependence on repetitive metalcore guitar and vocal melodies. “Defender” follows similarly except with some amazing guitar tapping in the bridge, just barely saving this section of the album from complete mediocrity. The last few songs make almost no attempt to break away from the predictable songwriting from the first half of the album.
As I Lay Dying were never known for having especially deep or memorable lyrics, which end up making them sound like a broken record in Awakened. Their blatant and obvious themes of redemption and faith have been exhausted after singing about them for six albums. They’ve never been especially coherent and just sound overdramatic and even somewhat immature. One of the most significant changes in Awakened is bass player Josh Gilbert’s larger role as backing vocalist. Almost every song features his clean singing, and while hitting the right notes, ends up sounding flat and sterile. The melodies in the choruses themselves certainly don’t help the problem.
Despite a few high points, almost all of which are in the first four songs, everything about Awakened feels clinical and uninspired. The fast, shredding guitar riffs and solos are present, but completely restrained and lacking in the ingenuity and imagination As I Lay Dying has been so renowned for. In some cases, the choruses end up ruining potentially decent songs, primarily “Defender” and “Washed Away.” They ride the line between aggressiveness and poppiness and end up sounding like nothing at all. The guitar solos are considerably shortened in favor of repeating choruses, further damaging the songs' potential.
One of the most disappointing aspects of the album is how forced its only redeeming qualities sound. Their trademark aggressive guitar riffs and solos are few and far in between, usually only lasting ten or fifteen seconds before jumping back into playing the choruses again. Awakened feels like a major step back in As I Lay Dying’s progression, and despite a few high points, is ultimately their weakest and most underwhelming release yet.
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.