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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.