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Boring, generic, brutal - 30%

gasmask_colostomy, May 27th, 2015

I distinctly remember hating this album the first time I listened to it. I thought that it sounded generic, tried too hard to be brutal, and that the vocals - particularly the vocal rhythms - were atrocious. Have I changed my mind? To be honest, I rarely listen to this album because metalcore is not my favourite type of metal, though I have a tolerance for the faster-paced variety that bears more similarities to melodic death metal. One thing you can certainly say of As I Lay Dying is that they never wimped out and went for the emoting clean-sung chorus on every song, nor do they skimp on riffs. This album sits closer to melodeath, and maybe even death metal, than any of the pathetic post-hardcore bands that are essentially Avril Lavigne songs with a screaming singer, so it's all up to content as to whether the band triumph here.

There's a small triumph for As I Lay Dying, but no greater reward. They do have a good riffing style that is reasonably intricate, which includes all the standard chuggy parts and beatdowns you would expect from a metalcore band. What annoys me is that this style doesn't have a lot of merit in itself: I don't want to listen to more than a couple of BOOM-BOOM-lick riffs or chug-chug-chug-chug-slightly different lick riffs per album and this album has about that quantity on each song, so I get tired as fuck by the time I'm halfway to the end. There are, however, some melodies that borrow strongly from the In Flames template and they give the songs more fluid rhythms and individual identities. 'The Darkest Nights', for example, uses one such melody almost from start to finish and, although there isn't much progression in ideas, ends up a lot more satisfying than the following 'Empty Hearts', which goes for "brutal" mode and sounds insanely repetitive, barring an aggressive thrash/death solo that shows up towards the end. The drumming style ditto, because there isn't anything going on to keep me interested, wherein lies my biggest complaint with metalcore - the rhythms are so, so predictable that I feel the song can't go anywhere unexpected. I assume that the bass player is similarly half-assed, because I don't recall hearing him do anything at all on this album.

Now, let me come back to that thing about the vocals. Many would say that Tim Lambesis is a decent metalcore singer, because he has a sufficiently good scream and rarely uses cleans, thus clearing up a common problem in the genre of only sounding semi-serious about metal. In my opinion, he comes up against an entirely different problem - namely that he isn't very good. There's a reason why Killswitch Engage got to be leaders without their instrumentalists ever doing anything spectacular and that's because they had good vocalists who were the focal point of every song. Howard Jones had a good range of different styles, so could bring emotion to the lyrics, while Jesse Leach always sounds more desperate and alive than your common metalcore vocalist. Lambesis has an almost mechanical delivery that neither pulls at the heartstrings nor makes me raise my fist in salute, but rather makes me wish for a guitar solo sometime soon. His lyrics are often indecipherable and seem unsuited for such an inhuman, roaring style, since they are about faith and struggle. His rhythms are horrible, with a very slow, stressed delivery on many songs that chops up the already chuggy style even more and leaves the album with zero momentum, added to which his cleans are weak, so even the rush of a melodic section loses its appeal.

I'm not even going to bother looking at the songs, because they all sound almost the same - forced and featureless. My technique for listening to this album is to find a riff I like (usually the melodeath parts, but a few metalcore ones) and concentrate on that until a melody or solo gives me something to actually enjoy. Ignore the vocals, ignore the drums, ignore the bass, ignore the generic parts; just focus on about ten minutes of mediocre melodeath. Sounds great, right?