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Another metalcore phoenix on the rise. - 85%

hells_unicorn, October 7th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2019, CD, Nuclear Blast (Digipak)

The ebb and flow of trends seems almost cyclical in nature, even in present age of the internet where barriers separating audiences from their preferred music are seemingly absent. In the peculiar case of America's more controversial contribution to the modern metal paradigm in metalcore, online outlets have been musing over the alleged demise of said musical movement since the early 2010s, with Killswitch Engage front man Howard Jones prophesying the end of its commercial hegemony as far back as 2006. This sentiment was not without some degree of truth given the demise of several high profile acts associated with the scene such as God Forbid and Chimaira several years back, not to mention the lack of output by the style's early pioneers Shadows Fall and As I Lay Dying. The latter's case would become a matter of infamy when vocalist Tim Lambesis found himself imprisoned for attempting to solicit the murder of his wife, in the very midst of the overall scene's mid-2010s malaise no less. Yet even when discounting these coinciding events, there is a case to be made that they style itself had a shelf-life given its heavily formulaic nature and limited potential for expansion, and by the end of the previous decade it could have been argued that the sub-genre had softened itself to the point of becoming a mere extension of the broader pop/rock crowd.

While the question of metalcore's rumored death remains an open one, if one wishes to treat its decline as a full fledged passing, the closing months of this decade might be signalling a rebirth is in the works. Following an amped up return to form out of Killswitch Engage earlier this year in Atonement, the recently reformed As I Lay Dying have unleashed what could arguably be dubbed their greatest offering in over a decade in 2019's Shaped By Fire. True to the implicit image of a phoenix rising from the proverbial ashes, this is an album born of a furious passion more befitting a band of youthful upstarts crafting a raw, intense debut; yet with the poise of seasoned veterans who have been around the block and memorized all of the landmarks within its borders. It isn't so much a reinvention of the style, nor does it really even seek to color that far beyond the accepted borders of melodic chorus fanfare, harsh and impact-based verses, and a heavy Gothenburg melodeath-oriented template to tie it all together, but rather a concentrated dose of everything that originally made metalcore work in its early days, refined into a massively produced final package. It retains the commercial accessibility that has generally come with the territory since the mid-2000s and comes in a compact formula, but the intensity factor has been kicked up something fierce.

As with a number of recent albums to come out of the broader metal scene, this album kicks off on a cinematic note with a massive sounding instrumental prelude in "Burn To Emerge", setting a looming tone with a massive drum sound akin to the march of a grand army. The resulting segue into the thrash-happy cruiser that is "Blinded" is seamless, showcasing a band that one would not guess had been broken up for several years and had not done much together since 2012, not to mention one that knocks how to tie in a fast-paced riff nod to In Flames and a technical edge with a syrupy sing-along romp of a chorus. The sheer ferocity of Lambesis' vocal assault speaks to a man who is channeling both Tomas Lindberg and Corpsegrinder with the best of them, and Josh Gilbert's cleaner singing provides a solid melodic foil while not being overtly whiny or thin, but the ones who completely steal the show are Hipa and Sgrosso with their masterful 6-string sorcery. Pummeling thrashers like "Undertow", "Gatekeeper" and "Redefined" showcase a duo that know how to chug and shred like its going out of style, not to mention up the ante in just how aggressive metalcore riffing can get. That said, even on more moderated and catchy numbers such as "Torn Between" and "Take What's Left", the riffing factor is still quite animated and the brief guitar solos prove technical enough to rival the mainline death metal crowd.

Say what one might about the baggage that this band may now carry due to the past exploits of their front man, this is about as clear cut of a case for Voltaire's famous quote of needing to separate the work from the man as any in recent memory. If there is any flaw to be pointed out in this otherwise amazing example of metalcore's potential, it is that it betrays the stubborn limitations in the style itself. For all its sheer energy and fury, it finds itself conforming to the cliche verse/chorus formula that has largely dogged the style since its inception, to the point of each of these songs being extremely predictable. Having said that, the sum of this album is a veritable sonic colossus that hits the listener with the intensity of a sledgehammer, and any trustee of old school melodic death metal would be hard-pressed to deny that this showcases about as faithful of an emulation of those consonant heavy metal melodies typical to In Flames and the high-octane thrashing character that typified the early works of The Crown. It may not win over many new converts given its largely orthodox demeanor, but any self-respecting old school fan who first took to metalcore because of albums such as Beneath The Encasing Of Ashes and Alive Or Just Breathing will want to hear this.

Originally written for The Metal Observer (www.metal-observer.com)

Shaped by Greatness - 100%

Petrus_Steele, October 5th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2019, CD, Nuclear Blast (Digipak)

After Awakened was released, Tim was busy doing other projects such as his death metal band, Pyrithion; releasing their debut EP a year after Awakened, as well as his satirical, Arnold Schwarzenegger-based project, Austrian Death Machine which he started after An Ocean Between Us. Even Josh Gilbert, the bassist, joined that project. But that project, as well as Pyrithion, AS WELL AS As I Lay Dying all came to a halt, as Tim was prisoned.

Tim was sentenced and prisoned due to attempted murder of his then-wife; hiring a hitman. That's not something you hear often, especially from a genre like metalcore and its musicians. But the man really stepped up his game and took responsibility, which ultimately had him released sooner than expected from prison. From what I've read, had he not been released sooner, then he would've stayed until next year. He went to find his relationship with God or whatever he believes in; his religion to be precise. He also went to help others in need, like donations and such. Trying to rekindle his friendship with his bandmates which finally ended this long hiatus, when the band released their first single off Shaped by Fire, My Own Grave in 2018, followed by the second single, Redefined. And just a month and a week away from the album's release, the band released the title track and Blinded as the third and fourth singles, respectively.

You can only wonder the lyrical content and how the music has changed after seven years and what the band went through in making this long-awaited successor to Awakened. Said album was their latest best record since Frail Words Collapse, as far as I'm concerned. Hopefully, whatever drove the band to record something unique after all these years will be something new, fresh, unpredictable, and perhaps better than anything they've released.

Let's start with the four singles: Burn to Emerge is just a prelude. That's all I have to say about that. Maybe pointless, but it is what it is. Blinded, which is the fourth single, melodically sounds a bit like melodic death metal, but the guitars are quite explosive, as the drums are blasting. The vocals sound great and somewhat improved. I think the band went to a more technical approach, too, while this song, in particular, reminds me of Frail Words Collapse. Followed by the title track as the third single, it's heavy, all right, but heavy in the djent kind of way. Just a fun song, really and thankfully it's just one djenty song. The song that reignited and truly shaped this fire: My Own Grave exceeds all expectations. It's groovy, heavy, and in the band's unique sound - take notes emo bands. And the second single which features Jake Luhrs (who also appears on the song's music video) from August Burns Red; another known Christian metalcore band: Redefined is rather angry on the vocal department, though that doesn't stop the drums going crazy, the guitars fulfilling even more with the melodies, and the clean vocals doing their respective part.

As for the rest of this masterpiece: Undertow showcases bone-chilling melodies and clean vocals, while Tim steps down to more growly unclean vocals, and there's even a weak keyboard sample in the background. There's also a sick and original breakdown. Just an awesome song! Torn Between is more standard to the band's quality, yet didn't disappoint. Definitely more fresh than the 2005-2010 records. Gatekeeper is more drums-orientated which fueled the song with sheer heaviness. Just listen to the guitar solo that's backed up by the blast beats. This is a great example that the band is surpassing their expectations. The Wreckage, which is the longest song starts with a soft guitar melody and clean vocals until the song's heavy side kicks in brutally. Rhythmically, it's melodic. It has more of those annoying gang vocals that I despise, but I digress. More catchy melodies and heavy vocals in Take What's Left, as well as the meaningful clean vocals in the chorus. The drums are blasting even more here. Only After We've Fallen contains more and more heavy and powerful musicianship on all departments. And the last track in this quite-perfected record: The Toll It Takes concludes in yet more heavy playing, though the chorus, which mostly contains the clean vocals made the song more impactful.

I'll be damn if this isn't the band's best album after six full-lengths, in a total of about eight original releases, and existing for almost 20 years. It almost feels like it's not even As I Lay Dying anymore, but a whole new, different, and unique band. Arguably, I still dig the first two records the most, while Confined from Shadows Are Security is my favorite song from the band and is yet to be beaten. Shaped by Fire is definitely the best record metalcore has to offer in 2019 and perhaps on the chart for the best record of this year, too.

I hope this is the direction the band will take onto their next record and beyond. It seems like the repetitive and unoriginal style of the band's sound and music is gone. I always liked the debut, while the sophomore album had a promising direction, but all that never happened for a long damn while until now. As the first reviewer for this album, I hope the band will take notes and give the fans even more impactful albums. Now for the best songs: Blinded, Undertow (being the best song on the album), Gatekeeper, My Own Grave, Take What's Left, Redefined, and Only After We've Fallen.