Since their inception in 2000, As I Lay Dying have released five-full length studio albums, ranging from indie debut Beneath The Encasing of Ashes to hitting number eight on the Billboard charts back in 2007 with An Ocean Between Us.
For album number six, guitarist Phil Sgrosso has gone on record stating that they aren’t going for a new sound, but rather that they have ‘just refined [their] songwriting and incorporated some ideas that bring a real freshness to the record’. So is that a clever marketing spin on ‘we’ve run out of ideas’, or have the band actually managed to craft something so focused that it truly encapsulates all their best elements without needing to change up their sound? The answer is most definitely the latter.
Awakened is a genuinely difficult album to criticize. Song structures vary enough to remain interesting, the clean and harsh vocals compliment each other more than enough to prevent either becoming dull or repetitive, and the and inclusion of frequent guitar solos in place of constant breakdowns means you’re never totally sure what’s coming next.
‘Washed Away’ adds a nice acoustic break before the albums final act, building gracefully into the soaring chorus of ‘My Only Home’, giving the album a real sense of pace. It’s maybe a little disappointing that there’s no attempt at something different or grander (maybe a nice ten-minute epic or full-on acoustic track) but with the quality of material on offer here this is really just nitpicking.
Frontman Tim Lambesis is excellent as ever, his harsh frenetic screaming blending seamlessly with the machine-gun drumming and earth-shaking guitar lines. Clean passages are courtesy of bassist Josh Gilbert, whose soaring vocals are used to add accessible, yet not overly poppy hooks throughout the record, often used in tandem with Lambesis’ screams. The pair provide an excellent counterpoint to one another, with the way they trade-off throughout ‘Whispering Silence’ being a definite album highlight.
Tasteful and melodic lead guitar lines pepper melodic choruses, adding a further layer of depth and complexity to the chugging, even throwing in a few honest-to-God guitar solos alongside the crushing breakdowns. Nick Hipa is on top form all throughout the record, easily at a career best in the stunningly melodic intro and solo found in ‘Overcome’, before breaking out some full on shredding for ‘No Lungs To Breathe’.
Jordan Mancino’s drumming switches between barrages of double bass and complex breakdown patterns at the drop of a hat, always reigning it in to compliment rather than overpower the choruses. There’s a real sense of balance and harmony between not just the music and the vocals, but the musicians themselves; no element of the band’s sound ever really threatens to overpower everything else.
In a phase of their career where most bands are floundering, drastically changing their sound or struggling to remain relevant, As I Lay Dying still retain the youthful fierceness of younger bands, now infused with the songwriting experience of a veteran act. It’s a potent combination, with the band really playing to their strengths and capitalising on their past success.
Awakened lacks the complexity of an August Burns Red record, but also manages to avoid the overly commercial pitfalls of later-era Killswitch Engage material. What it does offer is a balanced middle-ground between the two, with all the screaming, lightning-fast riffs and insane drumming you could ask for, flowing into epic singalong choruses and melodies without ever feeling contrived.
This is an excellent album by a band that, despite being at the forefront of the American metalcore movement since their debut hit eleven years ago, are still growing and maturing into something better. And that is extremely hard to fault.*
* Let’s be honest here though, nothing Lambesis ever does is going to come close to matching the superlative quality of his magnum opus, the sheer magnificence that is Austrian Death Machine‘s Total Brutal. Nyaaaaaargh!
Awakened is released on September 25thAs I Lay Dying