The sixth release by As I Lay Dying has everything fans have come to expect from the Southern California band; killer riffs and leads, dark, growling vocals and screams, excellent drumming, great musicianship overall, and good production. This time around AILD changes some things up a bit in some songs, adds some new elements, and continues to move subtly away from the sound of their earlier material in some aspects and subtly closer to their earlier sound in other aspects.
I’ve been a fan of AILD ever since I first heard the song 94 Hours from their second album Frail Words Collapse. The sound was dark, production somewhat stark, and the combination of Tim Lambesis’ growling, screaming vocals, and Jordan Mancino’s incredible drumming had me hooked as soon as I heard it. I do have to admit, however, that I have become less of a fan of their evolving sound ever since that release.
For their sixth release, AILD brought in legendary drummer Bill Stevenson (Black Flag, Descendents) who has produced albums by NOFX and Rise Against. The choice, according to the band, was made to bring in someone who wasn’t a standard within the metalcore genre but still someone who had a good understanding of underground music. There are some noticeable changes in the overall sound of this album compared to some of the more recent AILD releases. The album starts out with Lambesis taking an audible deep breath and then launching into a scream accompanied by roaring guitars and drums. Often within the metalcore genre, bands including AILD have opted for a wall of sound to pummel the listener at the expense of having the instruments be more distinct. What I enjoy in the second release, Frail Words Collapse, is the more distinct instruments in the sound, in contrast to their later release where things lean more toward the pummeling wall of sound. In Awakened, AILD has returned somewhat to the more distinct instrument sound while not losing any of the power that is inherent in the wall of sound approach.
Many of the songs on Awakened carry the characteristic AILD sound that any fan will pick out immediately and even many casual listeners would be able to identify. Strong leads, good riffs, pummeling drums and soaring melodic, clean choruses contrasting to Lambesis’ dark growls and screams carry the day for the majority of the songs on Awakened. AILD has strayed quite a bit from that formula in some of the songs, and for me, some of those changes work well. Resilience is the strongest track on Awakened and does have all of the characteristic AILD sounds, but also contains some almost black metal vocals trading off with Lambesis’ deeper growls and screams, making for a nice contrast with double the impact. The clean vocals in Resilience are also more subdued than in most of the other tracks on Awakened and are there as an accent, almost in the background, and that works very well. One of the other differences in sound can be heard in the vocals in the song A Greater Foundation where AILD adopts a style similar to some old-school hardcore bands, with lead vocals engaging in a shout and response with gang backing vocals. No clean melodic singing through much of the song, just powerful shouting back and forth. Later in the song, though, the clean melodic vocals come back with a vengeance, softening the impact of the rest of the song.
Unfortunately, not all the departures from their normal sound work out so well. The songs Whispering Silence and Defender almost sound as if they would not be out of place on a Disturbed or Avenged Sevenfold album. In these, the clean vocals are pushed to the forefront, with Lambesis’ vocals now providing the accent to the songs in the background – almost the opposite of how vocals have been handled in the past. To me, these songs remind me of when I first heard the Metallica black album. The songs are still good, but certainly not what I was expecting, and not necessarily a direction I would like to see AILD move. The shift in emphasis of the clean melodic vocals seems to almost interrupt many of the songs, taking attention away from the excellent musicianship in the rest of the songs and lessening the overall impact of the album.
Written by John Jackson
2. A Greater Foundation
4. Wasted Words
5. Whispering Silence
7. No Lungs to Breathe
9. Washed Away
10. My Only Home
11. Tear Out My Eyes
12. Unwound (B-side demo)*
13. A Greater Foundation (extended demo)*
Tim Lambesis – lead vocals
Jordan Mancino – drums
Phil Sgrosso – guitar
Nick Hipa – guitar
Josh Gilbert – bass
Record Label: Metal Blade Records, Sept. 2012
Video for A Greater Foundation: