Ladies and gentlemen, we have a repeat offender here on the Other R2D2 Blog!
It's none other than American metalcore heavyweights As I Lay Dying with their new album Awakened. You may recall I reviewed their album Decas in a previous post just shy of a year ago, and as I mentioned in that post the first thing I had to note was my sheer elation at new As I Lay Dying material, despite its relatively minor position on the album overall. But where Decas is more of a retrospective album - commemorating the band with remixes, remasters, and a small handful of new material - Awakened is a never-before-seen-or-heard-brand-spanking-new-full-length album replete with everything you've come to love about As I Lay Dying.
Awakened is the sixth full-length album from As I Lay Dying - not counting any live albums or EPs or retrospectives. Over the course of that six-album discography, As I Lay Dying hasn't been a band concerned with reinvention. I remember back in 2005 when Shadows Are Security had just come out, there was a fairly distinct buzz in the "underground" music scene in regard to As I Lay Dying. Even then, with only a few major releases behind them, fans and critics alike were really taking a shine to this band. Metalcore was already an existing subgenre before As I Lay Dying began to rise, but there was something about their approach to it that made everyone stand up and go "Yeah! That's how it's supposed to be!" As I Lay Dying practically wrote the book on quality metalcore and while they have a few influences to which credit is due, there's a much much larger gaggle of musicians and bands who owe them credit for creative inspiration.
All that is to say, As I Lay Dying broke the mold, set the bar high, and haven't bothered changing much since. The music on Awakened is readily comparable to music from just about any of their discography - mixing and mastering aside. And as far as I'm concerned, that's a very good thing. I've come to expect a very specific thing from As I Lay Dying as they've consistently delivered the goods with each new release. That very specific thing is good ol' fashioned American metalcore: furious back and forth tempos in verse, consistent melody in chorus and/or bridge, and the occasional breakdown.
A few stand out tracks include the very first, "Cauterize," which features all of the aforementioned to a near formulaic extent. From there "A Greater Foundation" - the next track in sequence and my personal favorite - explores almost identical motifs, but does so with the musical confidence As I Lay Dying is known for. The more subdued parts of the track are utterly joyous to experience; rhythm guitars palm-muting a double-chug in halftime while lead guitars pick out a reverb-laden and melodious undercurrent. Layered over that is bassist and backup vocalist Josh Gilbert's sincere yell-singing, which acts as a beautiful counterpoint to lead vocalist Tim Lambesis' primal growls.
The overall feel of the album is epic and anthemic, even to an extent that previous releases weren't fully. In addition to "A Greater Foundation," the song "Overcome" features some solid balance between furious bursts and muscled melody. The chorus exhorts listeners to take heart for "No matter what we face in this life, we can overcome." The entire album is chock full of this kind of motivational material; Awakened would make an excellent workout playlist as is.
There aren't really any worth mentioning. As I said, Awakened doesn't showcase anything experimental or particularly innovative, but I don't see that as a bad thing for As I Lay Dying. Clean vocals feature a little more prominently on this record than previous outings, but Awakened is still Grade-A 100% All-American As I Lay Dying.
I had only heard "A Greater Foundation" before purchasing this album, but that song alone was enough to warrant the buy. I like to make a point of buying physical albums from artists I could just as easily stream over Spotify or strip song-by-song from iTunes. As much as I hate to admit it, I definitely harbor some hipsterish tendencies in regards to bands going "mainstream." But when it comes to bands like As I Lay Dying, I'm proud to help contribute to their spot on the Billboard charts because I think they deserve financial and critical recognition.
Awakened isn't really anything new, as I've mentioned a few times already. But for me, that's precisely why it's such a phenomenal album. It's a rare thing indeed to find any artist whose formula doesn't wear out its welcome, but As I Lay Dying is one of them. If you like metalcore, you will love Awakened. If you don't love metalcore then you probably won't be too thrilled with this album. If you have no clue what metalcore is and would like a demonstration, give Awakened a good listen - because that is what fantastic metalcore sounds like.