by James Zalucky
I've seen As I Lay Dying in concert a few times and I've always had fun watching them play. Usually they begin and end with one of their two major classics: Forever and 94 Hours, and honestly I never tire of hearing these songs live. It's even better considering the band still makes great music to put in-between the two favorites. Of all the 'metalcore' bands that came out in the early 2000's, As I Lay Dying has always been one of the best, and one that seemed sure to transcend the trend of sideways haircuts and gauges. Their new record, The Powerless Rise, makes that condition clear, and should make for a great experience when seen live.
The band starts the album with a lot of speed and aggression, beginning with a blastbeating kick to the chest with Beyond our Suffering. The album actually has a lot of very thrash-metal sounds with simpler, dissonant riffs rather than the NWOBHM melodic arrangements. The band still uses them of course, but much of this album sticks to a more direct approach. "Without Conclusion" is another example of a faster song, with singer Tim Lambesis sometimes sounding similar to Chuck Billy of TESTAMENT (on the later records) with a very raspy, guttural sound. Tim's voice is absolutely ideal for a heavy metal band, he has the ability to use a menacingly powerful guttural voice, which sounds fantastic live by the way, while also being able to go higher for more throat-centered screams. He can also do a pure death metal voice when he wants to, but hasn't done much of this since the band's first album, Beneath the Encasing of Ashes. He comes close to this on some songs, such as The Plague.
One constant about AS I LAY DYING albums has been their great production. The drums strike the listener in the face, but they don't overpower the rest of the instruments. Jordan Mancino has always had an entertaining style, with seemingly endless double-bass stamina at his disposal. The guitars sound great too, especially when Phil Sgrosso and Nick Hipa trudge through their tremolo picking arrangements on songs like Condemned, and yes…on the breakdowns too.
About those breakdown by the way: one problem with metal and hardcore today stems from the amount of bands who, rather than write songs where a breakdown fits into the rhythm and structure of the composition, they instead opt to play some fast verses in drop A, then suddenly start hopping up and down and begin playing palm-muted standard. It's really too bad, because I usually like breakdowns, especially when they are applied to the right song. Breakdowns are supposed to make a song unique and riveting- this is part of what gave them their appeal in the first place. Its nice to hear that AS I LAY DYING still realizes this and applies some punishing breakdowns to the record- take Upside Down Kingdom as a perfect example. Smart bands know how to apply a technique without letting it become a cliche to just pander what they expect an audience will want to hear, like many bands do with breakdowns today.
On their previous album, An Ocean Between Us, AS I LAY DYING applied the clean vocals of bassist Josh Gilbert to accompany the growling of Lambesis, and songs like the title track of that album pulled this off very well. Songs like Anodyne Sea and the single, Parallels continue this, with strong melodic vocals that express profound feeling, without slipping into whiny emo-ish nonsense, another common cliche.
I have to say that the album does not have any glaring weaknesses. The band doesn't deviate from their approach very much, but I really don't think this hurts the album. In general, the band sounds more direct and focused on creating a brutal atmosphere, with some melodic moments still present, but not as central as with the previous two records.
Basically the band leaves the listener very satisfied, knowing that he or she has just listened to a solid, exhilarating blast of metal. In short- the album is great, go buy it, and go see the band live as soon as you can.
A well deserved 8 out of 10.
Album Highlights: Beyond our Suffering, Anodyne Sea, Parallels, Condemned, and Upside Down Kingdom