It may be time to face facts: in 2012, metalcore is essentially dead in the water. Granted, it’s still in prominence in bastardized forms as courtesy of the Asking Alexandria’s and Bury Tomorrow’s of the world, but “classic” metalcore, if such a word can be attributed to a genre that arguably should still be in its infancy, peaked around 2006 after Killswitch Engage, Avenged Sevenfold (early Avenged Sevenfold – calm down, everyone) and Trivium took the genre about as far as it could go without injecting it with electronica or focusing primarily on the “-core” element of the sound. Since then, although not without various moments of promise within the dwindling scene, the old guard of metalcore have done little more than repeat themselves for the better part of a decade.
This is not to discredit the bands; it could be argued that the whole point of these bands is not for progression but rather consistency through an entire catalogue, which is a fair point. But when you consider that we have had very little in the way of metalcore offerings that make an impact in the same way ‘The End Of Heartache’, ‘Unholy Confessions’ and ‘Pull Harder On The Strings Of Your Martyr’ filled and continue to fill dance floors the world over, it forces you to look at metalcore through different eyes than the ones of your nostalgia.
Quite where As I Lay Dying fit into the whole conundrum in 2012 is up for debate. The last time As I Lay Dying made a considerable impression on the scene was with 2007’s excellent An Ocean Between Us, an album that increased their aggressive side by extracting some of the sugar of its predecessor without losing any of their songwriting panache. Since then, AILD have not so much grown or shrunk in the eyes of the metal world but have instead managed to, in essence, tread water. 2010’s The Powerless Rise was one of the most well received efforts they had put their name to, but despite initially strong sales figures, it arrived to little fanfare, and in the UK at least, the band’s media presence seemed to have weakened. Seeing them placed beneath Job For A Cowboy at that years Download Festival made it even more difficult to gauge AILD’s size at the time. A simple analysis could be that As I Lay Dying have just not taken enough risks in their existence, seemingly content to toe the metalcore line, and in that regard, Awakened is just business as usual.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with the album as a whole. ‘Cauterize’, the album’s opener, is standard As I Lay Dying fare, with technical riffage and the mandatory clean chorus. But the problem is exactly that – it’s all too easy to predict what direction the song is going in, and that they stick to the formula throughout the vast majority of the album doesn’t do them any favours. Don’t take that the wrong way; the metalcore formula is a tried and tested motif that has taken many a band into the stratosphere’s of success, but what separates the men from the boys so to speak is the execution of that formula. AILD tick all the boxes required to remain above water in the modern metal landscape on Awakened, but it’s lacking that one crucial element: inspiration. Even in its best moments, lead single ‘A Greater Foundation’ and ‘Wasted Words’ to name but a few, Awakened see’s As I Lay Dying stuck on auto-pilot, in spite of the impressive musicianship and songwriting chops. After a few tracks have flown by, it’s easy to forget where you’re up to as each song seems to blend into the next with no discernible characteristics to make any of them unique from each other.
But that’s not to say that AILD have issued a bad record. Far from it, in fact. The album’s greatest strength is its length, for rather than bloating the affair with overly complicated structures or pointless interludes (indeed, the only occurrence of this is ‘Washed Away’ in the latter half of the album, which leads into ‘My Only Home’, possibly the most signature As I Lay Dying moment of the whole record), the record glides by in just under 45 minutes, and to their credit, they have loaded those 45 minutes with built-for-the-pit breakdowns and riffage that would make Adam Dutkiewicz blush.
It’s almost as though the band have made a record purely for their existing fanbase, but this may be the reason As I Lay Dying have been slowly falling down the ranks in recent years. Simply put, they’re preaching to the converted at this point, their sound not so much stagnating but with a tangible sense of going through the motions. Lyrically as well, Tim Lambesis’ semi-religious ramblings now seem a little incoherent when compared to the overblown but hopeful lyrics of past efforts, as evidenced on ‘Overcome’, which is also incidentally the album’s biggest highlight, at least in a musical sense.
Awakened is not the worst recording As I Lay Dying have ever put their name to but it’s far from their storied best, and while the musicianship and production are at an all time high, the actual quality of the art seems to have suffered through its commonplace nature. Awakened probably won’t shift AILD forwards or backwards from where they are now, which in a manner of speaking is nothing to complain about for a band in their position, but Awakened’s greatest downfall is that it proves that not even the stalwarts can flog a dead horse.
Awakened is released on the 25th September 2012 via Metal Blade Records.
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