As I Lay Dying – Awakened (2012)

San Diego’s very own As I Lay Dying is easily recognized as one of metalcore’s most popular acts, laying a solid influential foundation by the sides of Killswitch Engage and Unearth for countless acts to follow.  With a catalogue that starts back in 2000, the band has produced six studio albums, including their latest release Awakened.  Although, their sound and style have evolved since their earlier days, Awakened is reminiscent of their 2005 recording Shadows are Security in the fact that many parts are not particularly striking or captivating, and that most songs are unusually predictable.

The band opens with the trash song “Cauterize” in an attempt to grab the listener by the back of the head, predator-style, and force them to listen.  Tim Lambesis releases a shriek, Jordan Mancino blast beats away, and guitarists Nick Hipa and Phil Sgrosso riff down the fret board.  It’s a valiant 10-second start, but my problem is not with Lambesis or Mancino for that matter; it is with Hipa and Sgrosso and their attempts at writing riffs.  Throughout the entire song, not one musical phrase really catches my ear and pulls me in.  And to make matters worse, clean vocalist and bassist (if you can call him a bassist seeing that he only plays the top string) Josh Gilbert comes in singing with a heavily processed voice.  His predictable vocal line is not impressive nor is it catchy, and really sounds as if it has been through a computer one too many times.

The riffs don’t get better.  They remain tiresome throughout most of the other songs, soon making each song indistinguishable.  This is hard to bear, especially when keeping in mind to “The Sound of Truth” or “I Never Wanted” or “Forsaken” off of An Ocean Between Us where Hipa and Sgrosso worked so beautifully together.  And when the riffs are weak, it doesn’t give drummer Jordan Macino much to work with, even when he is widely regarded as the best, most solid drummer metalcore has to offer.  He makes the best out of the situation much like Lambesis, but in the grand spectrum of things, their performances become forgettable with the album itself.  Though Macino’s footwork has now gotten used to the off-beat chuggings and spastic triplets, he and Lambesis haven’t progressed so much from the past years.   As a whole, the band is now writing in an expectable song structure of introduction, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo, chorus, and end.  It only takes one listen to a couple of songs off Awakened before the listener can accurately map out where each uninteresting shift occurs.

Hipa and Sgrosso do have some shining moments though with Gilbert’s voice, usually all three at the same time.  The third track, “Resilience,” is by far the most stand-out track.  The melodic guitar work is actually catchy and interesting, and Gilbert’s cries over the band sound inspiration yet urgent.  “Overcome” starts with a beautiful acoustic introduction, while Gilbert’s vocal patterns on “Defender” seems to be doused with some extra heart.  But these moments are few and far between, and their slight glimmer is quickly put out by the surrounding tracks.

Awakened ends on a similar note compared to the majority of the album with “Tear Out My Eyes”.  The guitar melodies are lifeless and stale and all follow the same tempo, much like Shadows are Security.   Additionally, all the songs seem to follow the traditional formula and structure.   Unfortunately, this is the second step in As I Lay Dying’s devolution (third step if you count Decas…if you can even call that anything) since their most powerful 2007 release An Ocean Between Us.  What once was metalcore’s most unyielding talents, As I lay Dying again falls closer to their mediocre -core brethren.  Awakened is just another sign that As I Lay Dying may never climb back up to what they once were.

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