Review Summary: The resounding fulfillment of the band’s declaration at the end of their previous album: this is truly who they are.
As I Lay Dying’s career specializes in improvement. Frail Words Collapse
sheared the fluff and filler from the template of metalcore and distilled its hallmarks into something the scene could flaunt with pride. Shadows Are Security
applied a slicker sheen to the production while tempering the hardcore tendencies of the (official) debut with an amplified sense of melody in the riffs and vocals respectively. These steps hit their stride with 2007’s An Ocean Between Us
. The glitters and glimpses of great things scattered across previous offerings matured into the relative brilliance of Ocean
(a highlight of the genre, to be sure).
I feared that As I Lay Dying would disappoint with their next offering. It happens all too often that a band suffers the Square Slump: a bad fourth album. Look to Tool, Eminem or Fear Factory for evidence. An Ocean Between Us
was too good for improvement.
I was floored by The Powerless Rise
It is as if the band delved beneath the stormy waters of their previous outing and dragged up the potential lying beneath its rifts of riffs. As I Lay Dying’s sound is denser, darker, nastier and more confident than it has ever been; listening to it was like hearing Frail Words Collapse
for the first time. The same sense of discovering greatness is here; that same feeling of something stale being refreshed is here. Yet it is still undeniably the same band. All of its hallmarks are here. For example, each previous album has featured one song Tim and Co. agree to go balls-out heavy on (“Comfort Betrays,” “Empty Hearts,” etc.) By the first few seconds of “Condemned,” the listener is highly aware of the fact that As I Lay Dying seemed to have exposed only one testicle for each of their previous heavy-songs. The sickery of that riff is an undoubted highlight of the album - in fact, the guitars in general provide the meat of the album. Never has this duo sounded so inspired. Their Swedish sensibilities have been mixed with a keen ear for thrash ala Megadeth as well as the virtues of space and simplicity. “Anodyne Sea” and “The Blinding Of False Light” provide excellent examples of each, boasting piston-like string-slashing and careening melodies. The suspenseful opening of “Upside Down Kingdom”; the triumphant stomp of “Anger And Apathy”; the nimble inclusion of pick slides on “Without Conclusion” - which I believe to be the badass big brother of the previous album’s “Within Destruction” - are further testaments to their maturing skill.
Yet what is meat without potatoes? Tim Lambesis has already proven himself among metalcore’s best vocalists; his gravel-throated roars illicit piss stains on the skinny jeans of the likes of Ronnie Radke and Mike Hranica. His work on The Powerless Rise
and onward will now provoke the soiling of said skinny jeans. Lambesis is a demon. The energy he exudes is electrifying; the anthematic, sure-to-be-a-crowd-pleaser track, “The Plague,” is as catchy as bubonic with the refrain of “reach out your hands” and his fluidly bipolar vocal shifting. The occasional high shrieks of past efforts are now decidedly more common weapons; the rarity of his tentative growls (see the end of “Comfort Betrays”) have thickened and deepened, and although they are featured several times throughout the album, they never feel overused or overdone: reserved for key moments, they amplify the energy of the songs they feature in. About forty seconds into opener “Beyond Our Suffering,” Lambesis drops his first noticeable growl. Have a blast.
Everyone could use some salt on their potatoes, and that is what As I Lay Dying’s clean vocals are for. These, however, are one of Rise
's flaws. As other reviewers have mentioned, Gilbert comprises the most generic portion of the band’s sound. His voice is simply too similar to many other clean vocalists in metalcore, utilizing the same over-pronounced, wailing highs and somewhat whiny tone of the cookie-cutter peers As I Lay Dying otherwise roast alive. However, he serves out several decent melodies, notably on such cuts as “Parallels,” “Anger And Apathy,” and “The Blinding Of False Light.” The former features his most enjoyable contribution, with a suitably invigorating performance on the chorus and an unexpected display of emotion(!) during the bridge section. It is not much, and doesn’t last too long, but it hints at an attempt at expansion. Certainly more of an attempt than that brat with the bass guitar from The Devil Wears Prada.
“Vacancy” and “The Only Constant Is Change” represent the album’s remaining flaw - namely that of recycling. As I Lay Dying has far too much talent and potential to explore to waste time repeating ideas, yet this pair of tracks feel like a stale heap I would prefer not to be familiar with - they lack the verve and power of their predecessors. “Vacancy” features a melodic run that could have been featured on Avenged Sevenfold’s Waking The Fallen
, a group and album I would prefer to keep as separated from my esteem of As I Lay Dying as possible. Yet in the closing seconds of “Upside Down Kingdom,” Gilbert looses a wonky wail of “the broken are crowned” that brings to mind Matt Shadows’s nasal whine circa City Of Evil
, marring an otherwise great song.
These disappointments aside, The Powerless Rise
is the resounding fulfillment of the band’s declaration at the end of their previous album: this is truly who they are. As I Lay Dying has successfully transcended the label of “outstanding metalcore act” to join the genre’s elite.