Review Summary: Out of tragedy comes triumph.
Sometimes the most trying of situations bring about necessary changes in the way we live our lives… the ones we had been putting off and ignoring, whether because we are afraid of change, or because we have become complacent in the places our lives are currently at, even if that complacency is accompanied by hopelessness and despair. Such was seemingly the case with the members of San Diego Christian metalcore outfit As I Lay Dying as they entered 2013. Their frontman, Tim Lambesis, had lost faith in the Christian beliefs that had shaped his entire life and career, leading to the collapse of his entire sense of normalcy, and possibly his sanity. He engaged in an extramarital affair (which, in a classy move, he later revealed to his wife via email), became even more obsessed with bodybuilding than previously, and began taking copious amounts of steroids. All told, Lambesis seems to have become an incredibly unpleasant person to work with and be around. All this would be sad and almost pitiful, if it were not for Lambesis deciding that the way to solve all his problems was by murdering his estranged wife. Luckily, the helpful folks at the San Diego Police Department caught on to Tim’s brilliant scheme, and arrested him in May after he arranged a meeting with an undercover cop posing as a hitman at a Barnes & Noble, of all places.
Obviously, this left the remaining members of As I Lay Dying in an unenviable position. Their entire career was based not only upon Christian principles that had been violated time and again by their frontman in his many fits of “‘roid rage”, but also on Tim Lambesis himself. Lambesis remained, along with original drummer Jordan Mancino, the owner of the As I Lay Dying name, so the band could not continue on with the name without Tim, even if they wanted to. And after Lambesis made headlines around the country for all the wrong reasons over the course of a year, it was clear that they did not want to. So the extremely talented quartet of guitarists Nick Hipa and Phil Sgrosso, bassist/vocalist Josh Gilbert, and drummer Mancino was left to start again, with the weight of expectation hanging over their heads, and the desire to prove that they were more than just their frontman. Rather than going in a direction many would’ve expected and enlisting a new harsh vocalist, the band decided to team up with fellow Christian metal musician Shane Blay, of the band Oh, Sleeper. That band made a name for themselves with weighty Biblical concept albums that largely appealed to the faithful, but were technically impressive enough to win at least some converts from the general metal fanbase. However, Blay’s soaring cleans sharply contrast with the brutal intensity that As I Lay Dying was known for… so how exactly would this combination work?
The answer, as you have likely guessed, is exceptionally well. From the moment the brief, mood-setting “Foreword” leads into opening track “All Rise”, it is clear that Wovenwar
will be a different animal than anything either party has crafted before. There is little in the way of unclean vocals to be found here, but from the instant Blay’s melodic, post hardcore inspired singing is paired with the band’s expertly crafted, technical musicianship, it is clear that for many listeners, they won’t be missed. This is a group of instrumentalists that knows each other so well that they can instinctively play off each other’s strengths to create a more cohesive whole, all without sacrificing intensity. When paired with a singer as gifted as Blay, the combination is sure to win this new project may converts. The best this band has to offer is on display early on, in the blistering intro to album highlight “Death to Rights”. The song quickly shifts gears from full-on intensity to one of the album’s best sing-along choruses, and showcases the band’s stadium rock ambition. Once the furious fretwork of the song’s outro hits, even many of the project’s doubters are likely to be won over. Although this project is in some ways decisively modern in its unusual combination of Blay’s more emotive singing style with metalcore instrumentation, it often feels like a hearkening back to old-school heavy metal thrills.
Thankfully, Blay and the AILD gang have broadened their lyrical palate beyond Christian themes, and the songwriting quality, and presumable lasting value, benefit greatly. Whether this is a reflection of the band members’ wavering faith or simply a desire to explore different musical horizons is a mystery, but in any case it helps to keep the record from becoming stale, as Oh, Sleeper’s efforts frequently suffered from preaching mainly to the already converted. On “All Rise”, the band seem to be directly addressing the trials and tribulations they have faced in the past year:
Who stands the storm and faces
The horrors that darkness breeds
Who will take the life they're given
And cast light for all to see
It’s fairly standard metal/hard rock fare, but feels more poignant in light of recent events, and delivered with the obvious passion and intensity Blay and company bring to the table. Although Blay’s voice suits the music exceptionally well, it occasionally feels like some additional intensity in the form of harsh vocals would be much welcome. Unfortunately, Blay all too infrequently obliges, and the number of true screams on the record can be counted on one hand. Also, the incredibly talented Josh Gilbert is criminally underutilized, only getting to fully show his vocal chops on the last two songs on the album, “Matter of Time” and “Prophets”. Once his vocals have been truly added to the mix, the listener realizes how much they could have enhanced the record. However, none of this detracts from the impressive achievement that is Wovenwar’s debut. From tragic circumstances, a band of exceptional musicians has risen again, creating one of the best debuts of 2014, and a record that amazingly never feels dull across its 55-minute runtime. Those already clamoring for an As I Lay Dying reunion may just have to wait.