Since the 2007 release of An Ocean Between Us, the Grammy-nominated quintet As I Lay Dying has become one of the crusaders of melodic metalcore, a subgenre whose decline has been marked as its former champions experiment with other brands of metal. As I Lay Dying, though, has refused to stray from melodic metalcore. This consistency has provoked both veneration and vexation from fans and critics. Though the San Diego act’s stubbornness to venture outside its comfort zone makes its latest effort seem a tad familiar, the band has, on Awakened, undoubtedly refined its sound past the previous pinnacle of its career (2010’s The Powerless Rise).
Lyrics in Awakened focus on individual struggle, in contrast to the lyrics of The Powerless Rise, which addressed global ideals. In “Whispering Silence”, frontman and harsh vocalist Tim Lambesis proclaims he is “forgetting who I once was / all because I had taken pride in my hidden lies.”
Lyrics on the next track, “Overcome,” are equally personal, albeit reminiscent of fellow metalcore group Killswitch Engage circa 2006. They communicate positivity, particularly when vocalist Josh Gilbert sings: “No matter what we’ve faced in this life / We can overcome”. The tracks “Wasted Words” and “Defender” convey feelings of solidarity. In “Wasted Words” Lambesis describes himself as “a foreigner in my own home” and warns, “When the audience has run toward the latest drift / It will be my time to face the life that I have set.” In “Defender” he declares he “will follow to the grave / A man who’s willing to die / I am willing to die.”
The muscular frontman’s improved vocal range bolsters these lines and others. He performs grating death growls and crisp screams. Although Gilbert detracts from the album’s vocal value with his unemotional delivery, his choral lines have improved with elements of forcefulness and wistfulness coming out in “Resilience” and “Wasted Words”.
Instrumentally, Awakened is more formidable than its predecessors. Drummer Jordan Mancino remains dominant, bringing the group’s familiar thrash in tracks such as “A Greater Foundation” and “My Only Home.” He has also learned to let other instruments shine through by switching to less overpowering tempos, as in “Defender.” Gilbert, who also takes on the role of bassist, soundly contributes to the group’s breakdowns, which are fun to move to but are marginally overused and at times a bit generic.
Meanwhile, guitarists Phil Sgrosso and Nick Hipa are even more impressive than usual. The riffs on Awakened differ from those on other As I Lay Dying albums as they do not merely complement the near-constant drum onslaught; when Mancino is not thrashing away, Sgrosso’s melody stands out. Hipa’s leads better convey the mood of the songs. His forlorn solo on “Wasted Words” matches the desperate intensity of the track, and his piece on “Whispering Silence” sustains and furthers the lyrical message.
Awakened shows that though change is nice, progression is more important. By remaining consistent and not creating new representations of themselves with each album, As I Lay Dying has become a hallmark in metalcore that is gradually crafting a legacy.