As I Lay Dying

Shaped By Fire

Written by: AP on 02/10/2019 15:45:16

The mess that As I Lay Dying frontman Tim Lambesis got himself into in 2013 when he solicited an undercover police officer to murder his estranged wife Meggan Murphy, very nearly put an end to one of the most quintessential bands in metalcore. But after pleading guilty and serving approximately two years of his six-year sentence, Lambesis was released on parole in 2016 and then embarked on a quest to make amends with his former bandmates, who had sadly not found success with their new project Wovenwar, while publicly assuring everyone that he had emerged from prison a changed man. Needless to say, there was some convincing to be done, and perhaps Lambesis was and has not been quite as remorseful as one could have hoped. As such, there is no tiptoeing around the fact that when As I Lay Dying officially reunited in 2018 and unleashed the new single “My Own Grave”, a lot people wondered whether the entire band’s moral compass had been soiled by self-interest. The San Diego, CA-based outfit’s return remains controversial to this day, and as such, they have a lot to prove on this, their first album in seven years.

Look — I will be the first one to admit that I have ethical difficulties talking about “Shaped by Fire” in any kind of positive light. But if the five musicians were only motivated by money, the band could simply have issued a half-assed record with minimal effort in order to secure themselves a couple of tours and rake in the cash. Yet instead, this is a comeback album in the truest sense of the word — the sound of a band who have everything to prove. And wisely, the group decided not to innovate on too much on their signature style, meaning that when you cue the opening track “Blinded”, it feels like opening a time capsule buried in 2012, when As I Lay Dying issued “Awakened”. The blistering rhythms of drummer Jordan Mancino, the razor-sharp staccato riffs of guitarists Nick Hipa & Phil Sgrosso, the brutal growls of Tim Lambesis, and the ethereally sung choruses by bassist Josh Gilbert may belong to a past stage in the evolution of metalcore, but there is no question that they reflect the desires of the band’s loyal following. And while this latest offering certainly is a stick-to-your-guns kind of affair, it also sees the group jump from strength to strength, with none of the twelve tracks on offer leaving me with a bitter aftertaste. It would seem then, that in spite of their seven-year absence, As I Lay Dying are still the maestros of crafting metalcore that hits like a sledgehammer, has the melodies to make the band’s Gothenburg forefathers proud and delivers catchy sing-songs in droves.

“Shaped By Fire” is not an inventive or original record by any measure, but it is effective. You can zero in on pretty much any song and reap the rewards, though there are of course moments that stand out. One of these is the aforementioned “Blinded”, which sounds like a plea from As I Lay Dying to be given a second chance. ”Have you ever been blinded by the pain? / Losing yourself inside the heartache? / And does that mean we cannot change? / Or will we always be seen that way?”, wonders Gilbert in the chorus, and you would have to be very stubborn not to catch who it was that lost himself and how. It is a powerful first step in the quintet’s rising from the ashes, establishing a theme of redemption and repentance that lingers throughout the album without ever feeling forced or dishonest. Meanwhile, the likes of “Undertow” and “Torn Between” both direct the spotlight on Hipa & Sgrosso’s customarily nimble fretwork, as they continue to source complex tablature from the book of At the Gates, taking a break to revive their interest in scalding thrash metal in “Gatekeeper”, before laying down one of their grooviest riffs yet in “The Wreckage”. Curiously, out of the four singles that premiered in advance of the album itself, only “Blinded” and the devastating “Redefined” — which sees Lambesis supplemented by August Burns Red vocalist Jake Luhrs — actually join the litany of highlights when push comes to shove… which leaves me thinking that As I Lay Dying may have wanted the album to land with the greatest force possible, instead of padding around the most impactful singles fans had already been versed in in the months prior.

Whatever your moral position regarding the return of As I Lay Dying may be, the band has thus made it extremely difficult to ignore their latest outing, “Shaped by Fire”. Unlike so many of their peers, you will not find these San Diegans making any compromises as far as their core sound goes during these 44 minutes, which is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because existing fans will feel very cosy around the material — and a curse, because it is inevitably sometimes difficult to distinguish between the individual tracks, all of which follow the same conservative formula. But in any case, “Shaped by Fire” is exactly the kind of return that picketers of the band must have been dreading: one which has the capacity to restore As I Lay Dying to their rightful place amongst the metalcore elite.

8

Download: Blinded, Torn Between, Gatekeeper, The Wreckage, Redefined
For the fans of: Bury Tomorrow, Killswitch Engage, Unearth, Wage War
Listen: Facebook

Release date 20.09.2019
Nuclear Blast Records

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