May 10, 2010

Album Review: "The Powerless Rise" by As I Lay Dying


The process of evolution and maturation is always different from one band to the next. Some bands evolve quickly, hitting their stride right from the get-go, but then fall into stagnation over time. Others experiment with many different things before finally finding their sound later in their career. As I Lay Dying is one of the few bands to achieve the fine balance of slow evolution with consistent growth. With each new album the band puts out, they get better and better over their previous work. 2007's An Ocean Between Us sped up the process of evolution somewhat, with the production help of musical prodigy and master comedian Adam Dutkiewicz. The Christian metalcore veterans returned to Dutkiewicz for a new album, The Powerless Rise, which sets a new high point for the band in terms of musical development and composing excellence.

Lineup consistency plays a big role in the success of The Powerless Rise. This is the first album of the band's career that contains no lineup changes from the preceding album. This consistency allows the band to grow and develop in their sound. The mix of melody and heaviness found on An Ocean Between Us returns on this new album, but the sound leans more towards the heavy end of sound. Many songs on The Powerless Rise feel like continuations of songs from its predecessor, such as "Without Conclusion", which naturally follows the atmosphere and tone of "Within Destruction" from the previous album. Credit these progressions to Dutkiewicz, who re-creates the feel of the older songs while still making the new songs sound fresh and different. There are also plenty of songs that start new chapters of sound, like the diverse "Anger and Apathy" and the blindingly fast "Condemned".

The vocal mix on this album achieves the balance not found on older albums. The primary focus is on lead vocalist Tim Lambesis, whose primal roars are just as excellent as they've always been. Lambesis also expands his technique to include deep, guttural growls akin to traditional death metal styles. The big difference is in the usage of bassist Josh Gilbert on backing clean vocals. Gilbert has a superb singing voice, but he is featured less than he was on An Ocean Between Us. When his vocals are utilized, they most often are featured in epic, soaring choruses with gorgeous melodies. Lead single "Parallels" is the chief example of this usage. The decrease in clean vocals makes The Powerless Rise heavier than its two predecessors, but the album also has greater variety than 2003's Frail Words Collapse.

As I Lay Dying found their groove on An Ocean Between Us, but they've passed the true test of musicianship by maintaining their high level of quality over multiple albums. The Powerless Rise addresses all the criticisms that the band has endured in the past, and not only solves those issues, but even turns some of those areas into major strengths. Critics will not be able to call this band "mediocre" or "forgettable" any longer, because all the clich├ęs of their music are gone now. Only pure musical talent and inspired songwriting skills remain in As I Lay Dying, signaling that their musical evolution has finally reached the high levels of excellence.

Score: 7.5 out of 10

Track Listing

1. Beyond Our Suffering
2. Anodyne Sea
3. Without Conclusion
4. Parallels
5. The Plague
6. Anger and Apathy
7. Condemned
8. Upside Down Kingdom
9. Vacancy
10. The Only Constant is Change
11. The Blinding of False Light

Album Personnel

Tim Lambesis – Lead vocals
Nick Hipa – Guitar
Phil Sgrosso – Guitar
Josh Gilbert – Bass guitar, backing vocals
Jordan Mancino – Drums

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