As I Lay Dying have been a staple of my metalcore playlists since discovering Beneath the Encasing of Ashes in college, late 2001. And since 2005, they've been a perennial favorite, once they became laser-focused on their cultivation of slick, aggressive, melody-infused, modern metalcore. From then to now we've seen them getting slightly more refined with each release, demonstrating an evolving maturity and the ability to hold off stagnation. From Shadows Are Security to An Ocean Between Us to The Powerless Rise As I Lay Dying grew stronger with each album, setting the bar for high-quality metalcore a bit further up each time. And when we were treated to 3 new tracks on the compilation album Decas, each of them pointed to their next full length, Awakened, being a further progression forward for the band. Listeners were given a small taste of Awakened a couple of weeks back with the track "Cauterize," which was a song that, uncharacteristically, took a few spins to sink in and catch on. Because of this, I began to feel a bit wary for Awakened.
With the full album finally in hand and numerous listens put in, that wariness was warranted. Before I get lambasted by As I Lay Dying fans everywhere, let me point out that this is a very solid album. If it was released by any other metalcore band, it could be a career-maker. However, we're talking about As I Lay Dying, one of the reigning kings of the metalcore realm, so the bar is set a bit higher for them. As mentioned previously, "Cauterize" turned out to be a very catchy track after multiple listens and it, in fact, turns out to be one of the catchiest songs on the album… which is the album's main problem.
Unlike past albums where there were at least 3 or 4 songs that stood head and shoulders above the rest (think "Confined" or "Nothing Left" or "Vacancy" for examples), Awakened almost completely lacks standout songs. Yes, this leads to a very level and consistent album, but it also treads dangerously close to "forgettable" territory as well. Knowing that this album was very quickly written and recorded, that may be what ultimately held the band back.
Let's be clear, however, that if you are an As I Lay Dying fan, you will definitely love this album, maybe just not as much as their other efforts. There are some classic AILD moments that will stand out, such as the breakdowns on "Defender," the always well done combination of melodic vocals mixed with aggressive instrumentation as seen on "A Greater Foundation," and "My Only Home," which is as close to a standard AILD song template as you'll find. There are great moments, for sure, which I don't want to go unmentioned, but that's really the expectation for As I Lay Dying, so when they aren't firing on all cylinders all of the time, it's noticeable.
Beyond the general feeling of being unmemorable, a few songs stand out as being particularly weak (again, by As I Lay Dying standards). "Resilience," being the 3rd track of the album right after 2 relatively great songs, is somewhat generic and feels a bit phoned in with some slightly forced cleans and a couple of repetitive sections. "Whispering Silence" sees the band being their most radio-rock-friendly. Outside of the interjection of some harsh vocals, this song is primed for radio play, which may come across to long time fans as a softening of the band. Lastly, "Overcome" takes a little bit too long to really get moving. The intro section could have been cut or beefed up a bit to make it a stronger start to the song.
As a whole, Awakened is still a very competent album, but it is a bit of a side-step for As I Lay Dying. I wouldn't say they've taken a step backwards, but they are shuffling their feet as they figure out how to keep stepping forward. Given time, this may grow on many, but it may also lead to a growing desire in fans for another new album sooner rather than later.