As I Lay Dying began their career as a true crossover band. But for their junior effort, 2005’s “Shadows Are Security,” their sound adopted a surprisingly “more metal” edge (i.e. occasional clean backing vocals and guitar solos). In this reviewer’s opinion, that was a solid, if not at all mindblowing album, but it did well with fans, and went on to sell a fairly whopping 275,000 copies. Thus, now, two years later, AILD’s influences (hardcore and metal) have rather non-surprisingly shifted even further in favor of the latter. Their newest offering, 2007’s “An Ocean Between Us,” takes more than a few cues from the likes of Killswitch Engage (and almost every other modern metalcore group for that matter) by adopting big, cleanly-sung, and often emo-ish choruses.
What is surprising about this album is how successful it turned out to be. Even though this standard metalcore heavy/melodic verse/chorus formula has been driven into the ground over and over again, As I Lay Dying do an exceedingly good job of it here. They have struck a superbly effective, tasty, memorable, rich, and well-rounded balance of thrashy, hard-hitting, blood-pumping aggression and infectiously catchy, sweet, commercially accessible melodies.
And the record’s even bigger and more delightful surprise is its impeccable musicianship, particularly the guitar work of Phil Sgrosso and Nick Hipa. Both of these axemen are fairly young and overlooked, but they will more than likely start to get the credit they deserve now. They sound extremely confident and play to their full potential throughout this record, and they chock every one of these eleven songs (discounting “Separation” and “Departed,” two moody interlude tracks) full with tons of positively excellent and very deft, powerful, energetic, and muscular thrash riffs. And not only that, but they’ve gotten quite competent at and comfortable with soloing, too! Elsewhere, frontman Tim Lambesis turns in a visceral, heartfelt performance on the microphone (he does all of the harsh, dirty vocals), and newfound band member Josh Gilbert does a really nice job at the melodic singing parts, as well as helping to steady the rhythm section by tossing in a handful of solid bass lines. Finally, drummer Jordan Mancino’s talents have also improved greatly since “Shadows Are Security.” He anchors and sometimes drives these songs with an abundance of impressively skillful, technical, and forceful double bass and blast beats. Overall, “An Ocean Between Us” lands somewhere between KSE (whose guitarist, Adam D., produced this disc, by the way), Atreyu/Trivium, Slayer, Metallica, At The Gates, and Lamb of God.
Opener “Nothing Left” wastes no time, and dives head first into thrash fury. It begins with some fiery, chugging, groove-oriented leads that almost be outtakes from Metallica’s second full-length, 1984’s classic “Ride the Lightning.” These leads are driven home by suitably strong, hammering drums, thunderous rhythms, and a good, epic chorus. Two guitar solos (one melodic, the other blazing) also come ripping through during this song. Set closers “Wrath Upon Ourselves” and “This Is Who We Are” work similarly – the former boasts a breakneck, and almost crushingly brutal beginning, and the latter features more hot, crunching licks. But both tunes remember to counterbalance their aggressive parts with an open catchy chorus (the latter is also of note for its cool piano outro).
Elsewhere, there are three main highlights from a melodic standpoint. “Forsaken” (which has a peaceful classic metal intro) and “I Never Wanted” are probably the closest things to a ballad you’ll find on this album because both are centered around huge, anthemic, sweetly crooned and terrifically soaring choruses that seem tailor made for singing along with and getting stuck in your head. Also of note, the almost buzzsaw riffing in “The Sound of Truth” is ultimately held down by a wonderfully epic and memorable, Gothenburg melodeath-influenced melodic leads. A melodic, winding solo (which is possibly As I Lay Dying’s best to date) also crops up here.
However, on the flip side, there are a handful of decisively heavy standout tracks here, too. The ripping title cut is bolstered by propulsive, scathing riffage, pounding drums, and hardcore-worthy vocals (though the onslaught does briefly relent for some well-placed guitar harmonies and emo-lite vocals in the choruses). Later on, “Within Destruction” and “Comfort Betrays” play like full-on thrash, and are absolutely blistering, rocketing, and rip-roaring riff monsters. These songs evoke the heyday of Slayer, are bursting at the seams with brutal guitar-drum interplay (including lots of pummeling blast beats), and don’t both with any vocal pleasantries (they substitute slow breakdowns for melodic choruses). Lastly of note, “Bury Us All” heaps on even more caustic, heavy-duty, turbo-charged riffs and driving, booming double bass kicks, especially deep, mean, and from-the-gut bellows. Some humming bass notes, a hardcore-esque shout-along refrain, and a superbly ripping solo (which lasts about twenty seconds) are also tucked into the mix.
As I Lay Dying were never the most unique or original band out there, and unfortunately, “An Ocean Between Us” does nothing to change that. It does feature their all-time best, and most mature, powerful, memorable, realized, and contagious songwriting and musicianship, though, so it does mark a huge step forward for the band (this is doubtlessly their finest work yet). So, in conclusion, few will debate that “AOBU” is a milestone in modern metal, but it is a heavy, intense, sometimes brutal, immensely enjoyable, thoroughly listenable, and overall very fulfilling album from beginning to end. Recommended.