It’s safe to say that, in terms of viability, the Metalcore aesthetic has lost a significant amount of currency within the greater Metal community. Fans and critics often bemoan the accessibility and pristine production values usually so characteristic of this style while, ironically, lauding the very same qualities with regards to other subgenres. Different strokes for different folks, I guess. Regardless of where one stands in terms of this particular style, credit is given where it’s due, so I have no qualms over acknowledging AS I LAY DYING’s dedication to their chosen craft. They’ve been tweaking and perfecting their music for over a decade and after really hitting their stride with 2005’s “Shadows Are Security” they’ve pretty much been on a roll, and “Awakened” may very well be one of their most impressive statement thus far.
Having worked the synthesis of Thrash, Melodic Death Metal, and the odd Hardcore flourish down to a fine art, AS I LAY DYING continues down a well-trodden path on “Awakened”, yet there is a tangible increase of heaviness and intricacy present on many of these songs. This may be down to the fact that the majority of the songs were conceived while the band was out on the road, affording the material a great sense of urgency and oomph – something immediately apparent on lead single “Cauterize” and “My Only Home”. Sure, that tried-and-tested formula of thrashy main riff, melodic verse and clean chorus remains intact, but somehow it just sounds more vital this time around.
The injection of more intensity and well-heeled tempo/mood changes really kick a lot of these songs into another level though, as it is hard to knock the blistering effectiveness of stuff like “A Greater Foundation”, “Resilience” and “Tear Out My Eyes” (nice little ambiguity there, huh?). The rapid, choppy riffs of “A Greater Foundation” recalls ARCH ENEMY at their most manic, and while the clean vocals on this particular track come off as a bit too saccharine they totally remedy this situation on “Resilience” and “Wasted Words”. Heavy to a fault, peppered with effective melodic nuances, and less dependant on those cloying clean vocal sections, these two songs represent this style at its finest. They slow things down on “Tear Out My Eyes” but its not long before the introspective first half gives way to some devastating grooves and a whole lot of great leads towards song’s end.
As can be expected, there is still a strong adherence to formula on “Awakened”, something that consigns numbers like “No Lungs To Breathe” and “Defender” to filler territory. These hiccups prevent the album from attaining a higher rating but on the whole this album easily ranks as one of the band’s best efforts along with 2007’s “An Ocean Between Us”.
(Online September 8, 2012)