When San Diego’s As I Lay Dying released their Metal Blade debut, FRAIL WORDS COLLAPSE, in 2003, the metalcore genre was still fairly unpopulated. There were a few bands here and there but that CD really stood out. The riffs were thick and meaty drawing heavily from the Swedish melodic death bands of the 90s but breakdowns and screamo vocals completed the picture, adding a punishing twist to the music. FRAIL WORDS COLLAPSE put As I Lay Dying on the map and landed them some high-profile gigs. Videos were played on MTV and fans came in droves. Fast forward to 2005 and the band is set to unleash their follow-up, SHADOWS ARE SECURITY. The problem is that in those two years since FRAIL WORDS COLLAPSE was first released, the metal landscape has been flooded by literally hundreds of metalcore bands, many interchangeable with one another, and few offering anything fresh or exciting. So where does this leave a band who was at the forefront of that movement? Thankfully, SHADOWS ARE SECURITY does offer plenty to get excited about as this release is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor in terms of production, songwriting and overall quality. The careful production ear of vocalist Tim Lambesis and guitarist Phil Sgrosso (with mixing handled by none other than Andy Sneap) have punctuated the music with crystal clear riffing and made the punishing drums of Jordan Mancino stand way out. Lambesis’ vocals have also improved greatly combining clean vocal passages that soothe with vicious screams that will chill the blood. As I Lay Dying is still finding themselves as a band (only Mancino and Lambesis remain from the lineup on FRAIL WORDS COLLAPSE) but this is a solid group effort that breaks the dreaded sophomore curse and shows that there is still some originality to be found on the metalcore front lines.
The first four tracks of SHADOWS ARE SECURITY are positively crushing. “Meaning In Tragedy” comes out of the gates (no pun intended) with a giddy riff that would not be out of place on an In Flames/At The Gates release. Lambesis’ mid-range death growls and high-pitched screeches wrap themselves around his own quasi-poetic lyrics cultivating a pathway for Mancino to pummel the listener with some carefully-used double bass. Bleeding directly into “Confined,” Lambesis shows off his clean vocal prowess during the chorus but offsets that with some equally vicious roars that are almost spat out. Mancino is like a machine gun on this track flaying his kit with a relentless, inferno-like rhythm that never lets up but remaining tight throughout. The galloping intro of “Losing Sight” is coupled with some sweet twin-guitar licks before Lambesis unleashes a head-splitting scream at the 1:39 mark. “The Darkest Nights,” a crossover hit if I’ve ever heard one, features some vocal harmonizing between Lambesis and bassist Clint Norris and riffs that are pure melodic death heaven. “Empty Hearts” and “Through Struggle” carry on the metalcore tradition first explored by the band with chugga-chugga guitars and hints at a breakdown here and there, while the slower-paced, ballad-esque “Repeating Yesterday” is a welcome breather around the halfway point. Unlike their contemporaries in Shadows Fall and Killswitch Engage, As I Lay Dying seem reluctant to do a guitar solo. With two guitarists, the band should be dropping them like rappers do F-bombs but the only discernable solo is found on “The Truth of My Perception” and while it does sizzle, this simple addition could add a real flair to the music. The real break from character occurs on the last track, “Illusions.” After an annoying 1:45 of static and white noise (won’t this be just dandy to sit through EVERY time?!?!?!), the band puts on their Meshuggah/Dillinger Escape Plan suits and unleashes some odd-timed technical riffing and death metal! Does it work? Yes, and unlike FRAIL WORDS COLLAPSE, it is very refreshing to see As I Lay Dying stretching their legs a little this time around.
SECURITY IN SHADOWS will be As I Lay Dying’s breakout CD””plain and simple. A stint on this year’s Ozzfest will garner them scads of new fans and like Shadows Fall did in 2003, that tour will propel them to be the big “buzz” artist. Old fans will revel in the fact that the band has improved so much over the already-brilliant FRAIL WORDS COLLAPSE and a seemingly cohesive unit has emerged to continue cutting a mark on the metal scene. Even though SHADOWS ARE SECURITY owes more to the Gothenburg forefathers, I fear that they will forever be lumped into the metalcore genre. I suppose that’s fine as it is merely a label and if future releases are as dynamic and spectacular as SECURITY IN SHADOWS is, it really doesn’t matter anyway. Vastly improved songwriting, tight production and the fact that As I Lay Dying is spreading its wings to explore more than metalcore on this release may well have handed them the key to success so many others seek.
KILLER KUTS: “Meaning In Tragedy,” “Confined,” “Losing Sight,” “The Darkest Nights,” “The Truth of My Perception”
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