REVIEW: AS I LAY DYING – “Shaped By Fire”
In the age of the internet, social media, and the mob rule that is a direct consequence of technology, few bands, if any can repair their brand if damaged by heinous scandal. As I Lay Dying had their image severely tarnished by fans and the media alike due to legal troubles and needed a strong comeback record to regain the goodwill lost. Is Shaped By Fire the album that brings the fans back to the fold?
Shaped By Fire is an altogether solid record: dependable but makes no effort to break any new ground in the genre. The singles Redefined, My Own Grave and the title track Shaped By Fire were enough to tell the fans that As I Lay Dying had no intention of slowing down and took the time to pause, reflect, and really buckle down on the sound that made them industry titans and spawned countless imitators. Every track on Shaped By Fire is musically strong, with technical riffs, headbang-y breakdowns, and mosh-starting quick arrangements. It is an energetic record; probably the strongest since The Powerless Rise.
Guitarists Phil Sgrosso and Nick Hipa are doing what they do best with the stereotypical gallop-then-stringed-skipped riffs that are instantly recognizable as As I Lay Dying material. Choruses are what we’ve come to expect: huge chords and melodic leads and overlaid riffs to serve as a backdrop for the harsh-clean vocal duo. Breakdowns are present, predictable, solid, and punchy; nothing new, but no complaints. Notably different was the Lamb of God groove arrangements on Gatekeeper which lead straight into a thrash-death riff which is easily the heaviest on the record taking us into a maniacal guitar solo. Unfortunately, interesting overdubs are few and far between, yet when heard become instant earworms, as illustrated on Only After We Have Fallen and The Wreckage (which also features the only ambient intro on the record). There is a lack of solos on Shaped By Fire which will be a sore point as they have been a highlight on previous albums, especially after the tasty tease on Gatekeeper!
Drummer Jordan Mancino is an absolute beast. His drumming style has always added oodles of depth and sledgehammer weight to the riffs with the skank and D-beats with constant pummeling double bass. One of the highlights of the AILD sound is when his kicks lock with the bass and chugs to create a wall of sound very few bands can ever come close to. In contrast, bassist Josh Gilbert is very subdued on Shaped By Fire. Previous records have had a stronger bass in the mix which seems to have taken a disappointingly back seat on this record. Even though his presence behind the bass has taken a beating, his vocals are top-notch, and most listeners will gladly take that trade-off!
Vocalists Tim Lamebsis and bassist/backing clean vocalist Josh Gilbert continue to be among the best vocal pairings in metalcore and spearheaded the now-textbook harsh-clean interplayed choruses. For Lambesis this record is particularly critical, and his efforts match the stakes. He belts out heartfelt lyrics with ferocity and sincerity that belies his age and the band’s veteran status. Gilbert is easily at the strongest he’s ever been on Shaped By Fire with melodic vocal harmonies which add emotional weight to each of the tracks, and his work on tracks like Torn Between, Undertow, Shaped by Fire, The Wreckage, Only After We Have Fallen are perfect sonic counterweights to the harsh vocals and instrumentations. It is unfortunate that the harsh-clean vocal duality has been muddied by mediocre bands to a point that even greats like the Lambesis/Gilbert pair sound generic in 2019.
One of the terribly nitpicky and possibly personal grouses I have with As I Lay Dying records in general is the production. The production on Shaped By Fire will divide listeners due to its sterile mixes and “overly quantized” sound. The guitars and bass are a tad overcompressed which reduces dynamics and the kick-drums do lack oomph and sound clicky. Yet, when the breakdowns hit, the lower register guitar chugs thick bass, and kick drums lock perfectly into a robotic punch which will always be a metalcore standard.
For a band recovering from scandal, As I Lay Dying gave its audience exactly what they needed: a straightforward, hard-hitting, albeit linear metalcore record. Shaped By Fire is a phoenix-like return to form, and will make great strides to make heavy progress in the band’s image and pave the way for future solidarity.