ON ARTISTIC DEVELOPMENT: AS I LAY DYING’S AN OCEAN BETWEEN US VS. A LIFE ONCE LOST’S IRON GAG
As the second generation of the American New Wave begins to emerge, the first is quickly dividing into two camps: those who seem content to make pretty much the same album over and over again, and those who, for better or worse and in varying increments, make changes from recording to recording, continuously promising fans something new and unexpected. Highly anticipated new offerings from As I Lay Dying and A Life Once Lost amply illustrate this phenomenon, as the former band seems more than content to releases its umpteenth variation on the same theme, whilst the latter reveals a band willing to push itself and teach an old dog new tricks.
Look: I probably give As I Lay Dying (or “AILD,” as the hep cats are calling them) more shit than I should. The band crafts able, solid Swedecore that, as a fan of bands like Killswitch Engage, it’s almost impossible not to appreciate on some level, and KsE’s own Svengali, Adam D., gives the album his trademark huge, crunch guitar sounds over a glossy sheen which should appeal to kids at Hot Topics across America and the world. At it’s best (“Within Destruction,” “The Sound of Truth,” the title track), An Ocean Between Us is a satisfying excuse to bang your head and jump into the pit; still, new bassist/clean vocalist Josh Gilbert doesn’t share his predecessor’s skill in the crooning department, as evidenced by the overabundance of auto-tuning, and there’s more than a few songs (“Nothing Left,” “Forsaken”) that provide an endless amount of chug-a-chug breakdowns but don’t really go anywhere else. Mostly, though, An Ocean Between Us seems designed not to alienate old fans or do much in the way of gaining new ones; it is, quite frankly, the same album we’ve already heard AILD make time and again, with nary a new innovation to offer. Put more simply: if you liked Shadows are Security, you’re in for a treat. If you didn’t, well… you see where we’re going with this.
That’s a pretty strong contrast to Iron Gag, the latest from A Life Once Lost (whose name I guess is abbreviated to ALOL, which seems like something some nerdy virgin would type during an AIM session). Anyone expecting the same ferocious melodic death style the band employed on their excellent 2005 album Hunter is in for a surprise – albeit not an unpleasant one. Opting to produce the disc themselves rather than hand the reins over to any one of the four super-chic producers of the moment (Jason Suecof, Colin Richardson, Andy Sneap or the aforementioned Adam D.), ALOL opt for a warmer, fuzzier guitar tone from axe slingers Robert Carpenter and Snake Sustaine, and vocalist Robert Meadows, following in the footsteps of Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe on last summer’s Sacrament, affects a vocal style that is less harsh and more nuanced than we’ve heard from him in the past (no surprise, since Blythe helped with vocal production for the album). That’s not to say that the dude doesn’t still sound angry as fuck; it’s just to say that, for the most part, you can actually kind of understand what Meadows is saying without consulting the lyrics in the liner notes.
The stylistic shifts are fitting, too, since the band’s songwriting has evolved as well, with a greater emphasis on alcohol soaked, groove-laden metal reminiscent of Vulgar Display-era Pantera rather than the aural Tasmanian devil bent on total fucking destruction that fans might be used to. It’s a more concentrated, controlled, specifically targeted approach, and I supposed it’s inevitable that some will accuse ALOL of watering themselves down and selling-out; but these are huge, arena-ready anthems, complete with the same super fast, slightly shakey, off-kilter sounding guitars solos that have been the band’s trademark in the past. ALOL clearly took kind of a risk with this album, but it pays off huge.
At the end of the day, these two bands are still different sides of the same coin, and which one you prefer will probably depend upon how you feel about change (some might call it “progress”). To the ears of this reviewer, though, one choice is far richer and more rewarding than the other.
An Ocean Between Us:
(three out of five horns)
(four out of five horns)