(Originally posted at AbsolutePunk.net)
The theme park of metal has been wasting away for some time now. New rides are merely uninventive rehashings of old ones, and the once-thrilling repertoire of steep drops and lurching loops are leaving fans with an unimpressed feeling of deja vu. Thankfully, As I Lay Dying come to the rescue, masterfully constructing a beautiful, modern metal thrill ride that fans will be riding over and over again.
We strap ourselves into An Ocean Between Us as the opening guitar riff filters through our ears, and the instrumental “Separation” slowly but confidently pulls us up the first hill as we prepare for a breath-taking descent. As we gain altitude, the riff becomes harmonized, a standard metal teaser that fills the stomach with anticipation. A little ambience fogs our view, but it clears as the final guitar chord hangs and the track levels off, everyone holding their breaths.
Suddenly, we are hurtling towards the ground as the mad guitars and double-bass of “Nothing Left” send us racing through the musical atmosphere. Lead vocalist Tim Lambesis lets loose a primeval growl as we descend into a dark tunnel, feeling the air rush past us with terrifying speed, afraid of careening into the walls due to our sheer speed but locked onto the tracks through the steady frenetic pounding of the double-bass. The dark maelstrom gives way to open air for the chorus, as we lift off the tracks and float on the group vocals before falling back with flawless precision onto the brutal delight.
The sincerity and passion of Lambesis’ screaming keeps us alert and engaged. In “An Ocean Between Us,” he belts, “How many years have we waited / For a ship that never set sail? / How many days have we wasted / Chasing a love that was not our own?” Every time the rickety ride threatens to become old, it smoothes out for some carefully incorporated melodic overtones, never losing its intensity in the process. New bassist and background vocalist Josh Gilbert carries the chorus with the simple melodic line of “Is this your salvation? / Is this all you can give?”
Throughout the album, As I Lay Dying carve brilliant swaths over the landscape, churning out mind-melting corkscrews and spirals of metallic fury. Occasionally Lambesis and Gilbert trace parallel dimensions of screaming and singing, especially on the ride’s strongest track, “The Sound of Truth.” As the relentless rhythm challenges our heartbeats, Lambesis challenges the very core of our selfish desires and rationalization by asking, “For what use is there, is there in praying / If you will only hear what you want to hear.” Gilbert joins him to chastise us, exclaiming, “We have all heard / What we wanted to hear / Truth that sounds right to our ears.” The powerful lyrics are bridged with masterful guitar licks that shred the atmosphere.
Immediately following is a second instrumental, “Departed,” featuring flying fingers on the guitar that create, with the soothing ambience, a feeling not unlike the slow-motion part of a intense war scene in an epic movie.
Critics will say this is too much of a good thing; that this roller coaster is too long and repetitive to be enjoyable. Indeed, almost to a rule, the album alternates between shorter tracks of metallic assault and longer tracks layered with bits of melody. But already in the seven weeks since the grand opening, a hundred thousand fans have paid the price of admission (besides those who jumped on for free), and there is no denying that fans are consuming this offering with unrestrained pleasure. This is real. This is intense. This is the face of modern metal.
As we pull back into the station, breathing in the soft closing piano chords attached to the end of “This Is Who We Are,” we recover our vertigo with a satisfying realization of why we were in this theme park to begin with: we were looking for a good ride. And we have found it.
If only William Faulkner was still around.