Before the word metalcore became a verbal stigmata that critics and bloggers used to pigeonhole any and every band that dared to straddle the proverbial fence and before the scene itself became an oversaturated mockery of itself, the initial marriage of melodic death and hardcore spawned some pretty damn good music. As with any trend though, many come and go, the fake fall to the wayside and the cream remains at the top when all is said and done. In this case, AS I LAY DYING is one band worthy of being called "the cream" (please don't take that the wrong way…). The band's Metal Blade debut, "Frail Words Collapse" was nothing short of badass and they've remained consistent ever since. With their latest endeavor, "The Powerless Rise", AILD have done more than just proved themselves reliable, they knocked this one out of the damn park.Admittedly, I never gave the band's last two releases much more than a couple of cursory listens when they first landed on my desk and neither were albums I frequently revisited, but this one really caught my ear. Carrying the same level of energy and intensity that made me a fan of "Frail Words Collapse", "The Powerless Rise" adds the focus and songwriting ability that comes with sticking it out for a decade. Right out of the gate, guitarists Nick Hipa and Phil Sgrosso reintroduce themselves as a duo to be reckoned with. The opening two tunes, "Beyond Our Suffering" and "Anodyne Sea", see the pair offering up fistfuls of quality metallic riffage. Behind the axe-men sits drummer Jordan Mancino, whose percussive pummel and mastery of the almighty groove sends thrashier numbers like "Without Conclusion" and "Condemned" right over the edge. It's songs like these that show a much more aggressive side of AILD than we've seen in the past. This holds true in the vocal department as well with frontman Tim Lambesis relying more on his screams than his cleans throughout much of the album. The back-and-forth method is still employed here, but it a fairly tasteful and effective manner. We still get examples of the scream-croon-scream formula here, particularly on "Parallels" and "Vacancy", but Lambesis and bassist / backing vocalist Josh Gilbert have done well to make this approach come across as another dynamic element that enhances the song as opposed to something that was forced in there. Simply put, "The Powerless Rise" is a much heavier and powerful album than we've heard from AS I LAY DYING. While they haven't reinvented their own wheel, the band has upped the ante quite a bit. This balance of proficient musicianship and intelligent songwriting injected with heavy doses of aggression, emotion and ear-grabbing hooks makes for a collection of songs that's hard to deny and even harder to walk away from. If ever an album transcended a stereotype, "The Powerless Rise" is it. Continue to lump it in with whatever metalcore is today if you must, but a piece of work this solid just deserves to be appreciated for what it is.
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