It’s hard to believe that a veteran metal band like San Diego’s As I Lay Dying could be just hitting their stride now, some 10 years and five full-lengths into an already stellar career. Still, even after just one listen to the quintet’s latest, The Powerless Rise, you can’t ignore the obvious: One of modern metal’s best just got better.
Similar to their approach on 2007's Grammy-nominated An Ocean Between Us, the band chose to employ the production prowess of Adam D. and record a majority of the album at singer Tim Lambesis’ own private studio. The end result is The Powerless Rise; the first true collaborative effort between the current AILD lineup.
Although they didn’t know it at first, the band’s creative potential kicked into overdrive with the introduction of bassist/singer Josh Gilbert in 2007, who played on Ocean but was not involved with the writing. For the previous two albums, the brunt of the instrumental development was spearheaded by guitarist Phil Sgrosso, whose penchant for melody and riff-conjuring suited the notoriously powerful drum stylings of drummer Jordan Mancino, complimented the lead guitar work of Nick Hipa, and exacted Lambesis's vision for the bands' overall intensity. The aforementioned format remained the same on Powerless but with the addition of Gilbert's musical contribution, added yet another facet to an already established creative dynamic. The result is an album built upon the strength of its parts and the remarkable ways in which those parts become a cohesive whole.
For this current round of lyrics, Lambesis gravitated toward a concept centrally represented in the song “Upside Down Kingdom,” which posits that the suffering of the world stems from the broken, upside-down nature of society. In addition to providing the line that became the album’s title, the song lays out the guiding premise behind many of The Powerless Rise’s ideological excursions—the notion that if we do the opposite of what the modern world tells us, many of the problems this current world causes will no longer exist. Lambesis stresses that rather than fill an album with bitter ranting, he’s attempting to offer a solution with Powerless.
“There are so many things in society that we view as valuable, and each song’s lyrics sort of put that idea upside down in some way or another, and show an almost completely backward way of thinking, that might actually be more beneficial for us. The first song, ‘Beyond Our Suffering’ is about how if we constantly focus on our own problems and try to help ourselves, then we dig ourselves deeper into a rut. But if we focus on helping somebody else, it’s like our problems magically solve themselves.”
Lambesis also took an intriguing approach to actually penning the lyrics, by allowing the various characteristics of the instrumental tracks to inform his words. Songs like “Anger and Apathy” and “The Only Constant Is Change” directly owe their completed incarnations to the singer’s new writing method.
“I would see how the song felt and what it invoked in me, and then write based on that,” Lambesis reflects. “The song ‘Anger and Apathy’ was very mid-tempo, and it had these certain sections where it kind of lulled. It reminded me of this apathetic feeling, but then it would feel passionate and really layered melodies that would come in, later in the song. To me, that felt like anger and apathy. It’s kind of cool how the lyrics were inspired by the music itself.”
So yes, it may come as a surprise to some that AILD would attain an entirely new level of artistry and urgency with their fifth release Powerless when many others might consider phoning it in, but once you appreciate all the various ingredients essential to the album, it’s no shock at all. By taking the trademark AILD sound then adding a band-wide effort and Lambesis’ novel approach to writing lyrics, the group has truly outdone themselves on The Powerless Rise, at least for now.
“When we’re writing, we tend to second guess ourselves but in a good way, like we’re really trying to push each song,” says Lambesis. “Our first instinct is to create the initial energy, but we push ourselves beyond that to add more and more layers. For some bands, when they second-guess themselves they lose the original appeal of what made their band exciting, but in our case, it’s a positive thing, because it pushes us further. We say, ‘Ok, this song is great. How can we make it better?’”
Powerless is the much-anticipated follow-up to 2007’s Grammy-nominated An Ocean Between Us and the band’s RIAA certified platinum DVD This Is Who We Are. In addition to enjoying more than one million in total career sales in the U.S. alone, in recent years As I Lay Dying have toured extensively throughout the world, including headlining runs on Warped Tour, Sounds of the Underground, Bamboozle, Ozzfest and Taste of Chaos. They’ve shared stages with the likes of Iron Maiden,, Heaven and Hell, Slipknot, Deftones, Shadows Fall, Hatebreed, Unearth, Mastodon, Black Sabbath, Killswitch Engage, In Flames, and Lamb of God (to name a few). These accomplishments have undoubtedly earned the band a prominent place among metal’s elite, yet even with such lofty milestones behind them, AILD’s journey continues.