As I Lay Dying
The Powerless Rise
Few bands in the metalcore genre wield greater influence than As I Lay Dying. (The name is a nod to William Faulkner's novel.) This Christian band's latest effort, The Powerless Rise, debuted at No. 10 on Billboard's mainstream album chart—a significant accomplishment for an act whose fierce material you're unlikely to hear on any but the heaviest of rock radio stations.
Metalcore borrows the pummeling guitar and rapid-fire drum rhythms of thrash and pairs them with guttural screaming … and occasional singing. The result is a metal subgenre that is, paradoxically, brutal and melodic at the same time. In the case of As I Lay Dying, growls come courtesy of frontman Tim Lambesis, while bassist Josh Gilbert carries the torch when it comes to actually singing.
Lyrically speaking, Lambesis told Plugged In that The Powerless Rise focuses on "the weaker things that are often overlooked by society," such as simplicity and the importance of learning "to serve another person before you serve yourself."
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"Beyond Our Suffering" challenges listeners to live out their faith sacrificially: "Personal redemption cannot change the world/Unless we lay down our lives for those who still suffer." The song also reminds anyone wallowing in self-pity to realize that many people face more acute struggles ("The more I focus on myself, then the more helpless that I become/ … My suffering is trivial/ … Compared to those who know real agony/ … Those truly in hell").
"Without Conclusion" exposes the unsatisfying emptiness of chasing prestige and material things. Similarly, "Parallels" describes the soul-numbing result of such a lifestyle ("We're overfed and undernourished, yearning for something more/Never starving yet never quite satisfied"). "Vacancy" and "The Blinding of False Light" also connect the dots between over-consumption and spiritual lethargy.
"The Plague" appropriates Jesus' words from his confrontation of the Pharisees in Matthew 23. The song chastises churches that fail to offer the guidance people are desperately seeking ("Yet if we seek help for infirmities, we are made twice the sons of hell as before/ … Whitewashed tombs have hidden the truth"). Striking a prophetic stance, "Anger and Apathy" denounces indifference. "Many of us have turned off the light outside, erasing what exists beyond our front door," Lambesis barks. "How much grievance will it take to awaken us from the comfort of our own homes/The comfort of our oversized graves." Likewise, "Upside Down Kingdom" suggests that salvation is about much more than what happens after we die ("A kingdom is offered beyond that of golden streets/We can represent now what will one day be complete").
None. However …
Dense lyrics in "Anodyne Sea" seem to be about how standing on conviction can leave us standing alone when others disagree with us—a positive theme. But a repeated line links those convictions to death in a way that could be confusing ("In my convictions, I've found my own grave, but amongst the dead we all fade away").
Also, album art prominently displays (some would say celebrates) skulls. The band, on its website, addresses the issue of their artwork by calling attention to the fact that, "For Christians, the theme of death should even be more important and is often overlooked as useful imagery. Dying to one's self is a clear theme within the Gospels."
That kind of blunt, God-focused attitude actually gives added poignancy to the praise (often coming from mainstream music critics) that's being lavished on As I Lay Dying's fifth release. "There is nothing Powerless about this behemoth of an album," writes Absolute Punk reviewer Drew Beringer. "It'll sit atop the metal pinnacle all year long."
Say what you will about metalcore—it's too raw, it's too loud, it's too savage—Tim Lambesis and Co. have crafted an album that crackles and detonates with prophetic potency. It's impossible to miss the band's call to embrace a life of sacrifice on behalf of others—a biblical message spliced into a snarling renunciation of materialistic excess.
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The San Diego band's fifth studio album debuted at No. 10 on Billboard's album chart.
May 11, 2010