Tom Evans reports on those metalcore masters from San Diego, AS I LAY DYING.
There's a lot that can be said about San Diegan metalcore band As I Lay Dying. The most important thing, however, is that after three albums they are getting rather big. As well as the success of third album 'Shadows Are Security' (which charted at 35 in the US Billboard Chart) they've already headlined the second stage at Ozzfest while also supporting Slipknot on their European tour this winter. The band are one of a number of Christian hard music acts to break through to the mainstream after P.O.D. stormed the US charts in 2001. Even Kerrang! magazine, once notorious for its anti-Christian sneers, have acknowledged the band as a force to be reckoned with.
'Shadows Are Security' is a concept piece. Vocalist Tim Lambesis explains the album's message: "A big underlying theme is the way that we've learned to love and the way that we've approached not only our relationships, but ultimately the way that we've learned to love God in a spiritual way." Musically, the band's particular brand of aggressive metal is hard to pigeon hole though some critics have classed As I Lay Dying alongside the likes of Swedish death metallers In Flames and the American hardcore band Shadows Fall.
Today the band have a settled line up after plenty of personnel changes in the early years. According to Tim, "Some people decided this wasn't what they wanted to do, they wanted to go back home to be with their girlfriends or whatever." He adds cryptically that personnel changes were brought about by "people not wanting to put in the hard work and dedication it takes to build a fan base the right way." Finally, the line up changes dust had settled. As I Lay Dying now consist of Tim Lambesis on vocals, Nick Hipa and Phillip Sgrosso on guitars, Clint Noris playing bass and drummer Jordan Mancino. 'Shadows Are Security' is the only record the band have made with their current line up. "The current line up has been the longest in the band's history, but I don't think we've made the best album we can yet," says guitarist Nick.
Intriguingly the Christian metallers take their name from William Faulkner's fifth novel. The only real similarity between the book and the band is that some people find metal as confusing as the idea and narration style of Faulkner's classic. The novel has parodies of the band's rise to ascension. When Annie Bundren, the woman who lay dying, speaks about the inability of words there are definite ironic links to the early days of the band. As Faulkner writes, "Sin and love and fear are just sounds that people who never sinned nor loved nor feared have for what they never had and cannot have until they forgot the words."
Originally a three piece As I Lay Dying had their first album 'Beneath The Encasing Of Ashes' (2001) finished within two months of being formed. They comprised of "just me, Jordan (our drummer), and our old guitar player." Says Tim, "I had met Jordan at other local shows and knew that he was the best drummer in San Diego I was aware of. We talked about the vision and direction of the band and we felt like we saw eye-to-eye on everything, so we just went for it." The early times weren't easy, recalls Tim. "Our first three or four tours I booked myself, actual full national tours. I think that if anybody has enough ambition, they can make anything happen. I booked our tours and made sure we were making just enough money to pay our bills. There were tours where we came home pretty much broke." Adds Chris, showing his passionate side; "We were pursuing our dreams, so it didn't matter."
The band's second album 'Frail Words Collapse' was released in 2003. But it was last summer's 'Shadows Are Security' that caught the ear of a mass audience. Explains Tim, "This record is a concept record lyrically, so I felt like it needed to tell the story musically as well and if it strayed too much it felt like it wouldn't represent lyrically what I was trying to get across. So that diversity is still in As I Lay Dying, it's just not featured on this record as much and I think people will hear this the more records we release. But we wanted this record to be very focused. It starts questioning what we've been taught and what we believe, realising that so many people in our lives teach us things with an agenda."
"Confined" is one of the standout tracks on the album. "I think the chorus explains it best," says vocalist Tim. "'How quickly I forget that this is meaningless.' It's talking about all the things in our lives that we pursue you know whether it's a success, or money, or temporary relationships and all those kind of things that ultimately will fade away." The album takes a look at why we know the information we do, "We have so much false information going around whether it's from schools, or from churches, or whatever," says Tim. "The album questions those things and then goes from there to seek what is more meaningful, what is more concrete than just our emotions and the way we feel like living our lives."
Their faith is something that is very important to the band. Explains Tim, "Christianity is a huge part of our lives and it directly affects the band in many ways. So I don't have any problems being attached to the Christian scene." The current album in part was written "very sorrowfully about a lot of my friends that I've seen fall away from Christianity. I've got a lot of friends that were originally very passionate about their faith and Jesus, but most of them have fallen away because their emotion is no longer there."
Phil admits that being Christians in the mainstream causes some interesting responses. "When people hear we're Christian they might be a bit freaked out a first. I remember talking to one guy in the UK and he judged us pretty hard because he thought Christians judge others that way, which we don't." Nick continues, "There's so much more to us than our beliefs. But it's not something we are going to deny either. Our faith means a lot to us, but we're passionate about the music we play, too."
The band are currently touring with The Deftones and Thrice on the Taste Of Chaos Tour. Playing live is obviously something that means a lot. Remembers Tim, "We stayed on the road for a year straight promoting 'Frail Words Collapse'. A lot of guys left the band because we toured so much. Everyone in the band now understands the commitment involved. We're not just playing in a local band anymore!"
In promoting current album 'Shadows Are Security' AILD have played around the world since last October. The three separate tours have seen them play in such countries as Japan, Australia and Europe. However it was the roots of the band when they regularly played to between 30 and 40 people which show the band's attitude towards their metal art. Comments Tim, "To me, those gigs are some of our best memories. It really purified our motives for playing music."
With an average age of 23 the band plans to be around for a long time to come. Says Tim, "There's so much young blood in this band, we're taking everything to the next level."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.