AS I LAY DYING, Frail Words Collapse (2003, Metal Blade)
A so-sad skull fades into the brown and yellow light, swathed and surrounded in presumably frail words, and also some olde-tyme type filligree, for some reason. Bringing to bear every Photoshopic power of the legendary Metal Blade design team, this cover absolutely explodes, I mean collapses, with mediocrity. A more fittingly banal cover would be hard to imagine, even for the ace artistic wizards working under the crack and lash of Brian Slagel’s whip.
Singer Tim Lambesis explained in a recent blog post that over the past several years, he had lost his once-prominent Christian faith (as would have been obvious, he further stated, to close readers of his lyrics and internet statements, which suggests his belief in mythical creatures had not entirely departed.) His break-up with God conveniently coincided with his decision to hire a hitman to murder his ex-wife, but having been brought to heel before the assassination could happen, and having spent some time in the hoosegow, he’s perhaps not surprisingly started to reconsider his newfound skepticism. But back in 2003, he was still an eager young theologist asking this big questions. Why are we here? Why do bad things happen to good people? Is it okay to brazenly rip-off the flavor-of-the-month metal band for personal profit? As I Lay Dying were at the vanguard of cheap Killswitch Engage imitation, arriving fully-formed just a year after KSE’s widely-copied Alive of Just Breathing. Back then you could still kinda hear the hardcore influence in this nascent metalcore, but the basic recipe was and is: add some goopy clean vocals to pale In Flames worship, and you’ve got yourself an album. As I Lay Dying are certainly no worse than most of the zillion or so bands to brazenly steal the sound Killswitch Engage barely invented, and you might even call them one of the better metalcore bands, but if you’ve read Big Dumb Skulls for long, you’ll know how much water that carries around here. I sorta like the angular, noisy, Meshuggeneh “A Thousand Steps,” but this quasi-song is less than two minutes, evidently all the interest this band could manage to summon. I can also kind of appreciate in retrospect is the looseness of the entire album; the drums are clearly not quantized or triggered, and Lambesis had to more or less get his shit in tune before the mass adoption of Autotune, which lends the entire affair an almost organic feel. Which is to say, it sounds nothing like the metalcore of even 2006, let alone the sad remnants of that instantly-tired movement in 2013.
— Friar Johnsen