The Powerless Rise
A steroid-fuelled would-be wife murderer and his friends makes some pretty good music
15th November 2010
I go into this review with a fair amount of bias. As I Lay Dying are one of my favourite bands, and alongside such bands as All That Remains and Killswitch Engage, pioneered the metalcore genre. However with their most recent outing they have veered away from traditional metalcore by combining it with thrash. On their last album, An Ocean Between Us, elements of this were evident, but now, essentially, they do not belong to the genre of music that they were once so important in.
This is by no means a bad thing. Metalcore is a genre that is often very repetitive and similar between various artists, and full credit to AILD for branching out and trying something new. Does it work? Yes, brilliantly.
Of course, since I initially wrote this review frontman Tim Lambesis has been arrested for paying someone to murder his wife, with fairly conclusive evidence. I'd like to point out my appreciation of his musicianship does not transfer to an apparently steroid-fueled crime.
The Powerless Rise is nowhere near as accessible as any of their other albums. The first track, Beyond Our Suffering, immediately sets the tone - absolutely brutal guitar riffs and drum beats while Tim Lambesis' voice rips through without melodic interludes. It's almost as heavy as back from their grindcore days of Beneath The Encasing of Ashes, which gives off a vibe instantly as to what the album is like. It's followed up by Anodyne Sea, which is closer to the AILD that I know so well, but it combines with their new thrash influences to create a superb blend of melody and anger.
Then you have Without Conclusion, which is this album's Within Destruction - you can hear Slayer's influence attacking your ears with brutal force. Around this point it is a good time to note that one of the main strengths of this band is the consistency of their improvement over their albums, and The Powerless Rise is no exception. If you compare WC with WD you will hear that the guitars are sharper, drums are faster, and the entire band is beautifully harmonised.
Parallels reintroduces the glorious metalcore breakdown that is almost defining of the genre, and if you're not physically headbanging, you're doing it over and over in your mind. The chorus is catchy and the lyrics, typical of AILD, are incredibly deep and well written - 'We are not the same, as I hope to show, there is a better way if we just let go...'
After almost no break from the action, it cuts to The Plague, which is one of the best songs on the album. It's extremely fast paced, and the multiple layers of vocals (at times almost sound a bit Cradle of Filth-ey) add an extra depth that was missing from earlier work on Frail Words Collapse. It, too, has a good breakdown, and then breaks into a fantastic solo full of harmonics and pitch shifts, completely changing the pace of the song, before suddenly heading back into the relentless rampage.
We then go to what, in my opinion, is the weakest song on the album. As big a fan as I am of AILD, I have to admit that they often have some filler material on their albums, and this song is indeed filler material. It just doesn't sound very good - the introduction riff is a little iffy, and then the rest of the song is rather repetitive, although the chorus is good. It's then immediately followed by another weaker song, Condemned, which, although better, is rather forgettable. It's one of the heavier songs on the album but unlike Beyond Our Suffering or The Plague, just doesn't deliver the full package.
However after two weak tracks they strike back with an absolutely incredible one in Upside Down Kingdom. The introduction is fantastic, with the drums and the bass guitar slowly building you up, before the guitar comes in and then slowly guides you through the rest of the first minute, and then Tim starts screaming and the pace increases tenfold. The next three minutes has it all - a great breakdown, fantastic riffs, and a chorus that doesn't make a lot of sense but it so catchy it's unreal ('Simplicity is not a curse when strength is humbled and the powerless rise'...?).
The next three songs (Vacancy, The Only Constant Is Change, and The Blinding Of False Light) are all very good songs as well, although they're not the best on the album, and they're not the best songs the band could come up with, I'm sure.
Perhaps it's just got too much to live up to, but there's something a little disappointing about this album. I think it's because, as I previously mentioned, As I Lay Dying's albums normally get better each time, but when I compare The Powerless Rise to An Ocean Between Us, I can't honestly say it's better. It's really not. Yes, the musicianship is better, Jordan Mancino must have broken about 50 pedals in the making of it, but it's just not as good to listen to.
I don't want to end on a sour note, because this is a truly amazing album - the band have just set their standards far too high for me to judge it fairly.