This time two years ago, As I Lay Dying were on the heels of releasing what would be the well-received Awakened. After that album, the band went through turmoil due to vocalist Tim Lambesis’ legal issues. Instead of continuing on with a new singer under that name, the band went on hiatus and the remaining members formed Wovenwar with Oh, Sleeper vocalist Shane Blay. Known for his soaring melodic voice, Blay gets to really explore his range on this eponymous debut, which is thankfully not As I Lay Dying-lite.
The simplest choice could have been to take material meant for As I Lay Dying and awkwardly shove Blay’s vocals into it. However, he was in on the creative process from the early stages of Wovenwar’s inception, so that was never a possibility.
There’s a strong usage of rock elements, from catchy choruses to more transparent harmonies that aren’t afraid to omit heavier sounds. The music does have the typical metalcore stylings fans are accustomed to, though sans harsh vocals for the most part.
Only a few tracks in the second half of the album employ screams, and they are held back to an occasional verse. Blay is not contained to a few lines per song, but gets free reign to croon, launch into falsettos and show tender vulnerability. The last one, in particular, is personified on the softer “Father/Son” and “Prophets,” both of which use acoustics and laid back tempos with excellent precision.
The unimaginative intro track “Foreword” not withstanding, the album gets itself moving with the energetic “All Rise.” The guitar work is on point, with the top notch soloing also being a staple throughout.
Though the band does break off and get into periods of mayhem on “Death to Rights” and late-album highlight “Matter of Time,” the lack of outright aggression is definitely a benefit. It helps to make Wovenwar separate itself from anything As I Lay Dying have done so far.
Though there isn’t much downtime, the album has a way more fertile first half. The songs come off fresher, the melodies have a tuneful quality, and there’s a bit more pep to the band. Right around the halfway point, the songwriting grows less stable. Fifteen tracks feels just like that, as the album gets awfully close to the one-hour mark. Some trimming in the track listing would have tightened up the album.
There are some truly remarkable songs here, ones that show the comfortable chemistry the members possess with each other. While it may not appeal to every As I Lay Dying fan, Wovenwar’s message of searching for redemption in even the worst situations resonates.
(released August 5, 2014 on Metal Blade Records)