The members of As I Lay Dying knew they had a serious problem on May 7, 2013, when vocalist Tim Lambesis was arrested for attempting to hire a hitman to murder his estranged wife. The snafu led to a six-year prison sentence that placed the future of the band in jeopardy. Rather than look for a new singer who could roar like Lambesis, the remaining members of As I Lay Dying changed their name and reinvented themselves, and in the process they freed the razor-taloned bird from its cage.
As I Lay Dying were popular, but they were a one-trick, fire-snorting pony locked into a style of metalcore that necessitated grinding guitars, rhythmic breakdowns and racing beats to complement the raging vocals. Wovenwar is more musically diverse and accessible, fronted by Shane Blay (ex-Oh, Sleeper), whose melodic voice enables the rest of the band to explore musical terrain verboten in their former guise.
Wovenwar’s self-titled debut is a buffet of ’80s metal-influenced riffs — alternately atmospheric, thrashy and radio-ready — that bind to create gripping, triumphant and anthemic songs. “Metalcore” and “death metal” no longer apply, and the sonic deviation allows guitarists Phil Sgrosso and Nick Hipa to take their playing to new heights.
The band’s old fans will likely still bond with the chugging, rapid-fire pace and shouty passages of songs like “Profane” and “Archers,” but even these are given a more commercial facelift that’s more All That Remains and less Black Dahlia Murder. Elsewhere, Blay temper Wovenwar’s turbulence and encourages them to craft more delicate and intricate passages on tracks like the fist-in-the sky “All Rise” and the evocative, acoustic-driven “Father/Son.” Most significantly, instead of striving to craft a straightforward hard-rock record in the vein of Altar Bridge or Five Finger Death Punch, the members take advantage of their newfound freedom to explore various textures and timbres — often mid song — even if it means complicating simple, direct melodies with abrupt tempo changes, dual guitar harmonies and unexpected stylistic shifts. Instead of going for the quick payoff, it seems Wovenwar is aiming for the more artistic rewarding approach. Even if it wasn’t preconceived it’s a good move.
Had Wovenwar resurfaced sounding like any of a dozen popular hard-rock bands they probably would have been perceived as insincere or opportunistic. By opting to expand creatively, technically and melodically, Wovenwar attain a credibility that’s difficult to deny, allowing them to grow under their new moniker without being locked into their past.