|As a wise band once pointed out, what happens on the road always comes home. Sure, you can read into the darker side of that sentiment, but if you're talking about the San Diego quintet As I Lay Dying, for whom the road literally has been home since day one, the never-ending trail of unfamiliar cities, stages and faces that comes with touring has only cut a path toward something brighter.
Formed in early 2001 to realize the developing musical vision of ex-Society's Finest guitarist Tim Lambesis, As I Lay Dying first took shape as a trio, with (now-former) guitarist Evan White and drummer Jordan Mancino rounding out the lineup. One month into their lifespan, the group hit the studio to record their first album, Beneath The Encasing Of Ashes, released that June by Pluto Records. As I Lay Dying caught the touring bug shortly afterward, and started what to this day remains a pattern: With each new tour stop came new converts to the group's sound, and as more people caught on, Pluto found a new best-selling release in Beneath The Encasing Of Ashes—which, massive as it was, barely hinted at the material As I Lay Dying still had brewing inside of them.
Released by Pluto in August of 2002, As I Lay Dying's split CD with fellow San Diegans American Tragedy offered the first sign of where the band was headed. Though the chugging breakdowns, growled vocals and dissonant riffs of Ashes were still present in As I Lay Dying's five tracks, a stronger sense of melody undercut the music's darkness, resulting in songs that not only stuck in your head as easily as they tore it off, but that also started to garner serious attention for the band. So, touring as relentlessly as ever behind their latest effort, As I Lay Dying found themselves landing on the radar of several prominent record labels, with Metal Blade ultimately sealing the deal in March of 2003—and the band's Metal Blade debut, Frail Words Collapse, dropping on an unsuspecting public that July.
Long story short: Produced by Lambesis, Frail Words Collapse crystallized everything As I Lay Dying had been working toward into a massive knockout blow. Even though mainstream acceptance still eluded them, it didn't matter: Sonically, the band had united the classic "Göthenburg sound"—the punch-press rhythms, snarling vocals and melancholy riffs of seminal Swedish bands like At The Gates—with the chugging heartbeat of modern hardcore, launching themselves into the forefront of a new scene of metal bubbling under in the U.S. Relentless touring, several lineup changes and a growing fan buzz later, As I Lay Dying found themselves setting records they didn't even know existed: Heavy rotation on FUSE and MTV2'S Headbanger's Ball for their "94 Hours" and "Forever" videos; a No. 1 most-downloaded spot at the now-defunct MP3.com; record sales in the solid six-figure range based heavily on word of mouth; and festival dates and world tours alongside heavyweights such as Killswitch Engage, In Flames, Shadows Fall, Lamb Of God and Hatebreed. And, of course, with each tour came new fans, who told their friends, who told their friends, who told… Well, you get the idea.
Enter 2005. Strengthened by the road, creatively on fire, and with their lineup both solidified and contributing equally to the songwriting process, As I Lay Dying enter Big Fish Studios in Encinitas, California (the same place they'd recorded Collapse), at the beginning of January. With Lambesis at the production helm, along with help from bandmate Phil Sgrosso, and engineer/co-producer Steve Russell once again behind the boards, the quintet sequestered themselves until spring and emerged with their leanest, meanest and most focused effort yet, Shadows Are Security.
"All the touring we did off Frail Words Collapse really helped us learn what songs worked in a live setting and which ones didn't," says Lambesis, "and that helped us focus on the direction of this record. There's a slower, ballad-type song ["Repeating Yesterday"], but even it serves a purpose in tying the whole record together. As far as energy goes, I think all these songs are gonna be tremendous live."
Thematically, the record is just as heavy, with Mancino's coffin-tight drumming and the guitarists' melodic, lockstep riffage dropping like exclamation points around Lambesis' lyrics. While he hesitates to call Shadows a full-blown "concept album," Lambesis admits there's definitely a concept, and a very intentional sequence, guiding songs like the soaring "Confined," the spiritually revealing "Control Is Dead" (featuring Zao's Dan Weyandt on guest vocals) and the album-summarizing "Illusions." "My lyrics have always come from a very personal perspective, but this record really is a story of the last two years of my life, and everything I've learned since then," says Lambesis. Lyrically, the record flows in the same way, where I start by questioning what I've been taught, re-evaluating what's meaningful and recognizing what's meaningless." If all that sounds a little lofty, Lambesis easily brings it back into perspective: "It's really about love, and learning how to love all over again."
With (surprise, surprise) another massive tour schedule ahead of them to support Shadows And Security, including a prominent slot at the annual Cornerstone Festival and one of the headliner slots on the second stage of Ozzfest 2005, As I Lay Dying will have ample opportunities to bring the love—and the pain, and the noise—to audiences worldwide. And while Lambesis acknowledges that it'd be easy to let this sort of massive jump in the band's profile go to his head, he just as quickly shows how grounded in reality As I Lay Dying are. "We all know that metalcore is really popular right now, and sure, it would've been easy for us just to write a straight-up metalcore record to cash in on that popularity," he says. "But I really do feel like we've made a record that, even though it's got slight metalcore elements, is just a timeless, classic metal record.
"Besides," he adds, "with everything I've learned about who we are as a band these past few years, why would I ever want to go back to the way things were?"