As I Lay Dying released their seventh studio album, Shaped by Fire, September 20, 2019 via Nuclear Blast. This is the first album from the metal favorites since 2012 as the band was forced into a hiatus in 2013 when lead vocalist Tim Lambesis was arrested for attempting to solicit an undercover police officer to murder his estranged wife. This caused a firestorm for the band, who strongly identifies as Christian personally though their music is not labeled as such, and many thought we had heard the last of them at the height of their popularity. Lambesis spent four years of a six-year sentence behind bars and was paroled in 2018, rejoining the band to begin work on new material.
I love the opening track “Burn to Emerge” as a simple transition to the album. The progressive build and chant lead right into “Blinded” beautifully and allow the latter to take off without any need for a real introduction. “Blinded” highlights one of my favorite staples of As I Lay Dying: the amazing technical guitar riffs and solos that echo behind the whole track. The chorus is progressive, catchy and an awesome way to kick off the album.
“My Own Grave” was the first single released on the record and it really caught my attention. The chorus is phenomenal and has taken up real estate in my head that it refuses to give back. The guitar solo and group vocals are absolutely perfect, but the highlight is the transition to the bridge. The track goes quiet, suddenly, and then explodes into a heavier version of the chorus before slamming down a very strong outro. The title track “Shaped By Fire” is another big pre-released single and has star power written all over it. It has a scathing fast tempo with a beat that pushes the song ahead. The alternating clean and heavy vocals are a thing of beauty and the chorus comes out of nowhere, opening into a huge melody that feels like half tempo to the verse because of the powerful, clean hanging vocals. Simply put, this song rocks.
There is no lack of heavy on this album. “Undertow” is one of my favorite tracks with a gnarly guitar riff that hangs over the double bass. Another big chorus that has almost a hollow reverb behind it adds a unique appeal. “Gatekeeper” has a furious double bass line that aggressively slams behind heavy vocals and an absolutely shredding riff. The stop beats in this song, and use of silence, are a master class in metal. “Redefined” may be the heaviest track on the record. Again, the guitar riffs are on point and absolutely flawless, as is the vocal work and transitions from heavy to melodic, but the intensity of the breakdown and the haunting, empty chorus are what keeps me coming back to this track.
“The Wreckage” is another highlight for me. It has a much slower tempo placed very wisely in the center of the album. It starts out somber and quiet, exploding into a heavy tune without picking up the pace. The chorus is fantastic, displaying stop beats coupled with a group chant, taking this track to the next level and adding a different layer to the effort.
Controversy aside, Shaped By Fire is intense and an absolute experience from top to bottom. As I Lay Dying have a lot of work to do to rehab their image, especially among their fans rooted in the Christian faith, but an album of this magnitude is a good start on the road to redemption.