Ironically enough, the bandmates' previous endeavor featured a song that would almost eerily predict future events of band members: Phil, Nick, Josh, and Jordan. Since there's no getting away from talking about the prior giant of a band, I might as well talk about that first. As I Lay Dying, one of the metalcore gods (I don't use that term lightly). In an oversaturated and underestimated genre, the masterful musicians in As I Lay Dying kept improving and making music that defined said genre, but never defined themselves. While many small bands came and went, As I Lay Dying, with only a handful of others, survived the metaphorical "metalcore purge" following its loss in popularity and talents after hitting the late 2000s. This band seemed to have everything going for them until its founding member dismantled his life and with it shattered the lives of his closest friends. He made a mistake...many mistakes... and this loss of character from the once noble and lovable Lambesis was heartbreaking for the people who knew him prior to this transformation. Some radical fans even supported the man's criminal acts and made comments on how they wish someone was murdered because "she was probably a b**** and deserved it". Then you have Lambesis himself slandering his bandmates to paint himself in a nicer light before prison; with this, you get more Lambesis supporters and more hate against his fellow bandmates who did nothing wrong. I do not condemn him, nor support him, but it is important you know what the band has against them, and the hate they've had to endure from emotionally disturbed "fans" of their previous band. "Sometimes we have to watch our whole lives fall apart, before we can rebuild them again."
Josh, Nick, Phil, & Jordan immediately decided to start a new band with a new name following the arrest of Lambesis. Thus, Wovenwar was born (Originally Wovenhearts, but that wasn't metal enough). At first fans suspected Josh to be taking over all lead vocals, but it was later revealed they added a new bandmate to the formula. Shane Blay of Oh Sleeper was a longtime friend of Nick Hipa and the rest of the band, so it was a no brainer to recruit this talented guy. Now with 3 guitarists and 2 vocalists, the band sought to explore things they never had the luxury of exploring before. With this comes one of the best and freshest releases this past year.
This album is not what I expected...not at all. From `All Rise' I thought the band was going to pursue predictable radio metal. I'm so happy the album branches out as much as it does after their single. Wovenwar musically, still retains a lot of what you'd expect to hear from the guys. It's very similar to metalcore, but explores so much more ground and builds itself so much more complex. I find it especially successful in its exploration of melodic lines. What it loses in overall brutality, it gains in dynamics and diversity. The songs are very varied; they are an exploration of what the members were unable to do for years because of genre constraint. Honestly though, musically, I think these are seriously the best songs the band has ever written. A huge standout has to be the presence of many more solos from nick and fewer breakdowns; also, you can actually hear the bass in the mix and it has a vital role to the overall song structures (Bass tone is fantastic this time around). Vocally, I have some gripes, but I find the album to be 100% perfect on Nick's, Josh's, Jordan's, and Phil's end. With this change in sound, and a primarily clean vocal presence, it's sure to off-put the fans of the original band who were more fans of hardcore than metal. Let's be honest though, these are people who see the word hardcore as a positive and not a genre. If you're not already listening to Tool, Mastodon, Steven Wilson etc... you're probably not interested. These are songs from guys who have been through a lot and these tracks have passion and suffering interlaced in every aspect of their album.
The mixing on this album is great and the harmonies between Josh and Shay really sound incredible with some quality speakers or cans; shane's usually smooth vocals compliment josh's sometimes more abrasive and aggressive cleans. And for those that are afraid there will be no harsh vocals, they are spread across the album (Archers has the most). I think this is something that can appeal to almost anyone. The lyrics hit home and the songs are heavy, but accessible to people who usually don't listen to heavier genres. Plus, you get the treat of hearing the other-worldly acoustic segments on this album. Believe me when I tell you Shane's falsetto is easily the smoothest in the genre. I found myself wanting to simultaneously headbang and dance during Archer's chorus. Some lines hypnotize me with melody, some make me headbang, and some make me want to sing at the top of my lungs. It's a great combination.
Shane is a capable vocalist. His falsettos and softer vocals during acoustic and bridge segments are hands down the best this genre has to offer. It is his strongest feature next to his harsh vocals. He's truly a beautiful singer. My gripe, however, is that the songs where Josh takes over vocal duties for a chorus or a line I think "Wow, that sounds great!" and it makes me wonder why more songs didn't explore this dynamic (Josh's vocal scoop on Ruined Ends is orgasmic). Shane's voice is great, but sometimes he becomes repetitive in vocal texture during 1 or 2 chorus sections. I would give Shane 100% of the beautiful melodic segments, but Josh really shines during his few chorus/line debuts; it maintains the flow, but gives a great contrast. I think a good thing to explore for the next album would be messing around with prominent vocals in the mix per line. The moments where the two's voices weave back and forth are fantastic. The latter songs on the album seem to juggle with this a bit more. Josh has really improved vocally, and you can tell when you see the band live. Matter of Time, where Josh sings the majority of the song sounds fantastic live and is one of the standout tracks on this album. This is an amazing band live and I can easily see them becoming big, but from a different crowd than their previous bands. As of writing this, I've listened to the album in whole over 20 times. It hasn't lost its hold on my mind since I first heard it two weeks ago.
Despite me calling the mix great, the biggest issue with this album is the mixing, but not in the way you'd imagine. The mixing handles dynamics and soundstage wonderfully. The issue however, is that depending on how expensive your listening rig is + whether or not the source is lossless determines how much of the song you actually hear. To people listening on some cheap $10 earbuds or to a 120kbps upload, you'll be missing a ton of the guitarwork and bass in the mix. This is bound to happen when you have 2 vocalists and 3 guitars begging for attention at the same time. Many AILD fans coming to this album might find it much more simplified and less passionate than past albums, but they're not hearing the full album. Listening to the album on about 7 different sources really helps one understand this dilemma. I observed cheaper sources only allowed the rhythm guitar to take the lead, while moving up the quality scale opened the soundstage, and instrument isolation increased. The 2 lead guitars weave themselves together in really interesting ways during each song and it's a shame that so many people will miss how intricate the members truly made the album now that they have a 3rd guitar that covers rythym.
Sweeping from melodic, to heavy, to technical, to bombastic, to everything you'd expect from a talented group of guys and more! Give this a listen from start to finish and you'll definitely hear something new you've never quite heard. It's touching on new territory, but I can easily see Wovenwar truly dominating their field by the 2nd album. Much like the masterful Mastodon releases a different style album every time and still makes it theirs and loved by all, I believe Wovenwar shares the same magic. They just need to explore the music a bit more, get more experimental and really weave a band that stands apart from their past. I can't wait to see what they come up with next!
I give this an album a 5/5. For clean vocal metal, Once More `Round The Sun is the only other recent album I'm willing to rate as highly.